Have you ever wondered how your digestive system works and what is happening to that meal before it reaches the toilet?
The digestive system is made up of a complex set of organs, starting at the mouth and ending at the anus. For proper digestion and absorption of nutrients to occur, your digestive system needs to be functioning at its best. Let’s take a look at the journey your food goes through in the digestive system, and what it takes to extract the nutrition from your food.
The mouth and teeth are an essential beginning to the digestive process. Chewing your food not only helps to break food down into pieces which can be swallowed and more easily digested, but the act of chewing also lets your stomach and pancreas know to get ready for action and produce the stomach acid and enzymes required to break your food down. Your saliva also has a role, containing digestive enzymes which begin to break down your food. There’s also receptors in the mouth that will let your body know what is coming in preparation so that your pancreas, liver and stomach can create/excrete bile, stomach acid and the relevant enzymes to break your food down.
TIP: One of the most vital things you can do to help your digestion is to chew your food well before you swallow it. By chewing until it is a paste in your mouth, you make it easier for your body to extract the nutrients further down the line. Chew your food 20 times per mouthful.
Once swallowed your food will make its way down your oesophagus and into the stomach. The oesophagus pumps food into the stomach, and has a sphincter at the bottom to help keep you food in the stomach. If this sphincter is not tight enough it can cause reflux or heartburn.
TIP: Reflux is often thought to be a problem of over acidity, however often a low acid situation will cause a loosening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LOS). See a naturopath to look at balancing the stomach acid, rather than simply taking antacids which do not address the root cause of the problem.
Once your food reaches the stomach it begins to get broken down by stomach acids into smaller particles as the stomach contracts. This is the main site for breaking down protein, so if your stomach acid is too low you can get smelly gas from the proteins fermenting in your bowel. Other signs that you may not have enough stomach acid are reflux (caused by the stomach having to pump harder), burping, low appetite and bad breath.
TIP: Stress is the biggest cause of low stomach acid, so make sure you address stress as part of any digestive treatment plan.
The Pancreas The pancreas is located at the start of the small intestine (duodenum), and has the job of producing enzymes to break down carbohydrates, protein and fat. When you eat, the body signals the pancreas to produce enzymes. If you have low pancreatic enzyme function you may get belching, burping, bloating, indigestion and constipation.
TIP: Digestive stimulants like bitters can help your pancreas to make more enzymes.
The Liver and Gallbladder
The liver is essential for breaking down the fat that you eat. Your liver produces bile, which is then concentrated in your gallbladder for release into the small intestines. Signs that your liver may not be functioning well include nausea, intolerance to fatty foods, diarrhoea and bloating.
TIP: Bile makes your stools dark brown, so if you always have light coloured stools it can indicate a bile insufficiency.
The Small Intestine
The small intestine has the big job of completing digestion and absorbing nutrients from your food, so it’s no wonder it is around 6m or 20 feet long! The walls of the small intestine are made up of lots of cells with different functions, from carrying vitamins and minerals across the intestinal wall to absorbing glucose and fats so that your body can make energy. The small intestine also contains billions of bacteria (your microbiome) that work as part of your immune system and keep the intestine nice and healthy. An imbalance in these bacteria is called dysbiosis, which means there are too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria. Symptoms of dysbiosis are bloating, indigestion, irregular bowel movements and smelly gas.
TIP: Your transit time is how fast your food moves through the gut. A slow transit will lead to constipation, and a fast transit can cause loose bowel movements.
The Large Intestine
The Large Intestine has the job of absorbing excess water from the bowel movement, which is why you can get constipated if you do not drink enough water. The large intestine also helps to create and absorb some B vitamins and vitamin K. If the bowel is not working effectively you may have incomplete bowel movements, excess gas and digestive discomfort. You also have 10x more bacteria in your large intestine than your small intestine, and the role of this microbiome is essential for just about every system of your body. As you can see your food has got quite a journey to go through, which is why it is so important that you have good digestive health.
When things go wrong
Issues with the digestive system are so common due to the complexity of the system, and the fact that we don’t always put the right food into our bodies. An issue in one area can easily lead to an issue in another, and before you know it there are multiple areas of dysfunction. This then leads to bloating, wind, reflux or irregular bowel movements. Signs and symptoms are your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right, so if your gut is experiencing symptoms it may be time to see a naturopath and get this checked out.
Need help with digestive problems like bloating, reflux, diarrhoea, constipation, IBS or excessive wind? Call us and book an initial appointment with Katherine or one of her team, so you can get to the bottom of what is going on.
Stress is one of those words that can mean a lot of things. In a basic sense, stress is s physiological process that happens in your body – sometimes as a result of ‘being stressed’, but also as a result of other stressors, like environmental toxins, lack of sleep or too much coffee.
One thing’s for sure – if you don’t learn to monitor and manage your stress it will affect your health. Stress causes more disease than smoking and alcohol combined (yes, it’s true) so we need to help keep it in check.
Now some stress is a good thing – mild stress helps keep our bodies working well, challenges us and keeps us focused. Stress becomes dangerous when it becomes more robust or goes on and on and on. You see our bodies aren’t really designed to have constant stress – our flight or fight response activates during stress and is meant to be around long enough to allow you to escape from that sabre tooth tiger. What happens to many of us is that our flight or fight response is activated in the background – which means your body cannot function in its normal relaxed state.
Stress is bad news for your nervous system, impairs your digestion (hello bloating) and messes with your hormones (PMT anyone?). The tricky things is that you might now even know you are stressed. Some people can feel stressed out -you can see it in them, their heads looking like they’re about to explode. For others, stress is something that they feel they are not affected by – and I often get reports that my patients are not stressed when their biochemistry would show otherwise.
Lucky for you I’m going to share a secret with you – your body will let you know that you’re stressed even if your mind does not. If you’ve got any other following going on I’m 99% sure that you’re stress affected.
Hmmm – sound like you? Well the good news is there is a solution.
Healing your adrenals
Your adrenal glands are the little guys that are helping you cope with stress day to day. When you’re busy doing your thing they are pumping out a hormone called cortisol which helps you deal with stress. The problem is that over time they can become depleted or downright erratic – secreting cortisol at random times (like when you’re trying to sleep) rather than mostly in the morning, when they should.
Nurturing your adrenals requires 2 things:
Tropho-what? Trophorestorative herbs help to restore your tired old adrenals so that they can do their job properly. Adaptogenic herbs actually help your body to deal with stress more effectively. For many of my clients with huge workloads like business owners and those in executive positions, these herbs help them to work though the huge amount of things they need to do without losing their energy or their sanity.
If we want to have longevity – energy, great sleep and graceful ageing than we need to look after our bodies. Thinking about nurturing your adrenal glands will help to prevent burnout and keep you functioning at your best.
For help with adrenal restoration, see a qualified Brisbane naturopath or herbalist that will be able to get you ‘the good stuff’ to keep you feeling great.
To make an appointment with Katherine or her team, call Shift at Brisbane Natural Health on 07 3367 0337.
It’s cleanse time!
On a personal note, it hasn’t been the best year for me. I separated from my husband at the beginning of the year. Met someone recently and had a brief relationship which ended in well, a bit of a train wreck really. Needless to say, my emotional state hasn’t been the greatest, and consequently, I haven’t been looking after myself as much as I used to. This translates to more wine, more eating out and more wheat and dairy creeping into my diet. Yes, naturopaths are human too and although I wouldn’t say my diet has been terrible it certainly isn’t what it was 12 months ago.
Anyhow, I’ve done some healing and am beginning to move on to the next phase of my life. What better time than now to do a one-month cleanse to reclaim my health and get my life back in order.
I’m telling you this because we all need a reset from time to time and a cleanse is a great way to create focus and nourish your body while removing substances that suppress our emotions and leave us depleted of vitality (I’m talking sugar, coffee and alcohol here). And to also suggest that doing a physical cleanse is also a good opportunity to do an emotional cleanse as well, so I’ll talk about how I’m intending to do that.
There are many different ways that you can cleanse but the idea is that we’re ‘cleaning up’ the diet, removing foods that are heavy and burdening on the body. And including all the things which help our body to thrive.
Here’s my cleanse plan for the next 30 days:
I’ve done this type of cleanse many times before (I aim for twice a year) so I’m really looking forward to the rewards of more energy and increased vitality. See you on the other side!
Brazil nuts originate from the South American rainforests, especially abundant in the amazon. Brazil nut trees can live to be more than 500 years old, and require the presence of a specific orchid that attracts the particular bee that is needed to pollinate the flowers. Unable to be farmed, Brazil nuts are harvested from wild trees without harming the rainforest.
Brazil nuts are rich in the mineral selenium, a powerful antioxidant that is beneficial for thyroid and cardiovascular health as well as detoxification in the liver. A single Brazil nut contains more selenium than most supplements!
Brazil nuts are also rich in monounsaturated fats, which are great for cardiovascular and brain health. They are also a good source of magnesium and calcium, which will help to keep your bones strong and also help with stress.
For best results, try to eat 3 raw Brazil nuts every day. They are also a great addition to salads and are yummy ground up and put in yoghurt or on muesli.
Nuts are an essential addition to any diet – but Brazil nuts are particularly good for us, being a rich source of selenium. Watch the video below to find out more!
The difference between cacao and cocoa
It’s a question asked by my patients all the time.
To simplify things, cacao and cocoa are actually the same things. They both come from the same plant originally – the cocoa bean. The production of each of the powders is what differentiates them. With traditional cocoa they take the beans and roast them at a pretty high temperature, then they grind them up into cocoa powder.
What happens with cacao is the raw bean is ground up into powder, so any type of cooking and processing actually reduces the nutritional content of foods. In the case of cacao vs. cocoa, the cacao is superior because it has a higher amount of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals because it’s in its natural state.
Now in saying that, cocoa isn’t bad for you – it still contains some antioxidants. So if you eat something likedark chocolate, you will still get some antioxidants, but it is just not as amazing as having cacao.
So, I don’t think cocoa particularly needs to be avoided, but if you have a choice and you’re using it in smoothies etc., I would really go for cacao just because you’ll get that little bit more bang of, vitamins and minerals.
Transcript: Wheat Free vs Gluten Free – 2 Minutes to Health
In this episode I’m going to talk about wheat free versus gluten free.
Hi, I am naturopath Katherine Maslen, welcome to Two Minutes to Health. In today’s episode I’m going to be talking about wheat free versus gluten free. So the deal is that if something is gluten-free it’s also wheat free. However if something is wheat free it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is gluten-free because there is a lot of other grains that contain gluten as well, as wheat containing gluten there is also rye, spelt or kamut or khorasan which is another name for it. There’s also barley and triticale.
All of those grain also contain gluten but they are wheat free essentially. The difference is that if you’re eating a wheat free product it might not actually be gluten-free but it might actually be okay on your digestive system because the gluten in this product is a little different than it is in wheat. Wheat contains a lot of gluten, the gluten protein molecules are quite big whereas the proteins in spelt, Kamut and rye are actually a lot more digestible. A lot of people find that if they eliminate wheat rather than gluten, their digestive system is okay.
On the other hand there are people who just can’t tolerate gluten whatsoever. So if you can’t have gluten you can’t have any of those grains and it has to be gluten-free. Your gluten-free grains are going to be things like rice, corn, millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat. They are the kind of gluten-free grains that you’re looking for. So remembering that wheat free doesn’t necessarily mean gluten-free. If it is gluten-free it is not going to have any wheat or gluten in it.
I am naturopath Katherine Maslen this has been Two Minutes to Health. Please subscribe to my channel and if you do have a question, please leave it in the box below and I will be happy to answer it.
In this episode of 2 Minutes to Health, I explain why coconut oil is so healthy and how you can use it in your diet to improve health.
Video Transcript is below:
In Today’s video, I’m going to be talking about coconut oil and what kinds of health benefits it has.
Hi, I’m naturopath Katherine Maslen, welcome to two minutes to health.
In today’s video, I’m going to be talking about coconut oil.
Coconut oil is one of my favorite health foods and the reason is that it has a really excellent fat balance. So there is a little bit of a myth out there how coconut oil is high in saturated fats so it’s bad. To be honest, it does have saturated fat in it but that does not make it a bad or unhealthy food.
In fact, coconut oil has a really good amount of what we call medium-chain triglycerides which are really, really essential for energy production in the body and for your general health. So I do actually recommend coconut oil as a really good and healthy or that you can consume every day.
The other thing that coconut has is a thing called Lauric Acid and Lauric acid has been shown to be really antifungal and antimicrobial so it’s really good for the kind of helping to keep down bad gut bacteria too. You can also use it as an antifungal on the skin for any type of fungus or candida, that kind of thing; so fantastic food.
Now coconut oil is very stable and it’s really good for cooking and in fact, it’s one of the few oils that I do recommend for cooking. Coconut oil can be used for frying, it can be used in baking, it can be used just raw, you can put it in smoothies, you can mix it into porridge and things so it is really actually versatile and it’s easy to get around a tablespoon a day into your diet and I think that’s a good way to go.
I’m naturopath Katherine Maslen, this has been Two Minutes to Health, thanks for joining me.
Green smoothies are an excellent addition to a healthy diet. They are high in minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium which are more easily absorbed due to the blending process. Green smoothies are very easy to make – all you need is some green leafy veggies, fruit, water and ice. You can also make green smoothies with veggies and there are many superfoods that you can add to them to make them even more nutritious.
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