Health checkup: Digestion and absorption
By Les Moore, ND, MSOM, LAc.
Proper digestion and absorption are critical for optimal health.
The first phase of digestion is actually an intricate communication between the brain and the digestive system, triggered by odors of food, the sight of food, anticipation of eating and the sensation of hunger before a meal.
Eating when you are hungry, relaxed and able to enjoy your food allows proper digestion, while stress, anxiety, tension, anger and even overexcitement at mealtime inhibit digestion. Maldigestion can be caused by inadequate chewing of food, insufficient stomach acid or insufficient digestive enzymes.
Some common signs of low stomach acid are bloating, belching, burning and flatulence after meals; fullness; indigestion; diarrhea; constipation; nausea after taking supplements; rectal itching; weak, peeling or cracked fingernails; iron deficiency; undigested food in stool; acne; and chronic intestinal infections.
Malabsorption occurs when food isn’t digested enough to free the needed nutrients or when the intestinal lining is damaged. Malabsorption can be caused by insufficient concentrations of digestive enzymes, food allergies, inadequate absorptive surface, bacterial and viral infections, some drugs and some diseases.
Some of the symptoms of malabsorption are abdominal bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, chronic diarrhea, constipation, greasy stools, bruising easily, chronic fatigue, poor quality hair and nails, anemia, chronic intestinal infections, chronic autoimmune diseases, and poor growth rate and failure to thrive in children.
The first step in re-establishing stomach acid is daily supplementation with 25 mg of zinc. The next step is to stimulate the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid through the use of herbal bitters.
Bitters stimulate saliva, stomach acid and enzyme production.
I generally use a combination of gentian and ginger. If stress or nervousness is present, I use a combination of gentian and skullcap. Betaine hydrochloric acid capsules can be taken if the above do not help. One or two capsules of digestive enzymes with each meal can restore normal function.
Proper digestion and absorption of nutrients is paramount to maintaining your health and well-being. Help the process by being hungry and relaxed for meals, chewing well, choosing healthful, whole foods, eating sensible amounts at the right times, removing food allergies and improving stomach acid and enzyme production.
Les Moore, ND, MSOM, LAc. is director, Integrative Medicine, at Clifton Springs Hospital, Clifton Springs, Ontario County.
Copyright 2005 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle