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9 Tips to improve your digestion during menopause

The proper digestion of food contributes to our general well-being.  Here are 9 simple tips to improve your digestion today.

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. – Virginal Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own

Food is the fuel for our engine, our super hotrod, our body that allows us to go through all the stages of our lives: joys, sorrows, challenges, bridges, mountains, ravines and so on.  Therefore, we must feed it with the best possible food in it to ensure its proper functioning.  However it is imperative that the nutrients be well assimilated by our bodies.

Our digestive system is the gateway to these nutrients.  Its job is specifically to transform this food into nutrients and make sure that they reach their final destination in our body.  In addition, our digestive system has the role of expelling toxins from our body.

How the Digestive System Works

This section refers to the video (5 minutes) here on the right.  I love this video because it explains all the steps of digestion really well; I thought it would be good to include the text for a better understanding.

Across the whole planet, humans eat on average between one and 2.7 kilograms of food a day.

That’s over 365 kilograms a year per person, and more than 28,800 kilograms over the course of a lifetime.  And every last scrap makes its way through the digestive system.

Comprised of ten organs covering nine meters,and containing over 20 specialized cell types, this is one of the most diverse and complicated systems in the human body.

Its parts continuously work in unison to fulfill a singular task: transforming the raw materials of your food into the nutrients and energy that keep you alive.

Spanning the entire length of your torso, the digestive system has four main components.

First, there’s the gastrointestinal tract, a twisting channel that transports your food and has an internal surface area of between 30 and 40 square meters, enough to cover half a badminton court.

Second, there’s the pancreas, gallbladder, and liver, a trio of organs that break down food using an array of special juices.

Third, the body’s enzymes, hormones, nerves, and blood all work together to break down food, modulate the digestive process, and deliver its final products.

Finally, there’s the mesentery, a large stretch of tissue that supports and positions all your digestive organs in the abdomen, enabling them to do their jobs.

How is food digested

The digestive process begins before food even hits your tongue.

Anticipating a tasty morsel, glands in your mouth start to pump out saliva.  That would be the mouth watering effect! We produce about 1.5 liters of this liquid each day.

Once inside your mouth, chewing combines with the sloshing saliva to turn food into a moist lump called the bolus.  Enzymes present in the saliva break down any starch.

Then, your food finds itself at the rim of a 25-centimeter-long tube called the esophagus,down which it must plunge to reach the stomach.

Nerves in the surrounding esophageal tissue sense the bolus’s presence and trigger peristalsis, a series of defined muscular contractions.

That propels the food into the stomach, where it’s left at the mercy of the muscular stomach walls, which bound the bolus, breaking it into chunks.

Hormones, secreted by cells in the lining, trigger the release of acids and enzyme-rich juices from the stomach wall that start to dissolve the food and break down its proteins.

These hormones also alert the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder to produce digestive juices and transfer bile, a yellowish-green liquid that digests fat, in preparation for the next stage.

After three hours inside the stomach, the once shapely bolus is now a frothy liquid called chyme, and it’s ready to move into the small intestine.

The liver sends bile to the gallbladder, which secretes it into the first portion of the small intestine called the duodenum.  Here, it dissolves the fats floating in the slurry of chyme so they can be easily digested by the pancreatic and intestinal juices that have leached onto the scene.

These enzyme-rich juices break the fat molecules down into fatty acids and glycerol for easier absorption into the body. The enzymes also carry out the final deconstruction of proteins into amino acids and carbohydrates into glucose.

This happens in the small intestine’s lower regions, the jejunum and ileum, which are coated in millions of tiny projections called villi. These create a huge surface area to maximize molecule absorption and transference into the blood stream.

The blood takes them on the final leg of their journey to feed the body’s organs and tissues.

But it’s not over quite yet. Leftover fiber, water, and dead cells sloughed off during digestion make it into the large intestine, also known as the colon. The body drains out most of the remaining fluid through the intestinal wall.

What’s left is a soft mass called stool. The colon squeezes this byproduct into a pouch called the rectum, where nerves sense it expanding and tell the body when it’s time to expel the waste.

The byproducts of digestion exit through the anus and the food’s long journey, typically lasting between 30 and 40 hours, is finally complete.

As demonstrated in the video, you understand that the absorption of nutrients in the body inevitably goes through the intestinal villi, those little fingers that are found in the lower region of the small intestine.  At the base of the intestinal villi are the tight junctions: they act as a filter.

It is these tight junctions that ensure that only the elements (nutrients) approved by your body reach their final destinations.

Several factors affect the effectiveness, or tightness of these intestinal villi, such as: medication, stress, malnutrition, estrogen decline, high sugar intake, etc.

When the effectiveness of these tight joints is questioned, significant repercussions are felt throughout the body, as this state creates inflammation.

Louise Therrien ND

It is important to understand that our immune protection is provided within the intestinal wall that secretes our defence proteins, called immunoglobulins.

If this barrier in the wall is damaged by certain foods or toxins, our entire body’s immune integrity may be disrupted and create inflammatory reactions.

The intestine then becomes permeable to food that is not completely digested or to bacteria of all kinds.  This phenomenon is called Leaky Gut Syndrom. – Dr. Brouillard, La santé repensée

Social Event And Food

The association between social gathering and a meal goes back almost to the dawn of time; the Greeks, Romans and others are known to have had banquets lasting several days, orgies of food, and so on.

In Western Europe, banqueting in the Middle Ages was a festive occasion.  Banquets were organized for weddings, the end of hunting season, for a religious event or sometimes even to reward certain peasants at the end of the year.

Even today we still often associate an event with a meal.  That is not necessarily a good thing because certain groups of people (family, friends) the event revolves solely around the meal.

What I mean here is that the ultimate goal of the gathering, which should be to have a good time with family, friends, etc., is centered only around the table, the bar or the BBQ.  Let’s stuff ourselves!!  Not very long after, or even before we finish our festive meal, we already feel bad, a digestive discomfort is about to take over our general well-being and compromise our ability to participate in the party! How sad.

Moreover, one cannot ignore the cultural difference in the menu presented. Not so long ago, food offerings remained local; Canadians did not have access to oranges from Florida or sweet mangos from Guadeloupe.  Everyone ate what was available in their own backyard.

I remember when avocados first appeared at the local grocery store! Wow! Exoticism on our plate.  I was about 16 years old.

However, one cannot necessarily afford exotic foods because these foods are more expensive of course.  Today, the effects of climate change are making us question this accessibility because transporting these foodstuffs is very expensive for our planet.

9 Tips To Improve Your Digestion

  1. Have good teeth
  2. Take your time to eat
  3. To drink or not to drink while eating
  4. Our posture – does it matter
  5. Fibre, fibre and more fibre
  6. Our friendly intestinal bacteria
  7. Detecting the hunger signal
  8. Consuming a reasonable amount
  9. Respect your sense of satiety

1. Having Good Teeth

Chewing and breaking down food mixed with enzymes in the mouth is really the basis of your digestion. That’s why oral hygiene is essential to health, it contributes to our good digestion.

2. Taking Time To Eat

As explained above, digestion begins even before the first bite.  Taking the time to eat will ensure that the sequences of digestion are respected.  Haven’t you ever felt a blockage in your esophagus when you swallow whole?  Appreciating the view of your meal will have you begin  secreting enzymes from your mouth, so that the food going into your esophagus has already started the digestion process.

3. To Drink Or Not To Drink While Eating

The production of gastric juices occurs naturally and varies depending on what you eat. Also, the digestive process requires a lot of water to do its work and carry food to the intestines. As you can see, drinking water during a meal should not interfere with the digestive process.

4. Our Posture – Does It Matter?

As long as we understand that food is transported to the stomach, through the esophagus, by gravity, we also understand that a vertical posture will facilitate this part of the transit.

5. Fibre, Fibre and More Fibre

Fibre has no dietary value, it helps with transit.

The best sources are dried fruits and legumes (soya, lentils, chickpeas, dried beans…), as well as whole grain products (rice, bread, pasta, flour, oats, …). Vegetables and fruits are also rich sources of fibre, depending on their nature.

Recently, the popularity of certain food plans has meant that people are consuming very little fibre.  Luckily, we can find fibre in powder form (psyllium, ground flax seeds, etc.) that can easily be added to the recipes.

If you choose to take a fibre supplement, read the product label carefully to ensure that it contains as little sugar as possible.

6. Our Friends Intestinal Bacteria

Our intestine is home to more than 500 different kinds of bacteria.  In a healthy intestinal system, the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria is 80-20, but this ratio is often reversed due to an unhealthy environment, overuse of medication, antibiotics or inadequate nutrition.

When there is an imbalance in the gut flora, it is important to introduce bacteria that are desirable for proper intestinal function, called probiotics.  This is the 3rd step of the 4 R’s program.

7. Dectect the signs of hunger

The signs of hunger are the moment when you “gotta eat something”!!

  • Gargled into the stomach;
  • Feeling of emptiness in the stomach;
  • Small cramps;
  • Low energy, difficulty concentrating, irritability and sometimes even panic;

8. Eat a Reasonable Amount – Take a look at your plate

You must also continually adjust your quantities and food choices according to your activity level and your body’s fat reserves.

The diagram below demonstrates the portions.  It does not indicate the number of servings.  If in one case you have to take 2 servings of fat for one serving of vegetable, you will have to take this into account.

I particularly like this measurement method because it is perfectly adapted to everyone. At a glance you can see what suits you.

Louise Therrien ND

9. Respecting Your Feeling Of Satiety

Imbalance sets in quickly when you eat too much (swelling, gas, restless sleep, etc.).  We know that the leptin hormone acts by triggering the sensation of satiety in the brain when we have eaten enough.

Listen to that little inner voice that tells you: am I really still hungry?

Signs of satiety correspond to the moment when you have to stop eating!

  • Feeling full without being overfilled;
  • Find food to be less tasty;
  • Feel a renewed energy;
  • Feel comfortable, good.

Effect of Stress on Digestion

Stress is the set of responses that an organism undergoes under pressure from its environment. These responses often depend on the individual’s perception of the pressures he or she is feeling.  It is not so much the event itself, but the impact of the event on the individual.  It is a complex sequence of events that provokes physiological, biochemical and psychosomatic responses. – Dr. Brouillard

Stress-related digestive disorders are numerous, varied, frequent and must be managed to prevent a deterioration of the immune system.  They are as follows: bloating, burns, gastric heaviness, transit disorders such as diarrhea or constipation, nausea, reflux, loss of mucus, etc…

Stress can alter the production process of digestive secretions and the mobility of the gastrointestinal tract, which can interfere with the emptying of the stomach, for example.  It also has an effect on tight joints and their functions.

The maintenance of the elements of the digestive system: digestive tract and digestive glands, as well as the maintenance of the digestive function they are responsible for, are managed, totally outside of our consciousness, by the autonomic nervous system, also called the neuro-vegetative system.

The nervous system recognizes two components: one accelerates the functioning of the digestive system, the other tends to slow it down. It is therefore the nervous system that controls “peristalsis”!   Normally, these two components act in harmony to regulate the alternating periods of work and rest of the digestive system. The failure of this beautiful mechanism can lead to situations that can go from too much to too little.

In conclusion

The intestine is the part of our body that is most often neglected or even forgotten.

The digestive system is most essential to our well-being.

From our mouth to the toxin evacuator that is the colon, it manages an intense biochemical activity in our body.

Certainly there are still other tricks to improve your digestion.  However, my approach consists mainly of establishing good lifestyle habits and this can take time.  So I suggest you start by applying one of the tips listed, one at a time.

On that note, I’ll see you soon.

Louise Therrien ND

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