It is often said “you are what you eat,” but there is more to the story. Growing scientific evidence is showing, with astonishing new insights, just how true that old saying is. Our digestive system is truly at the helm of almost every aspect of our health and well-being, from physical to mental.
So, How Does Digestion Work?
The digestive system is more than what happens in stomach. It’s an entire process that starts in the mouth (where enzymes begin breaking down our food) and ends as the waste leaves our bodies. The two biggest things it does throughout this process are break down food and absorb nutrients. So even if you’re eating nutritious food, if you’re not digesting and absorbing the nutrients properly, your overall health will be negatively impacted.
But let’s first discuss how digestion works. Digestion is both a mechanical and a chemical process. Mechanical digestion happens when food is chewed in the mouth and mixed in the stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Chemical digestion happens throughout the GI tract when digestive juices, such as enzymes and acid, break down large molecules of food into smaller fragments that the body can easily absorb.
The small intestine is where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream so that they can nourish the rest of the body. To create maximum opportunities for nutrients to be absorbed, the small intestine has a lot of surface area. It is roughly 20 feet long (about the height of a giraffe), and it has microvilli, small finger-like projections, stemming from the lining to increase surface area even further.
Poor digestion results in food molecules being too large to be absorbed across the microvilli, causing food to build up in the small and large intestines. Bacteria feed off undigested food in the colon and create gas, bloating and other digestive problems.
To provide a visual, the intestines can be compared to a kitchen colander used to strain pasta. If food molecules are too large, they will get stuck and build up in the colander, causing heaviness. If they are broken down properly, however, they will be small enough to pass through the colander effortlessly.
Occasional indigestion can give rise to many digestive complaints, such as occasional heartburn, gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, constipation and diarrhea. But when digestive dysfunction becomes chronic, nutrient deficiency can cause more severe consequences over time.
Malnutrition can cause such symptoms as:
- Low energy and fatigue
- Poor brain function and mental fogginess
- Low immunity
How Does the Gut Microbiome Affect Health?
Recent research suggests that another big factor on our health is how our digestion affects our gut microbiome, and conversely, how our gut microbiome affects our digestion.
A microbiome is a collection of bacteria in a specific part of the body. The human body contains microbiomes in various locations, such as in the mouth, skin and gut. In humans, the gut microbiome has the largest numbers of bacteria and the greatest number of species compared to other areas of the body.
The gut microbiome has such a great effect on our health that scientists now think of it as another major body organ.
The gut microbiome functions like a car engine. When the engine is well-tuned, it uses fuel more efficiently. Just like gas in a car, food is the body’s fuel. When our gut microbiome is functioning optimally, it utilizes the food more efficiently and our entire body functions better.
Our gut microbiome is influenced by the food we eat and how well our digestive system is working. For example, when we don’t have enough enzymes to break down the protein in a large steak, undigested food molecules get stuck in the colon and become fodder for bacterial growth. Multiplying bacteria cause bloating and gas and throw the microbiome out of balance.
When the microbiome is out of balance, it affects multiple systems in the body, such as energy levels, the immune system and cardiovascular health, as well as mood and brain health.
How Proper Digestion Provides More Energy
Many people think that it is natural to feel low energy after eating, however, with an optimally-functioning digestive system, you should actually feel more energetic after you finish a meal.
If you feel sluggish after meals, it could be due to a deficiency of certain enzymes. Taking supplements can provide the enzymes you need to properly digest and absorb your food.* In doing so, the gut microbiome is able to stay in balance. By taking enzyme supplements, you can enjoy the foods you love without abdominal discomfort or post-meal fatigue.*
It takes a lot of energy to digest food down the entire GI tract. From the moment you take in that hamburger, you have the mechanical process, then acid in the stomach to further break it down, then several organs producing enzymes to break it down even smaller. The entire process is quite complicated and takes a lot of energy.
Extra enzymes in the GI tract reduce the load on the body, making digestion more efficient and providing you with more energy. When people take enzymes, their bodies have more energy because they don’t have to work so hard to digest the food.*
“When people start taking enzyme supplements, one of the most noticeable changes they feel is an increase of energy,” says Dr. Michael Murray, Chief Science Officer of Enzymedica. “The enzymes are making it easy for the body to digest food. You feel better overall and you have more energy to enjoy your life.”
Enzymes Create Healthy Cardiovascular and Immune Systems*
Research from Harvard Medical School shows that the various microbes (bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms) in our gut have their own genes that create proteins.1 The microbes have more than 100 times as many genes as we have human genes. All their genes, taken as a group, are called our microbiome. These microbe-producing proteins are carried in the bloodstream and affect every other organ in our bodies.
These studies found that gut bacteria is linked to cardiovascular health.
Regarding the immune system, 60-80 percent of white blood cells originate in the gut microbiome. What this means is that a balanced gut microbiome can help maintain the health of the immune system.*
“Along with speeding up digestion, enzymes move into the bloodstream to improve overall function and immunity throughout the body,” says Dr. Murray.
Enzymes Lead to Better Sleep and a Happier Mood*
Poor sleep is often caused by digestive issues as a result of eating, such as abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating. When taken with meals before going to bed, enzymes can help to reduce these digestive problems that keep you up at night.*
A balanced microbiome also helps to improve your happiness. Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that provides feelings of well-being. Ninety percent of serotonin production occurs in the gut. Therefore, the health of your digestive system and gut microbiome are big influencers on your mood.
Research also says that there is a direct pathway from the gut microbiome to the brain via the vagus nerve. Balanced activation of the vagus nerve plays a critical role in brain functioning and therefore your behavior, giving new meaning to the idea of “trusting your gut.”
“You can’t deny the gut-brain connection,” says Dr. Murray. “When your food is being digested and absorbed properly, you feel better, you’re not so lethargic, your overall health improves, as does your quality of life."
How to Improve the Gut Microbiome
You can improve your gut microbiome by supporting your digestion. Try taking an enzyme supplement.
Enzymes speed up digestion by breaking down food into nutrients small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream.* Without enough enzymes, the body can struggle to break down troublesome food, resulting in occasional gas, bloating and other digestive problems.
Digest Gold is Enzymedica's best-selling digestive enzyme supplement. Digest Gold contains high potency enzymes to break down all the components of a meal. Also, part of the reason it works so well is that it is made with a proprietary formulation called Thera-blend™, which contains a mix of multiple types of enzymes that work throughout the entire digestive tract. This means that no matter what part of your gut your food is in, there are enzymes working to break it down every step of the way. And, that’s why it’s America’s #1 selling brand.
Hopefully this article has provided a new perspective on “you are what you eat.” Because, the road to wellbeing is not about finding some panacea hiding out there in the world, but simply unlocking the natural remedies within each of us.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2016, October). Can gut bacteria improve your health? Retrieved April 10, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-gut-bacteria-improve-your-health