Bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, gut pain, heartburn, fatigue…
Many women complain of digestion-related issues ranging from small niggles through to incapacitating ailments.
But while common treatments aim to reduce or cover up the symptoms, it’s super important to appreciate how your gut works and why these problems arose in the first place because with understanding it is possible to discover permanent relief.
Let’s start at the beginning…
As you sit down to a gorgeous meal, your digestive system kicks into gear before you’ve ever taken a bite.
Saliva production increases: This water, electrolyte, mucus and enzyme mix provides the body with chemicals and cells to fight potentially harmful bacteria, the enzymes that will soon be needed to digest starch, and the essential hydration needed for happy chewing.
As we eat, the tongue moves food around our mouth and our teeth grind…
Both allow food to be chopped thoroughly.
Once the moistened food is sufficiently small, we swallow and muscular contractions, called peristalsis, send the food pieces down the oesophagus and into the stomach, where the real work begins.
Strong digestive acids combine with the movements of the stomach to break food down further.
Our stomach acids…
- Activate the enzyme, pepsin, needed to break down protein…
- Switch on intrinsic factor, which is required for later vitamin B12 absorption…
- Trigger the release of pancreatic and liver enzymes into the small intestine in preparation for foods imminent arrival…
And they help to open the pyloric valve so the broken down food can move from the stomach and into the small intestine for the next part of the digestive process.
The chyme (that’s the technical term for the partially digested food) is released into the small intestine where an astounding 90% of digestion and nutrient absorption occurs.
Digestive enzymes are received from the pancreas and the liver and continue to blend with the food.
The small intestine is a truly incredible nutrient absorbing powerhouse and this is where it comes into its own…
It has mucosal folds rather than a flat surface, finger-like projections called villi that project into the internal space of the intestine and microvilli (or hairlike structures) and each increases the surface area available to soak up nutrients.
From here, the remnants of foods — the waste — is passed through into the large intestine where water is reabsorbed, bacteria produce vitamin K, and unused food components are compressed to form stools bound for excretion.
But with a system this complex, there are many places along the way where… hiccups… can occur.
One of the most common problems is called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO for short).
When the healthy gut bug population of the small intestine increases rapidly or the variety of microbial flora changes, unpleasant symptoms can occur like abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, food intolerances like gluten, fructose and lactose, skin rashes, tiredness, and weakness.
What can trigger this?
- Low stomach acid (not high like you may have been told)
- Coeliac’s disease
- Diabetes type 1 and 2
- Multiple courses of antibiotics
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
I also believe that the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) has to be placed on this list…
There is evidence that the pill can contribute to inflammatory bowel diseases, including Chron’s disease.
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