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Digestion – Why Is It Important & How Can It Cause A Bad Back?

Our digestive process & overall gut health are absolutely integral to our health & wellbeing… Going back to the 37.2 trillion chemical reactions happening in our body every second; a huge number of these happen in our gut & digestive system. Imagine if conditions there are not favourable & the harmful bacteria outweighs the good bacteria… This can result in pain, bloating, gas, constipation to name a few maladies! Poor digestion has many many negative health problems associated to it, everything from indigestion to bowel cancer so it is definitely important to look after it! This article is designed to highlight the different functions of the digestive system, problems that can arise & some practical tips on how to improve it.
How does it work?
  • Digestion begins not with the mouth but with the eyes! We always have a decision when it comes to what we choose to nurture our bodies with; food can be our greatest medicine or our worst poison.
  • Chewing is an integral part of digestion as it not only not only converts the food into a more manageable format for the stomach to further digest but also releases important enzymes in our saliva which begin the process of chemically breaking down the food. Harking back to the water article if we are dehydrated we don’t produce as much saliva which hampers our digestion!
  • After chewing the food up or mastication to get tekkers the food travels down the oesophagus & into the stomach where it is dissolved by a strong concentration of hydrochloric acid. This acid breaks down proteins into amino acids for absorption in the small intestine & also kills parasites & unfriendly bacteria unless completely overloaded.
  • Making it’s way into the small intestine the food has now been broken down into a mostly liquid format called chyme. It is in the small intestine that most of the digestion takes place & the most absorption happens. The small intestine is 6-7 metres long & is actually sometimes referred to as your second brain. Did you know that your intestines actually change shape according to your emotions? It will have a certain shape for happy & contort to a completely different shape when angry or sad. Also such mental problems such as anxiety & depression have been shown to have a direct link to poor gut health.
  • Digestive enzymes from the pancreas & bile from the liver are released to aid in the digestion & breakdown of the food. Once digested the food is sent to the liver for processing before it is sent to the rest of the body. Eg sugars have a different function within the body than proteins so the liver makes sense of this & delivers the required nutrients to where they need to go.
  • The system finishes with the large intestine & finally colon. This final part is a specialised organ that produces vitamins & recycles water for the body. There are trillions of bacteria in the colon with the optimal balance being 85% friendly to 15% friendly. Unfortunately through our modern diets of fast & processed foods this can actually be 15% friendly & 85% unfriendly which can cause us problems! The friendly bacteria produce vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, A & K so when the concentration of bacteria is upside down we are not getting the crucial vitamins the body needs for optimal function. A lot can be told about our digestive system by what comes out the other end! If movements arn’t regular & they come in all kinds of crazy shapes, sizes & smells then there may be something up with your digestive system!
How poor digestion can affect the muscular system.
Can a bad back be linked to poor digestion…. Or even stress….. Could it all be linked? Absolutely!!! Here is how this scenario can potentially come about:
Joe Bloggs has a very hectic & busy life, a demanding job, Mrs Bloggs has the flu, he is not sleeping or eating well & his kids all have chicken pox to boot! To make matters worse Joe has just developed a bad back pain, poor bloke!
Here’s how his back pain may have happened: The stress in his life has caused his digestive system to not work correctly as he is in a constant fight or flight response. That coupled with all the processed convenience foods he eats has created the perfect storm in his gut & he often feels bloated & constipated.
Nerves come out between the gaps in our spinal cords to innervate & control the various organs & muscles around the body. Certain nerves will go to certain digestive organs as well as the muscles in our back being on the same loop. The 5-9 thoracic vertebrae serve the small intestine & the mid back muscles while the 9-12 thoracic & 9-3 lumbar vertebrae serve the colon & lower back muscles.
What happens is because the organs & muscles are on the same loop the body does not distinguish the one that is in pain & shuts down both the organ & the muscles as a protective measure to stop damage in the area.
You can think of the spine like a ship mast with the muscles being the ropes holding the mast up. If one rope is slack because it’s not working properly (back muscle turned off by irritated digestive organ) then the mast will be under strain. Strain means pain in the back!

Now since Joe is bloated & constipated because of all the bad foods he eats coupled with how stressed he is we can say that his colon & small intestine are not working properly. He has developed a pain in his power back because of it! (his desk job doesn’t help matters either!)

The diagram shows how the nerves from the spine link to the digestive system along with a little devil inside which can be our processed foods causing trouble.
What can cause poor digestion & why?
This is not an exhaustive list but here are some of the main culprits:
  • Dehydration – Water is an absolutely essential component of digestion for all of it’s processes. Without it it will scavenge water from other organs, inhibiting their function & will rob moisture from the mucus membrane in the stomach meaning your stomach wall has less protection from all that acid! Water aids colon movements as well which will help avoid constipation.
  • Toxic bowel – This results from constipation or a poor diet of processed foods. Imagine what happens when you don’t take out the bin – it starts rotting & smelling foul. The same happens in the colon if constipated causing the body to reabsorb toxins it was trying to expel. This puts a huge demand on the liver & kidneys & body in general. If you’re going 3 times a day you’re in a good place!
  • Allergic reactions – food intolerances can wreck havoc in the digestive system by inflaming it & generally giving you a bad time! Food allergy signs are bloating, gas, inflamation & fungal infections
  • Stress – this is huge! When stressed our bodies are in a fight or flight mode in the nervous system because it is busy surviving! Our bodies don’t really know the difference between real danger & a stressful day at work so shuts down the digestive system because it think’s it is about to fight a tiger, whereby digesting isnt much use. When destressed our nervous system goes into “rest & digest” mode, enabling proper digestive function.
  • Processed foods – this is an article in itself but suffice to say that our bodies see the chemicals in processed foods as nasty invaders no different to bad germs which provokes an immune reaction & stress response.
  • Antibiotics – they are great at destroying bacteria but unfortunately don’t care what they destroy. It can be known for antibiotics to completely strip the gut of all of the good bacteria, resulting in gut problems, with one of the reasons being that it can repopulate with bad bacteria as there is none of the good stuff to combat the bad stuff.
  • Dairy (but not all!) it is essential to get organic dairy & stay away from cows milk as much as possible as it is loaded with hormones & antibiotics. Also through homogenisation & pasteurisation the lactase enzymes that naturally break down the lactose within the are killed off, meaning that our bodies can have a hard time processing it. Dairy that has not been tampered with though is pretty good for you, unfortunately much of it has.
  • Sugars. These irritate the gut & also create a stress response within the body. Also linked to many health problems but that’s for another article.
  • Processed juices – similar to the milk juices go through a pasteurisation treatment that kill off many of the enzymes & nutrients in the juice to preserve shelf life leaving you with essentially sugar water.
  • Bad fats – our bodies really struggle to break these down & as a result the liver produces way more bile than usual to cope which can & often does lead to diarrhoea.
  • Caffeine can irritate the digestional tract.
Tips for good digestion:
  • Drink 3l of water a day.
  • Limit processed foods.
  • If you suspect an intolerance you can either pay for an allergy test or completely cut out a food group that you think might be suspect (dairy, gluten etc) wait for 3-4 weeks, see how you feel then eat it again to see if you experience any adverse reactions.
  • Destress where possible (more on stress in later articles).
  • Eat organic dairy & switch to other milks such as goats or almond milk.
  • Drink fresh juice rather than processed.
  • Limit sugars.
  • Limit fried foods.
  • Limit caffeine. A couple of cups of coffee in the morning is generally fine but 3+ a day will cause a continual stress response & irritate the gut.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks & “diet” drinks completely.
If this is a lot to take in then start with drinking more water & build from there. Habitual change does not happen overnight so start slow & build!
For nutritional coaching & digestion analysis call me on 07376124981 🙂

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