THE DIFFERENT STEPS OF DIGESTION AND HOW BITTERS HELP
The human body is rather ingenious in how it functions. Quite miraculous, in fact, are all of the given ways which our body hums, ticks, and morphs along at any (well, every) given moment in time to keep us in healthy, working order. Digestion, at its simplest, is putting something in one end, gleaning nutrients from it as it passes through, and having it leave the other end as a waste product. When we take a closer look at this process, there is much to be in awe of in the diligent, methodical work your body undertakes. Understanding this process also demonstrates how the bitter flavor plays such an important, wide-spread role in supporting digestion. When the bitter taste receptors in the mouth are activated, they signal the rest of our digestive tract to begin secreting important factors for proper digestion like saliva, stomach acid, bile and digestive enzymes. Let’s take a look at what roles these secretions play during the different steps of digestion.
Digestion begins in the mouth where food is broken down mechanically via chewing, and chemically via enzymes in the saliva. From here we swallow and send our food down the esophagus, through the esophageal sphincter and into the stomach. The stomach churns our food over, continuing to break it down into smaller particles, and also secretes hydrochloric acid (hCL), also known as stomach acid, whose primary jobs are to break down protein, kill incoming bacteria, and liberate vitamin B12 from our food so that we may absorb it. Proper hCL levels tell our esophageal sphincter to close so that our stomach’s contents stay where they are and don’t backtrack up the esophagus. In this case, low stomach acid can be cause for uncomfortable heartburn.
Once your stomach’s job is complete, its contents then empty into the small intestine through the pyloric sphincter. Low hCL can affect this sphincter as well, leading to gastric emptying before proper digestion in the stomach has occurred and causing fermentation (aka gas formation).
Upon entering your small intestine, the liver and gallbladder chime in to provide bile for breaking down fat and for binding waste products. Important pancreatic enzymes also enter the picture that further breakdown protein as well as carbohydrates. During the 18 foot (18 feet!) journey through the small intestine with these enzymes, the bulk of digestion takes place. Capillaries in the villi of the intestine wall absorb the resulting tiny food molecules, sending them out into the blood stream to build and nourish your organs and tissues.
Whatever the body cannot use for nourishment is then sent to the large intestine to be excreted. Here, water that is no longer needed for the digestive process is re-absorbed into the blood stream.
A lot has happened between meal time and toilet time! So, the next time you eat or the next time you use the bathroom, don’t forget to thank your intelligent body for its symphony of secretions that support healthy digestion and good health. You should probably thank your bitters, too!