Did you know you have a second brain?
Yes, you…and every human on this planet.
It’s also known as ‘the gut’—and consists of your entire digestive system: Your esophagus, stomach, intestines, rectum and colon.
These organs of your ‘second brain’ make up what is technically called the entertic nervous system (nerves=connected to the brain and brain function) and have the uber important job of regulating all the aspects of your digestion:
Breaking down food, absorbing and assimilating (using) your nutrients and starting your day off right with a morning poo.
(Yes I said ‘poo’).
The reason the gut is called your second brain is because your gut—and your digestion—is highly CONNECTED to your brain.
For example, thinking about food can release saliva in the mouth or digestive enzymes into the stomach before you even eat. If you’re nervous or stressed, your stomach may feel upset or constipated.
Likewise, when you experience digestive dysfunction (inflammation, eating too much/too little, consuming stimulants like coffee or eating sugar), your brain is affected by what’s going on in the gut.
You feel foggy, lightheaded, experience headaches, can’t focus, etc.
In other words: The gut is your body’s command center.
As the gatekeeper and director of every single nutrient you consume and how it works in your body, if it’s not at its peak (leaky gut, poor absorption, poor elimination), then all other functions of your body (brain power, energy levels, immunity, performance and recovery from exercise, sleep quality) won’t be either.
“I don’t know why I keep craving sweets.”
“I am so stressed (or anxious).”
“My son was diagnosed with ADHD.” (more on this in a future post)
“My hormones are out of whack.”
“I have no appetite. I frequently bloating and constipation.”
“I tend to get really hungry…then overeat…then feel sick.”
“I have irregular stools—runny, hard, non-existent, all the time.”
“I get headaches all the time.”
I hear comments such as these on the daily…and 9 times out of 10, as we begin diving a bit further into nutrition, and digestion…I instantly see why.
- Gut irritating (and brain irritating) foods make up a part of the daily diet (sugar, alcohol, some grains and commercial dairy products, poor fats/hydrogenated oils, and packaged or processed bars, shakes, cereals, etc.).
- The person’s bowel movements are irregular, or they are not fully eliminating all wastes daily
- Water intake is low
- Stimulant intake is high (Caffeine! Sugar!)
- They are eating on the go, in front of a TV or eating irregularly
- A great bulk of their food is coming from restaurants and take-out, as opposed to prepared at home
- They are not chewing their food thoroughly
- They are disconnected with their hunger and fullness levels
ALL of these factors stem back to the gut and digestion.
In fact, according to a recent report, about 3 in 4 Americans struggle with some sort of digestive problems on a regular basis (constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, IBS, leaky gut, etc.)
That being said…you don’t have to struggle with poor digestion forever.
So, let’s address it.
How is YOUR digestion? And moreover…how is your mind and body connection?
In order to answer this question…it’s vital you first understand how your digestion is supposed to work in the first place (again, 9 times out of 10, most people don’t even realize how good they can feel since they’ve been living in a state of subpar digestion for years).
Here is the play by play on the process of digestion:
Digestion is a north to south process.
It starts in your brain and ends in…well, you know where.
Step 1: Brain Power: From the first thoughts, sounds, sights and smells of food, digestion is already beginning to warm up for the process of eating something delicious. These senses send signals to your pituitary gland in your brain, which then sends a signal to your mouth to begin prepping for what’s to come (foooooood).
Step 2: Saliva Water Works: Once the signal for digestion from your brain is in your mouth, the water works begin: Saliva and salivary amylase (the fluid that helps breakdown carbohydrates) go to work…ready to conquer that juicy chicken or steak, sautéed kale, sweet potato with coconut butter (yum).
Step 3: Chewing & Swallowing: Chew…chew…swallow…chew….chew…swallow…and on down the line as a ‘bolus’ (the food you just chewed) enters the stomach where it is immediately bombarded by stomach acid and chemical processes to begin further transporting, breaking down and directing the certain nutrients to where they should go. Your food becomes a paste called ‘chyme’ here and is prepared to go onto the small intestine.
Step 4: Small Intestine Digestion: 80-90% of all digestion occurs in the small intestine (i.e. it’s kinda a big deal). Hormones, such as CCK (Cholecystokinin), trigger the flow of bile (a dark green to yellowish brown fluid, produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder). Bile is responsible for detoxifying body of toxins (destroying any bacteria that may be present in the food) and assist in fat digestion during this stage of digestion. Nutrients are also absorbed and distributed through the bloodstream in the body during the small intestine stage.
Step 5: Absorption & Elimination: Whatever is leftover from the chyme, after its passed through the small intestine process, goes onto the large intestine for ‘final clean up duty.’ The large intestine absorbs any leftover minerals and vitamins that were not absorbed prior. It also absorbs and recycles the fiber from your foods (hello veggies) and more water here to promote that healthy elimination at the end of the large intestine in the colon, and yes, on out the door…feces.
There you go: A fast-track lesson in the process of digestion.
However…for most people….as mentioned before…this ‘normal’ digestive function is often times lost in translation amongst a vast majority of people today.
Here are a few everyday triggers that can make digestion ‘go wrong’, and some simple ways for turning things around.
- Stress hurts for many reasons—digestion included. Since digestion begins first and foremost in our brains….and the brain is also where stress reiterates from…when our brains are stressed…our digestion can become stressed. We are on the go, in our cars, or at our desks working, shoveling our food in quickly between appointments, meetings or other to-dos. We don’t take the time to sit down, or sit still…to allow the process of digestion to really begin and settle (sights, smells, even sounds as we sautee our veggies or cook up our burger on the skillet)…and consequently, again, digestion takes a punch. Our bodies are wired to digest and eat in a parasympathetic state (i.e. not when we are running from a bear….but when we are relaxed, calm)….you’ve already lost a battle if you practice stressful eating habits. Slow down.
- Chew chew swallow, chew chew swallow. Piggybacking off of point 1, point 2 is about the digestive process that continues on in the mouth, as your saliva collaborates to assist in food transport and breakdown. Unfortunately, more often than not, due to our ‘on the go’ lifestyles, or just improper habits around food consumption…our poor chewing contributes to the poor formation of a bolus (thoroughly chewed food to be transported to the next stage: the stomach). When our food is not properly chewed…our digestion is going to struggle with the chore of having break down the food more so than usual in the stomach and intestines (i.e. something not in its original job description). Put your fork down between bites. Chew your food until you can no longer tell what it formerly was (i.e. a piece of chicken should taste like chicken still…but be like a wad of saliva-glazed chicken after you’re finished chewing). Believe it or not, experts are now saying 30+ chews is the key number for better digestion)—
- Low stomach acid. The optimal pH (acidity level) of your stomach is 1.5-3 for digestion (i.e. highly acidic)—particularly proteins (and you eat a lot of protein). A nutritional therapy practitioner, integrative medicine professional or GI Doctor can help guide you into uncovering the acidity of your stomach. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are some digestive supports that help give many people a ‘leg up’ when it comes to a healthy gut flora and enzyme production for the breakdown and assimilation of your nutrients.
- Leaky gut syndrome and dysbiosis (imbalance in the gut). The repetitive intake of improperly broken down food, or of trigger foods to the body (foods your body just does not agree with your system; i.e. grains, dairy, sugar and processed foods) can ‘leak’ into your bloodstream through the intestinal lining. When food is not fully digested…instead of being seen as a nourishing nutrient…it is seen as a foreign invader to the body, and in short, the body has an autoimmune response or unfavorable attacking effort (the flow of digestion is disrupted, resulting in things like IBS, constipation, bloating, etc.).
- Poor food quality. Many of us are ‘kids of a processed food generation’. That being said, our bodies have been exposed to many less than ideal chemicals and anti-nutrients that never nourished our body in the first place. Even today, many of us rely on fake sources of food (protein, bars, etc.) with names of ingredients we can pronounce and claims that they will make us ‘stronger, fitter, healthier, without…only to leave us bloated, constipated, or unfulfilled (not fully satisfying). While sports products like bars and shakes can have a place in an athlete’s diet, they should not make up the bulk of your nutrients and caloric intake if you really want the ‘slight edge’ on your competitors. In other words: you are void and deprived of nutrients when you don’t eat them through nourishing whole food sources. Reach for pasture-raised eggs with a rich bright orange yolk, dark green leafy greens, crispy red apples and juicy oranges, organic grass-fed beef and chicken thighs, and on and on. No organic is not necessary on everything….but real whole foods from a variety of actual food sources will get you far on the nutrient train.
Begin practicing these simple steps…and note the difference in how you not only feel…but also think (the mind-body connection).
Recipe of the week: Super Simple Pot Roast
Speaking of digestion…get your tastebuds salivating for this dish that you can easily throw in the crockpot this week. Hearty goodness! Serve along with roasted sweet potatoes, summer squash or cauliflower mash!
- Approximately 2.5 lb grass-fed rump roast
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cups chopped celery
- 1 cup baby carrots (or chopped carrots)
- 2 cups of water or broth
- 2 Tbl fresh parsley, chopped
- Season the roast with salt and pepper.
- Sear in a hot pan until browned on all sides.
- Add to a crock pot.
- Add everything else but the parsley to the pot and cover. Cook on high for five hours. (May need more water or broth is the meat is not fully covered).
- Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.