In part 1, I set up how your stomach is like a rainforest – full of vibrant life. In part two I am going to begin breaking down some cool things that happen inside your stomach which contribute overall to the level of health a person might have. I also set the stage for the good guys versus the bad guys. I threw a lot of jibber-jabber out about a bunch of other stuff too, all of which I am sure made your eyes glaze over. I promise I am only terrible at saying too much, but I usually get it all together to make sense, eventually, so bear with me. Now let’s dive into how things work inside that beautiful belly of yours.
Digestion begins the moment food is put in front of you and when you smell it as well. When you either see food or smell it, that beautiful and luscious mouth of yours sends the signal that food is coming. That means it is time for enzymes to kick up and begin to help digest the incoming awesomeness you are feeding your body. In fact, the first step you can do for better digestion and gut health is to properly chew your food. Some say up to 30 times, but I can be honest with you and say I am not the best at this. I aim for 15 to 20 times, which to me is good enough. I do cut my food into smaller pieces and refrain from drinking too many liquids while eating to alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort. Another cool little ninja hack I do is to drink 16 oz of water 20-30 minutes before a meal when I am in a fat loss phase. That way when it is time to eat I am already a little fuller feeling which translates to me not blowing through my meal as fast subsequently looking at the wallpaper on the wall wondering just exactly what the wallpaper would taste like from dire hunger. I think anyone who has dieted can relate to that feeling. There is also a delay from the time your stomach is full to your brain involving a hormone known as ghrelin that I will discuss at some point in this series, later on, I am sure. This is why you taking your time when you eat and trying not to be in a rush is the initial stage you can control and work on when it comes to healthy digestion.
Next, we move onto boring stuff involving cells that line the mucosal wall of your stomach. I want to pause for a second and repeat “mucosal lining.” Yep, your stomach wall is just snot pretty much. It is meant to be interlocked, holding strong together and allowing for nothing to permeate it, but inflammation of your mucosal wall through poor diet, stress, alcohol, and sugar to name a few things can cause those tight interlocking junctions to loosen and become permeable. What then happens is the dead bugs in your stomach, think the bad guys in a rainforest are able to pass through your mucosal lining wall, subsequently getting into your bloodstream. Your body of course is not happy about this and begins to create an auto-immune response for the defense of this phenomenon known as, “leaky gut.” Once you have leaky gut where Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are passing through your mucosal wall, your body is now in a state of inflammation which then begins a cascade of things resulting in the slow deterioration of your health and the issues one can get from leaky gut are far-ranging – Eczema, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, IBS, to name a few.
So now that you have an idea that your stomach wall is just snot, it is important to know that there are cells that line your snot wall. These cells are known as the Enterochromaffin Cells and Parietal Cells and are all over the snot wall that is the lining of your gut. These two cells are worth mentioning to you because they each have key roles which I think when you step back, taking the landscape of the bigger picture you will see how the lining of your stomach is the first thing you should get healthy and heal. Enterochromaffin cells are studded endocrine cells that are responsible for producing over 90% of your body’s serotonin. These cells also communicate with other systems in your body to get things done while also playing a key role in neurotransmitter production. These studded cells are in constant contact with the water, food, and other stuff you are exposed to. Parietal cells help make a product called hydrochloric acid which is the stuff that breaks down proteins and helps kill bacteria. Think for a second, your stomach is a fishbowl in this analogy, stuff gets in the bowl, floating around looking all gross and shit, what do you do? You want to get it out or at least first see exactly what it is. Well, your gut is doing the same kind of work. It is constantly sorting and processing through all the bacteria it is exposed to. The snot wall can over time be permeated which means little holes can emerge and as I said earlier, when this happens, the bad guys are able to ascertain control, leaving you feeling miserable.
The last thing I want to touch on a little more in-depth is that both of these cells are necessary to create something known as hydrochloric acid (HCL). HCL is created by these cells along with a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine which does a few things like signal your body to produce acid to help break down the food you are consuming along with help kill bacteria that might be invading your stomach, along with generating muscle contractions to keep things churning and burning through your stomach. The goal of digestion is to go from entry to exit in the most efficient means possible. This is how your body is designed to function. Again it is important to remember at all times your stomach and lungs are advocating hard to keep you alive against the environment you breathe and consume. When you have a healthy stomach environment your body is properly producing acid to breakdown your food and keep digestion optimal. When your body is not producing acid, you might experience things such as acid reflux, bloating, and gas to name a few things. It is important for you to have optimal digestion for a few reasons. Properly breaking down food is necessary to effectively process and assimilate macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) along with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). If your gut is not digesting food properly, odds are you are not properly absorbing vitamins and minerals leaving you in a further deficit which ultimately will cause more issues for you down the line.
The final big thing about having a leaky gut that most everyone does not know is; If you have leaky gut you are in a perceived “stressed” state from your body. This means your body is in a sympathetic nervous system dominant state which means it is creating 3 stress hormones known as norepinephrine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and cortisol. What that means is your body is in fight or flight mode. When you are in this state you are producing stress hormones because your body thinks it needs them for the impending threat. When you are in this state your sex hormones are impacted (a whole other topic in it of itself) and your thyroid is impacted as well. When your body is in this state it begins slowing down your metabolic rate. Your liver, which is a key player in your digestion will not be able to convert T4 to T3, the active hormone of your metabolism which causes your metabolism to work effectively. Instead, it creates something known as “Reverse T3” which is a bound up, an unavailable form of T3. Why this happens is when your body is in a stressed state, it thinks it is in a fight or flight mode. Therefore it puts itself into conservation mode to keep you alive, which leaves you over time in a chronically stressed state. When you arrive at this state your Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenals Axis (HPA) is taking a beating which will then cause a hormonal cascade from hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, DHEA, Progesterone, to name a few. This is why chronic stress is a real thing that most everyone is up against. If you are not able to shift into a parasympathetic nervous system state other known as rest and digest, food will not be broken down correctly, cortisol will keep pushing blood glucose into your bloodstream making you slowly insulin resistant and ultimately more fat storage Your sex hormones will become compromised because of something known as the “progesterone steal”, and your thyroid will downgrade energy in case that big bad lion is in fact, stalking you and you suddenly need to run away. Of interesting note, those who gain belly fat more, is usually seen with those who have higher levels of cortisol or a constantly stimulated fight or flight state – think chronic stress.
In Part 3 I will talk about the Liver’s role in digestion along with other key organs and hormones involved and something known as the Migrating Motor Complex.