There are 5 major pathways of digestion/breakdown within our body.
Mastication or chewing is the beginning of the digestion process and plays an important role. Therefore, ensuring that food is properly chewed will support your body’s ability access the life important nutrients.
Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is the major acid in our stomach. This causes the breakdown of proteins and fats. Although HCL doesn’t complete the digestive process, small changes to the stomach’s acidity (pH) can dramatically affect our ability to successfully receive mineral nutrients locked in protein structures. A common indicator of a HCL deficiency, is the presence of undigested food in the stool.
Enzymes function throughout our digestive system. Beginning in the mouth, Amylase starts the breakdown of complex carbohydrates. From there, Pepsin works alongside HCL in the stomach to start breaking down proteins. Protease, Lipase and Amylase, secreted by the pancreas, are released into the small intestine to further break down protein, fats and carbohydrates. Enzymatic function drastically alters the final stages of digestion. Working to release nutrients and complete the breakdown process, deficiency in pancreatic enzymes can dramatically affect nutritional status. Enzymatic function can be tested via a stool test for pancreatic elastase.
Bile acids are produced by the liver and released by the gallbladder into the small intestine. Bile acid or bile salts break down fats/lipids into fatty acids and cholesterol so they can be transported through the bloodstream and used in the production of hormones, cell membranes and a hundred other functions. When a healthy individual consumes a meal containing fat, the gallbladder releases enough bile to break down that quantity of fat. However, when a cholecystectomy has been conducted (gall bladder removed) bile acids are no longer released in large quantities. Instead, they release a steady trickle of bile throughout the day. This may affect the ability to digest large quantities of fat in a single sitting, thereby increasing the risk of fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies (A, D, E, K) and omega 3. Bile acid deficiency can be tested via serum analysis of the alkaline phosphatase liver enzyme.
Bacteria play an important role in our digestive system. They help to finish off the majority of our digestive functions. Most commonly in the colon, our microbiome (good bacteria) provides us with vitamins such as K, E, and B12, as well as fatty acids and amino acids. A wide range of factors can disturb our microbiome. Medications such as antibiotics are the most common. However pH, pesticides, stress and a lack of prebiotic foods (foods that feed good bacteria) can also affect our microbiome status. The status of your microbiome can be tested via a comprehensive stool analysis.