When it comes to healing digestive issues, it’s certainly true that we need to test to identify and then treat any infections or dysbiosis that may be contributing.
But just as importantly, we need to optimize the environment of the gut. In order to develop infections or overgrowths, the environment has to be right. Otherwise, our healthy gut terrain is inhospitable to the “bad guys”, and nurturing to the “good guys”.
This mainly involves things like optimal digestive secretions (like stomach acid and pancreatic digestive enzymes) that set the pH and fully digest our food. This ensures that we both assimilate the nutrients contained in what we eat, but also prevents other organisms, like bacteria and yeast, from eating it instead.
Other secretions, like bile from our liver/gall bladder, are also super essential. Bile digests fat, but also is a powerful antimicrobial, and regulates the motility of our intestines.
Of all the digestive secretions, Stomach Acid might be the most important when it comes to resilience against infections. Stomach acid (called Hydrochloric Acid, or HCL) is like your first line of defense.
You may know that stomach acid’s main role is to break down the proteins we eat, so that we can absorb the smaller amino acid building blocks to use as nutrition.
But stomach acid is also antibacterial to undesirable strains because of the low pH environment that it creates.
Keeping food in the stomach long enough is critical for the action of stomach acid to control the populations infused into lower regions with each pulsatile release of chyme. This is because food needs to be exposed to stomach acid (HCL) long enough to kill bad bacteria, preventing them from proceeding on into the small intestine.
So, if you have super-rapid motility (this is common in people who have chronic diarrhea), your food may pass too quickly through the stomach and into the intestines, and not have enough exposure to HCL. This equals increased risk of infections, in addition to not enough nutrient digestion.
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Modern diet and lifestyle
- And even just natural aging!
it’s unfortunately very common for people to produce less than optimal amounts of stomach acid to meet the demands of food intake.
And…..we need enough HCL present to keep the stomach pH below 4 for the entire time the food we are digesting in the stomach. If this doesn’t happen…pathogenic microbes pass unharmed into the intestines where they can take residence! (hello SIBO and parasites!)
Here’s the most important thing I want you to learn today:
HOW we eat our meals is one of the most important factors in optimizing gut environment.
Just becoming aware of HOW we eat, is one of the biggest things you can do to change what is happening with your digestive secretions, and therefore, with your microbiome.
Chewing: Why is chewing your food so important in regards to this?
Yes, chewing breaks your food down into smaller pieces, increasing the surface area, so that digestive secretions in the stomach and small intestines (like pancreatic enzymes, bile, and stomach acid) can further break them down.
But….there are other not so obvious reasons!
Chewing exposes foods to enzymes in the saliva that break down the cell walls of gram positive bacteria, causing them to die.
This means that chewing adequately is really our first weapon against pathogens that might be entering with our food!
Being relaxed while eating: Stress is a big factor that leaves us more prone to getting opportunistic gut infections, because stress shuts down our digestive secretions.
When our brain thinks we need to run from the proverbial tiger, it focuses our body’s energy and attention on surviving NOW, and diverts it from activities that are about long term survival, like digesting our nutrients.
Stress also spikes our cortisol, and this suppresses our gut’s immune system big-time–for much the same reason. And the hormone that our brain uses to signal the adrenal glands to make more cortisol, CRH, can promote leaky gut.
Healthy Meal Hygiene for Healthy Gut Environment:
1) Focus on creating a state of overall calm before, during and after eating to encourage stomach acid and digestive enzyme secretion.
2) Chew adequately—more than you think….keep chewing!– to reduce particle size and mix enzymes in the saliva.
3) Include balanced fats, carbohydrates and proteins in each meal to encourage food to stay in the stomach long enough.
4) Planning enough time for meals—not eating on the run—is critical, to help allow for parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system activity. This allows for proper secretion of digestive fluids. Otherwise, if our body thinks we are running from the hypothetical tiger, there’s no digestion being emphasized, and no secretions being made—“Ain’t nobody got time for that”!
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