May 31 2021
The human body needs to take nutrients from ingested food. Although the food in a balanced diet contains all the nutrients, they’re locked in very large molecules. So, these complex molecules are broken down by digestion, which is an essential life process as it involves the breakdown of food into small, water-soluble molecules that are readily absorbed into the bloodstream. For example, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose molecules, and fats are broken down into fatty acids or glycerol. This life process is of two types:
- Mechanical digestion: the food taken in is broken into smaller particles, physically.
- Chemical digestion: the food is broken down by acids and enzymes into its smaller units.
How are nutrients broken down?
- Carbohydrates: the starch from food is broken down into individual glucose units, by the action of salivary amylase and pancreatic amylase. Lactose, the sugar content in dairy products, is broken down by lactase enzyme.
- Fats: fat digestion in the mouth is done by the enzyme lingual lipase. Most of the fat taken by food is digested in the small intestine by pancreatic lipase. Bile juice is also a helping hand here.
- DNA and RNA: they’re broken by the enzymes deoxyribonuclease or DNase and ribonuclease or RNase respectively.
- Proteins: three enzymes in the alimentary canal, namely pepsin, trypsin, chymotrypsin are responsible for the breakdown of protein molecules. Pepsin acts in the stomach, trypsin and chymotrypsin in the duodenum.
How to boost up the process of digestion?
- Fibers: soluble fibers absorb water and add bulk material to the stool. Insoluble fibers, act as a facilitator in digestion and keep all the components present in the stomach, moving. Soluble fibers are found in legumes, nuts, seeds, oats and insoluble fibers are found in whole grains and wheat bran. A diet that is rich in fibers is closely linked to a reduced risk of digestive conditions such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, bowel syndromes. Prebiotics, mainly found in fruits and vegetables, are another type of fiber that feed the “good” bacteria in the gut. This fiber can also reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Hydration: low fluid intake can lead to problems like constipation. Experts recommend drinking 1 to 2 litres of fluids that are free from caffeine, every day. More water is needed when living in a warm climate or case of workouts. Herbal teas, seltzer water and other non-caffeinated beverages can also be consumed for hydration. Increased intake of fruits and vegetables that are high in water content such as zucchini, cucumber, celery, melons, tomatoes etc can also enhance the digestion process.
- Stress management: increased levels of stress are often linked to peptic ulcers, diarrhoea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Stress hormones have a direct effect on the process of digestion. During stressful times, blood and energy are usually diverted away from the digestive tract. The gut and brain are connected, this is why whatever happens in the brain, affects the digestion directly. Exercises like stress management techniques, yoga, behavioural therapy, acupuncture, meditation, deep belly breathing can help in boosting up the digestive system naturally.
- Chew, chew and chew: the teeth break down the food particles into smaller and simpler components so that the enzymes that are found in the digestive tract can break it down properly. Not chewing the food properly can lead to poor absorption of nutrients. When the food is chewed thoroughly, the stomach needs to do lesser work to turn the solids (bolus) into the liquid form which then enters the small intestine. This is because of the enhanced production of saliva due to chewing properly. The more you chew, the more saliva is produced in the mouth, which is responsible for the breakdown of some of the carbohydrates and fats. This helps in the prevention of digestive problems such as heartburn and indigestion. Chewing has also proved to relieve stress.
- Exercise regularly: regular workouts and physical activities are closely linked to enhanced digestion. Exercise and gravity are the main two acts that make food travels through the digestive tract. Exercises with a moderate intensity such as walking, swimming, cycling, jogging can enhance the digestion by 30 per cent, research suggests. Regular walking after a meal can make the food in your stomach move along well, which boosts up the digestive system. People, who have problems such as constipation, experienced better bowel movement after exercising daily, in research. Physical activities may also improve symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases by reducing any sorts of inflammation.
- Understand what your body needs: if someone is not paying attention to whether his stomach is full or empty, this can directly affect your digestion, negatively. Our mind needs some time (15 to 20 minutes) to realize that the stomach is full. Henceforth, taking the time to eat and properly chew the food and also, paying attention to whether the stomach needs more food or not, can make the digestion a lot smoother and better. Emotional eating can also have negative effects on the digestive system. People who eat more when anxious tend to experience indigestion and bloating more than people who don’t do emotional eating.
- Leave bad habits: habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, eating at odd hours can lead to a decline inefficient digestion and are also not good for the overall health. Smoking is closely linked to stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal cancer, and ulcerative colitis. Quitting smoking can be a great option for people who smoke and experience digestive problems. Alcohol, on the other hand, increases the production of acid in the stomach which often results in acid reflux, stomach ulcers and heartburn. Excessive consumption of alcohol can also result in bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. It may also cause inflammatory bowel diseases and imbalances in the gut bacteria.
- Eat right: food additives (artificial sweeteners, glucose, salt), Trans fat, processed foods, saturated fats must be avoided as much possible. These can lead to inflammation, constipation, and other diseases related to digestion.
- You can also add certain supplements (natural) to your diets like Alvizia’s Alenflax or flaxseed oil supplement. It contains a high amount of fibers which smoothens the digestion and also relieves constipation.