Our body systems are designed to function efficiently. We remain healthy as long as our bodily processes go on unchecked. The stomach is where digestion starts; it is also the gateway to the intestine’s immune system. Stomach acid is meant to terminate harmful microbes. Without the proper production of stomach acid, optimal enzymatic activity throughout the body and healthy bacterial balance cannot be maintained.
An underactive stomach does not produce enough enzymes for the appropriate digestion of food. This affects proper functioning of the colon, leading to constipation and poor absorption of all vitamins and minerals. Hydrochloric acid converts iron, calcium and zinc into ionic forms that can be absorbed. Without hydrochloric acid there are always mineral deficiencies.
Protein deficiency and allergies are also common in those with an underactive stomach. The stomach enzyme that digests protein, pepsin, cannot be made without sufficient hydrochloric acid. The pancreas is then called upon to digest protein and it becomes exhausted, compromising the digestion of all foods.
Some of the signs of an underactive stomach include:
- Bloating, belching, burning and flatulence immediately after meals
- Indigestion, diarrhea or constipation
- Multiple food sensitivities or allergies
- Lacklustre hair and hair loss
- Weak, peeling and cracked fingernails
- Undigested food in the stool
- Nausea after taking supplements
- Itching around the rectum
So How Is This Caused?
Diets rich in animal protein, dairy products, refined and processed foods, and fast foods can all lead to an underactive stomach.
What you may not know is that drinking too much with meals (especially ice cold drinks), improper food combining, inadequate chewing and stress are also contributing factors!
Stress literally shuts down digestive processes. If the stress-associated sympathetic system is on, it pushes blood away from the entire digestive tract, which compromises the function of both the stomach and intestines. Acute and chronic stress, and stimulants like caffeine that cause epinephrine release, can contribute to an underactive stomach as well. Keeping mealtime peaceful and happy will have a positive effect on digestion and absorption.
The sight, smell and anticipation of food, and the chewing of food in the mouth, stimulate the production and secretion of gastric juices. Eating on the run, not preparing and anticipating the food, or not chewing properly are not good digestive habits (and aren’t we all guilty of these at times!)
So What Can You Do?
Eating smaller meals more often and avoiding or limiting concentrated protein foods and convenience food will support the digestion process.
Proper food combining protocols include eating high-starch with non-starch; eating high-protein with non-starch vegetables; eating healthy oils with all types of vegetables. Poor food combining, which should be avoided, includes eating high-protein with high-starch; high-protein with fruit; high-starch with fruit. Fruits are best eaten alone, at least 30 minutes before other foods and not for 3 hours after other meals.
The reason why fruit should be eaten alone is that sugars are digested in the intestine and pass through the stomach within minutes. When sugars are mixed in the stomach with proteins and fats (which remain in the stomach for hours), fermentation occurs causing gas and bloating.
At least 50 percent of your diet should be high-water-content foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables as these provide quick energy, body building nutrients and enough water, fiber and alkaline mineral salts to assist the body in cleansing and detoxification. The remainder of your diet should consist of seeds, grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, ocean fish, drug-free poultry, low-fat live culture dairy products and grass fed meats.
In some cases, temporary use of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid supplementation are required to improve digestion, absorption and strength of digestive tissues.
- Avoid coffee, tea, caffeine, stimulants and carbonated beverages
- Take fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar 15 minutes before eating
- Avoid sugar, alcohol and artificial sweeteners
- Drink lots of pure water, but not during meals
- Increase fiber intake
- Incorporate bitter greens in salad
- Take probiotics
- Maintain consistent, frequent exercise
- Reduce stress and practice stress management techniques
- Put utensils down between bites which forces you to eat slower and chew food properly
- Avoid television and other stimulating or distracting activities while eating
I am not able to adhere to every single one of these digestive best practices every day, however I do my best to achieve roughly an 80% adherence rate each week. I still eat too fast and am guilty of watching TV at times while eating. But overall my digestive system today is working much more efficiently than it did four years ago.
Nutrition Symptomatology, Handbook for CSNN Students – Danielle Perrault, R.H.N.
Nutritional Pathology – Brenda Lessard-Rhead, BSc, ND