A healthy digestive system is so important and yet sadly so overlooked. When it's not right we begin to feel a little bit (or a lot bit) off. This can be heartbreaking. I've been there. I felt like I was doing everything I thought was right, but I wasn't seeing the results I was hoping for. This was and can be super frustrating. beyond. measure.
There were times when I wanted to throw in the towel, but I knew that wouldn't get me to my end goal - feeling fabulous and alive. When I focused on my digestion and worked at improving and making it stronger, I started to feel good again. Like hosting dance parties in the streets good. (well at least dance parties in the kitchen.) ;)
So my dear what I'm sharing with you today is another digestive nugget. Stomach acid. Why it matters. Why you need it, and how you feel when you don't have enough.
After the cephalic phase, stomach acid is the next step in improving our health. It's a key component in the digestion process. Breaking down food so we can fully absorb vitamins and minerals.
The larger or more protein rich our meal is, the more stomach acid our digestive system needs. So if you eat an apple, less stomach acid is needed than say when you're eating organic chicken.
With that said, I'm focusing on protein digestion. Know that stomach acid plays a role in digesting carbs and fat as well.
You and I both know we need protein in our diet, and we should be eating it on the daily. We need it for more than just our muscles, hair and nails. It's also the basis of our hormones and enzymes. These play a big role in our mental health.
Protein breaks down into chemicals we thrive on to make it through the day. Chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. The process (simplified) goes like this:
Protein (breaks down into) amino acids (to make) neurotransmitters (ex. serotonin + dopamine)
For protein to break down into amino acids we need a good amount of stomach acid. If we don't have enough, full protein digestion is. not. happening. That can make us sad. Literally. Serotonin makes us feel happy and keeps us from feeling blue. Dopamine keeps us motivated and helps us deal with stress.
If you remember only one thing from today's post it's this: over 90% of serotonin is made in our gut. 90%!
Our gut needs to be healthy to carry out the entire protein digestion process. I'm not suggesting that eating quality protein and making sure our digestion is working properly will be the sole answer to our problems. But isn't this a good place to start these types of conversations??
When we begin to experience shifts in our mood and our ability to cope with life's stresses, we reach out for help. Sadly though the conversations typically don't include discussing the amount of quality protein in our diet, and how well our digestion including transit time (how quickly we're moving the sh!t out) is working.
If this isn't part of your conversation with your health care professional, you might want to include someone on your professional health care team who will ask these questions and make these inquiries. This could be a huge part of helping you feel like the very best version of you. I know someone who can help.
Having sufficient amounts of these feel good chemicals allow us to feel like we can cope with daily stresses. We feel like we can take on whatever life throws at us.
Life begins to feel a little less overwhelming. Who doesn't want that?
Apart from shifts in mood, other possible signs of low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria):
- Belching, burping, gas after eating
- Heartburn, diarrhea, constipation
- Food allergies
- Feeling full and uncomfortable after a meal
- Undigested food in stool
- Chronic conditions that just won't quit like skin issues and candida
- Autoimmune issues
- Iron deficiency
Some simple ways to increase stomach acid naturally:
- Rest and digest. This contributes to 30% (sometimes more) of our stomach acid.
- Add in some bitters. Digestive bitters are awesome to take before a meal. Bitter spices used in cooking also help. Turmeric, ginger, fennel, cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper are really great.
- Drink fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. This is one of my favourite ways to start the day. Add either (adding in enough to taste the lemon or ACV) in a glass of warm or room temperature water. Add in cayenne pepper for good measure. This really gets the digestive juices going. Drinking this on an empty stomach at the start of the day and/or before every meal can be really helpful.
- Eat smaller meals. We put less stress on our digestive system if we stop eating before we're full.
- Chew. Your. Food. Dude. I won't take away the fun of eating and say you need to chew 83 times before you swallow, but chew your food. And chew it well.
- Choose quality over quantity. Whole food based meals are easier to digest and more beneficial than refined, pre-packaged food.
- Drink little bits during mealtime. Drinking a lot of fluids while we're eating dilutes digestive juices.
What are you going to start doing today to improve your digestion?
I hope you found something valuable in today's post. Leave a comment below on what was interesting to you.
In digestive health,
Gitalis, Josh. Advanced Clinical Focus: Digestion & GI Health. Online Course. 2014. Web.
Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy With Natural Nutrition. New York: Random House. 2006. Print.
Holford, Patrick. New Optimum Nutrition For The Mind. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications. 2009. Print.