Digestion begins with the thought, sight and smell of food. These senses trigger appetite and oral and gastric secretions, preparing the upper digestive tract for food.
The next stage is chewing your food, breaking it down into smaller pieces and mixing it with saliva. Our saliva contains enzymes, minerals and antibacterial substances. The enzyme lipase helps to break down fats and amylase breaks down carbohydrates. This is where protein digestion starts.
Now on to the oesophagus. This is the gateway for food which travels through the sphincter and into the stomach. Loss of sphincter tone is one of the major causes of reflux, not an issue with acid as many people think.
Then we have the stomach. The inner most layer of the stomach is made up of parietal cells which secrete hydrochloric acid, chief cells which produce pepsinogen and mucous-secreting cells. Can you believe that around one to three litres of gastric fluid containing hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and binding products is secreted in a day? All of this helps to break down our food when it reaches the stomach. The main role of the stomach is to break down protein, convert enzymes, solubilise nutrients and convert iron into its bioavailable state. Water, iodine, copper, fluoride and molybdenum are all also absorbed in the stomach.
The small intestine is up next. This is where the MOST of our digestion occurs. A series of finger-like projections, called villi, are present on the mucous membranes of the small intestine, increasing the surface area where ABSORPTION occurs. Carbohydrate digestion is completed here as more enzymes are released by the pancreas. Protein is also further digested and fat digestion continues.
The small intestine is so important as this is where substances are absorbed including essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids. If people have upper-digestive issues, constant inflammation or damage occurring to the small intestine, they are at risk of further issues throughout the whole body.
The small intestine can get an overgrowth of bacteria which is called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This is highly correlated to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder causing abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Many people who are diagnosed with IBS actually have SIBO. There are numerous causes of SIBO including medication use, infections, stress and poor diet to name a few.
One of the most important elements within the small intestine is secretory IgA (SIgA). SIgA plays an important role in mucosal immunity, the part of our immune system that separates the outside environment from the inside of the body including digestive and respiratory tracts. An important activity of mucosal surfaces (SIgA) is that they serve as a first line of defence to repel pathogenic microorganisms and provide a finely tuned balance to guarantee controlled survival of essential commensal bacteria.
SIgA may also have beneficial effects in overall immunity by reducing inflammation within the digestive tract. Microbiome testing can identify if levels of SlgA have been affected (commonly by medication use, poor diet, high stress, inactivity, infections, high gut inflammation and poor gut immunity) and are contributing to major gut symptoms. Prolonged low SIgA levels are not ideal as this creates an environment within the gut where unwanted bacteria and infections can thrive, creating an imbalance in the gut microbial community associated with disease. When we can identify low SlgA levels, we can address it through naturopathic treatment, changing the health of people’s gut.
Written by Karly Raven BHSc Naturopath
Want to know more about the digestive system?
The above is an excerpt (modified) from Nourish Your Gut, the latest ebook from naturopath and gut health guru Karly launching on 29 October.
A special pre-launch party is kicking off on 26 October in the Nourished Gut Community on Facebook. Join now to be a part of the fun and receive special bonuses, live Q&A and education sessions plus your chance to win a copy of the ebook!
The liver gets a very large focus when it comes to detoxification. It is involved in 300 processes within the body so it’s important not to overloaded it with work. Fortunately, the liver is not our only organ of elimination.
The skin (yes, it is an organ), digestive system, kidneys, lungs and lymph also play a significant role in the removal of waste from the body. Stimulating and improving the functioning of these will help to prevent a healing crisis, which often causes a worsening of symptoms (headaches, skin breakouts and mood changes) as we are depending on the liver to flush out a whole load of backed up toxins.
The reason many fad detox diets are not successful or do not have lasting results is due to the majority of the focus being on the liver. Creating a personalised detox focusing on other systems can help you to get better and longer-lasting results specific to your needs.
Organs of Elimination
Liver: One of the key functions of the liver is filtration of the blood. This process serves to clear the blood of large molecules, such as bacteria, bacterial endotoxin and antigen-antibody complexes.
Gut: This wouldn’t be a Kismet blog without talking about the gut! It plays a major role in the removal of toxins, hormones and non-beneficial bacteria. The gut excretes and processes 25 per cent of the waste from our body. Keeping your diet irritant-free and full of colourful, fibre-rich fruits and vegetables is a good start to supporting positive gut health.
Skin: This is one of our largest excretory organs and really helps to remove environmental waste from our body, including bisphenol A which is a very well-known endocrine disruptor found in many plastics and now our waterways. Using toxin-free skin products is important as the skin absorbs up to 80 per cent of what you put on it.
Lungs: Increasingly important this year, the lungs play a crucial role in removal of toxins from our environment. Our lungs are the filter between the air and our body. Deep breathing through the nose is a good way to ensure your lungs are getting the movement they need to help move out toxins.
Lymph: The lymphatic system lies just below the skin and this directly influences the skin’s capacity to act as an organ of elimination. A congested lymphatic system puts an increased burden on the skin, contributing to inflammation, poor complexion and other skin problems. The lymph does not move by itself like the circulatory system which has physical mechanisms, it only processes through direct movement by us. Exercise and dry skin brushing are great ways to move our lymph and remove the waste from our system.
Why do I have to remove gluten and dairy when detoxing?
Gluten specifically stimulates the release of zonulin, a molecule responsible for the opening of tight gap junctions in the gut, leaving our gut open and vulnerable to pathogens and irritants.
Why do I have to detox if I have a healthy diet?
Environmental toxins are rampant. Even if you follow a healthy organic diet, what surrounds us is absorbed into our skin and lungs and must be removed from the body so as not to be contributing to numerous health conditions.
What results can you get from doing a detox?
Reduction of pain symptoms
Removing waste from the body is a complex biological process and one which is important for our health. Fortunately, we have access to wonderful foods and herbs that work with biology to support our eliminatory organs.
Ideally, we want to keep our diet as free from toxins and preservatives as possible. Education is the focus within a detox period, as is stripping back what we do not need and instead including nourishing food to correct any nutritional deficiencies. This will help support biological processes in the body and not leave you feeling deprived when you change your diet.
Personalising your detox is important as each person can have an overload in a particular system of the body or may have a genetic predisposition. Work with one of qualified naturopaths for the best way to care for your body. See our exciting new program below!
Written by Ally Stuart BHSc Naturopath
4-WEEK NURTURE + RESET PROGRAM Starts 1 November 2020
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Gluten avoidance has been a contentious subject, becoming the butt of many jokes. However, for many, the issues caused by gluten and wheat products are laughing matter. Unfortunately, many people feel the pressure to succumb to eating wheat products out of fear of being perceived as annoying or just appearing to be fussy with their food choices.
So, the question on everyone’s lips is, should I be avoiding gluten if I do not have coeliacs disease?
The answer is not straightforward. For myself, I like to say I am gluten selective. I will definitely consume gluten, but I have a series of rigorous requirements before it gets my tick of approval.
Signs and symptoms
Many of us may connect symptoms of intolerance directly to gut distress but let’s not forget the intimate connection that exists between the gut and the mind, leading to many neurological symptom pictures.
After consuming gluten, being self-aware of any changes in your body, especially those listed above, can give you a good indication if you should currently be ingesting gluten. Try eating a good quality organic sourdough and see how you feel afterwards. This will give a true depiction if wheat is causing you distress.
Why you should avoid gluten
Gluten and wheat products can be detrimental in neuropsychiatric cases, such as depression and anxiety, as they can cause gut irritation and inflammation resulting in heightened symptoms.
Gluten has also been shown to increase tight gap junctions in the gut resulting in leaky gut which can lead to many different etiologies, including many autoimmune conditions. Therefore, reducing or removing gluten from your diet in autoimmune conditions is extremely important to improving outcomes.
It has been suggested that some symptoms of autism spectrum disorder may be caused by opioid peptides formed from the incomplete breakdown of gluten.
Hormonal imbalances can be heightened by gut issues as hormones are processed through the gut.
Another factor to consider is avoiding gluten that is not organic and is unfermented (see why below).
Where did we go wrong?
Much of the time it is not gluten that is the problem and, in many cases, some gluten-free products are in fact more detrimental than eating a wheat-filled product. Take a look at these ingredient lists below for two different store-bought pizza bases.
Why are we seeing a high prevalence of coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity?
Many wheat products are genetically modified, meaning our gut doesn’t break down this version of a gluten protein. Numerous people report that when they travel to Europe they have no issue with pasta and pizza and this is due to the fact that Europeans use heritage wheat which has not been genetically modified.
The majority of wheat products are now heavily sprayed with pesticides and also known to be heavily sprayed with glyphosate (i.e. Roundup). This can be the causing factor in reactions seen with wheat ingestion. A recent study proposed that glyphosate, not gluten, was the causal factor in many of the reactions seen with coeliacs and gluten intolerance.
Products that are not properly prepared can also cause reactions, as quick preparation can leave them filled with high amounts of hard to digest plant materials. A great option here is sourdough as these digestive irritants can easily be broken down through the fermentation process.
The high amounts of additives and preservatives now added to products can also cause similar reactions seen in gluten intolerance.
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is also seen in histamine intolerance.
How can we begin to heal?
It is important to heal the gut if you have been consistently ingesting wheat products, especially if they are the non-organic and non-fermented type.
Through a naturopathic approach, we begin by investigating the source of the problem then directing the treatment towards healing and sealing the gut and correcting any dysbiosis in the gut.
It is important to choose good quality products to prevent future issues and gut distress. In terms of consuming wheat products, the best practice is to choose organic, non-GMO, sourdough products. These are becoming increasingly easier to find and there is a plethora of sourdough recipes available on the internet. And these rules should not just apply to wheat! We should have the same standards for all the food we consume to prevent disease and heal our bodies.
We have created a number of excellent products and services to help you understand the importance of good gut health and to heal your gut. Want to assess your gut health? Take our quiz now!
Written by Ally Stewart BHSc
FREE GUT HEALTH MASTERCLASS! Naturopath Karly Raven is hosting an online Gut Health Masterclass where you can discover all you need to know about your gut and what it takes to look after it.
Get an in depth understanding of what digestion and gut health really is, the powerful connection between your gut health and whole body health plus how to start healing your gut NOW.
Gut Health Masterclass Wednesday 5 August 2020 @ 7.30 pm
Online via Zoom
Live attendance is FREE!
Wholefoods in general are the most important and healthiest fuel for your microbiome. Ensuring you are eating enough fibre is an essential part of managing a lot of gut issues. It will also help you to promote a healthy gut long term. The recommendation is to eat at least 30 g of fibre daily. However, too often we are not even getting close to this amount due to our Western style diets and highly processed food consumption.
In this blog, I wanted to outline some other foods and dietary suggestions that could help you to improve your gut health. I would also like to highlight when some foods should be considered with caution.
Bitter foods stimulate the secretion of digestive acids to improve digestion of foods and proper absorption of their nutrients. In particular, people suffering from acid reflux may benefit from eating some bitters before a meal to support adequate stomach acid for better digestion. Bitters improve digestion and regularity as they help to increase fibre consumption and therefore improve gut flora health. Bitters stimulate mucus secretion in the stomach that can reduce inflammation and be protective from ulcers, thus also helping in the healing of ulcers. Bitter foods also have an action on the liver, promoting healthy liver detoxification.
Many bitter vegetables can be eaten raw, cooked or juiced. Here is a short list of some bitters: chicory, dandelion greens, kale, spinach, radicchio, rocket, cumin, Swiss chard, watercress, artichoke, broccoli and ginger.
Bitter herbs: Burdock leaf, chicory root, dandelion root, dill, gentian root and milk thistle. These are some of my favourite herbs I use from our large herbal dispensary at the clinic.
There is a reason why you should add fresh pineapple to your morning smoothie, and it’s not necessarily because of its delicious taste! Pineapple is high in bromelain, an enzyme that helps break down proteins and aid in digestion. Bromelain is also found in high amounts in the stem/core which is the part people often cut off and throw away. Make sure you are using this part for higher bromelain goodness!
Vegetables and foods with skin
These wholefoods are high in fibre and therefore have a greater ability to promote the growth and function of many different strains of beneficial bacteria that currently exist in your gut. Examples include potato, sweet potato, beans and legumes.
Fluid consumption while eating
A common suggestion I give in clinic is to avoid drinking while eating. In your stomach, digestive enzymes and HCL are found and these are essential for breaking down your food. If you have a large drink before or during your meal, it is likely you will be diluting the amount of these in your gut and you are therefore more likely to experience gut symptoms. It also might mean your food is entering the next stage of the digestive tract not having been broken down. As such, less nutrients will be absorbed due to these parts of the digestive tract not being the location for breaking down your food, rather the location for absorption. Try avoiding drinking fluids 10 minutes before, during and 10 minutes after eating to ease digestive symptoms and better your long-term gut health.
FODMAP foods, sauerkraut, kombucha and other fermented foods
Now, this is a classic example of ‘there is no one size fits all approach’ when it comes to gut health. For some people, these foods will be beneficial; for others, they may be foods that could be contributing to some of your digestive issues. While these foods are healthy, gut-health promoting and often suggested, please consume with caution if you do have gut health issues. Seek further professional help if you suspect these foods are triggering some of your symptoms.
If you want to know more about the FODMAP diet, you can read about it here and learn why it isn’t a long-term solution!
I really want to emphasise the need for an individual approach to your gut health. Recently I was reminded of this due to a personal health journey. Following a flare up in my digestive symptoms, I reviewed my past gut health results and found there was a high amount of a particular species of bacteria (a bad one) in my gut. After looking into this further, I discovered that this bacterium thrives with certain fibres and also doesn’t cope very well when eating saturated fats. The month prior I had been eating more bliss balls and snack foods due to breastfeeding and these contained butter, ghee, coconut oil and other coconut-based products (hello healthy saturated fats!). Even though these are healthy foods, they were not healthy for ME at that time. Since reducing these from my diet, I have noticed a difference.
So, always think twice when reading about a food or product that is good for gut health and just following the advice. This happens a lot and it just might be that the product is not the right thing for you, right now.
I hope this is helpful information. Keep loving your guts!
FREE GUT HEALTH MASTERCLASS! Karly is hosting an online Gut Health Masterclass where you can discover all you need to know about your gut and what it takes to look after it.
Get an in depth understanding of what digestion and gut health really is, the powerful connection between your gut health and whole body health plus how to start healing your gut NOW.
Gut Health Masterclass Wednesday 5 August 2020 @ 7.30pm
Online via Zoom
Live attendance is FREE!
Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages. It contains caffeine which is a psychoactive stimulant drug that speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the body.
The psychoactive effects of caffeine influence neurotransmitters (mood hormones) such as dopamine and norepinephrine which leads to better mood, greater alertness, energy and improved cognitive function. Along with these positive psychoactive effects, coffee contains several minerals and antioxidants which provide a benefit to health. Research has shown that because of the caffeine, minerals and antioxidants found in coffee, regular or daily coffee consumption can help with:
reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart attack, heart failure and stroke
reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
reducing the risk of developing neurological diseases such as depression, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
improving physical performance
promoting longevity or a longer life span.
Although there are many health benefits that come with regular or daily consumption of coffee, there are also many negative health effects for individuals due to the caffeine quantity.
On average, a cup of coffee contains anywhere between 60–350 mg of caffeine depending on your individual order. A standard Australian-made coffee contains approx. 100 mg of caffeine. If you order a large/double-shot coffee, that is approx. 200 mg of caffeine. If you have another large/double-shot coffee later in the day, that’s another 200 mg and so on. You can see how quickly and easily this could add up. Additionally, items such as energy drinks, tea (including green tea), soft drinks and even chocolate all contain caffeine which means your caffeine intake is not just limited to your coffee.
Here is how a high caffeine intake may be negatively affecting your health:
Stress and anxiety
Caffeine stimulates our adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol – our ‘stress hormones’. These are the hormones that activate our fight-or-flight response and amplify our reaction to stressful situations. As such, consuming coffee recreates a stress response but the body can’t tell the difference; it is just responding accordingly to the increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the system. This will lead to symptoms including shakiness, heart palpitations, racing heart and hyper-vigilance which leaves us feeling jittery, anxious and on edge.
Over time, continually elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels deplete the adrenal glands and they are no longer able to produce these hormones to keep up with demand, leading to a feeling of being ‘wired but tired’ and is the sign that the adrenal glands are fatigued. This has a flow on effect and begins to negatively affect other hormones.
Sleep quality and quantity
As mentioned earlier, caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant drug – it gives us that buzz and keeps us alert! Depending on how well our liver detoxification pathways are functioning, caffeine can remain in the system for up to 8–12 hours. If you are consuming caffeine in the afternoon, there is a strong chance that it will still be in your system in part when it comes time to go to bed, making it much harder to fall asleep. Caffeine also inhibits the uptake of the hormone adenosine in the brain which is required in high concentrations for sleep onset.
As a general rule, you should drink caffeinated beverages after 8 am, after you have eaten breakfast and no later than 11 am, especially if you are sensitive to caffeine.
Caffeine is very acidic which contributes to inflammation and is incredibly irritating to the gastrointestinal tract lining. Caffeine also increases gastrointestinal tract motility, causing a laxative effect, which is why bowel motions, looser stools or diarrhoea are commonly reported after caffeine consumption. The increase in gastrointestinal tract motility, or laxative effect of caffeine, negatively impacts the digestion process, resulting in improper digestion of food and nutrients. This influences the body’s nutrient levels, see below. Caffeine may also suppress appetite, as well as trigger bloating, heartburn and reflux.
Consuming caffeinated beverages with meals interferes with the metabolism and reduces the absorption of many important nutrients including magnesium, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium and iron, each of which perform hundreds of different important functions in the body. Separate caffeinated beverages from your meals by 1–2 hours to assist your gut to metabolise, digest and absorb these important nutrients.
If you find you cannot get through the day without coffee, you are having issues with sleep onset at night-time or you are experiencing some of the above mentioned digestive issues, it might be time to start thinking about reducing your caffeine intake. It is worthwhile seeking the assistance of a naturopath to help restore your body’s own energy production and other system or organ functions that may have been impacted by excessive caffeine consumption over time.
I am a 43-year-old professional who has autoimmune thyroid disease. After almost 12 months of hell on the medical roundabout, my condition was eventually diagnosed in 2008 by a naturopath. My diagnosis followed four years of extremely stressful life events one, the culmination being the traumatic breakdown of my marriage. The 12 months that followed my marriage breakdown were very hard on me, but I was trying to rebuild my life. I was training for a triathlon, eating the best I had in my life and was forming close, supportive friendships.
But something was very wrong. My hair turned grey overnight and began to fall out in clumps. ‘It’s just stress’ the doctors advised and offered antidepressants. I couldn’t get warm, my feet and nose were always cold (despite living in central Queensland at the time), my skin was dry and sallow, I had these perpetual dark circles under my eyes that no amount of cosmetics could hide and I was having extreme digestive issues. ‘You are depressed’ they said, and more antidepressants were offered. I started gaining weight in incredible increments—all up I gained 30 kgs in six months! Sometimes clothes I wore to work on a Monday did not fit me by Friday. Now that was depressing! I had very poor memory and concentration, couldn’t keep a straight thought in my head and there were times I thought I was going crazy.
Off to yet another doctor. I was told ‘You are clearly eating too much’ (without actually asking me what I was eating and what exercise I was doing) and offered antidepressants and Duromine (a weight loss medication, kind of like speed). As tempting as it was for a ‘quick fix’ for my weight, I knew that something was really wrong, and I had to find out what it was.
I went to see a Naturopath and she ordered tests, talked to me, asked me a million questions, actually listened to my answers and took notice when I said, ‘Something is wrong’.
I tried to carry on. I went to work every day, even though by this stage it was a mammoth effort to even drag my massive arse out of bed each morning. I had absolutely no energy, and I was feeling very low. I still remember very clearly the day the naturopath called me. She said my test results were back and that I had an autoimmune disease – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. ‘What does that mean?’ I asked her, suddenly feeling very scared. She explained that my body was attacking my thyroid and my it was unable to function properly, which explained all my various symptoms. I felt relief, knowing that I wasn’t crazy, that there was actually something wrong and now we could fix it……right? I soon found out that having an autoimmune disease isn’t as simple as ‘fixing’ it.
Another majorly stressful life event occurred in 2009 when I moved from the town that had been home for the past three years, back to Brisbane to start my studies. I had enrolled in a bachelor’s degree of health science, naturopathy. The next five and a half years were massive in terms of stress and workload, not to mention my financial situation and lack of support in what I was doing. Most of the time my ‘condition’ was on the backburner, I was just getting through it. At the end of each semester I would crash and burn and try to rebuild myself enough to go back for the following semester. Uni is hard enough but imagine trying to study and produce assignments when your brain can’t hold a thought. The brain fog was so extreme at times I would walk out of a lecture not retaining a single thing.
The high demands of study and working to support myself took its toll. All the unresolved emotional baggage from my marriage reared its ugly head at the most horrendous time. That’s the thing with emotions, they store up and will eventually smack you in the face! This was nearly my undoing. I was exhausted on every level and could not conceivably go on. I took six months off study to regroup and pull myself together. I thought about not going back but, by this stage, I was halfway through and it was still important to me—I wanted to do this. I had help from a lot of people at this time, for which I will be forever grateful. In 2014, I graduated from my degree and I am so very proud of myself. But the toll it took on my health has been huge.
Straight after I finished my degree, I started my own naturopathic business with four clinics in four locations: Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Goondiwindi and St George. I was always on the road and in clinic. Even when I wasn’t sitting down face-to-face with a client, I was doing research, invoices, treatment plans and all of the other million things associated with running your own business. My exhaustion went to a whole new level and once again my health suffered.
After two years of this relentless pace, and the recent death of my father, I knew things had to change. I could not go on the way I was. I made the very difficult decision to step away from my clinics and the business I had built. I needed to learn how to nurture, nourish and heal myself.
Since that time, I have educated myself about the thyroid, how it works and what can go wrong. But most importantly, I have found what my triggers are, what causes my thyroid condition to flare and what I can do to help restore it. It has been an adventure to say the least.
Through my own journey, I started recognising symptoms of thyroid dysfunction in my clients. I even started to see it in children which is very alarming. I was intrigued why these conditions were so prevalent and yet largely under-diagnosed and under-treated.
Maybe you can relate to my story. Are you living with a thyroid condition? Do you have a medically diagnosed autoimmune thyroid disease? Are you unhappy with how it is being managed? Perhaps you are still in medical limbo trying to figure out what is wrong but think you may have a thyroid condition. Come along to my workshop ‘It could be your thyroid’. Find out how your thyroid works, what can go wrong and, most importantly, what you can do about it.
Looking forward to connecting with you and helping you on your thyroid journey.
Written by Amanda Lorch BHSc Naturopath & Kinesiologist
Workshop – It could be your thyroid! Join Amanda Lorch, qualified naturopath and nutritionist with a passion for natural health and wellbeing, for an informative presentation highlighting the importance of thyroid health. Information presented will be extremely useful for anyone who has been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, thinks they might have a thyroid condition or knows someone with a thyroid condition. We will also have special offers on the night for guests! Book your place at It Could be Your Thyroid!.
In the recent blog ‘The Digestion Sessions’, we discussed what a healthy digestive process looks like. The main goal of the process is to digest nutrients from our food to help our body do all the amazing things it does.
Now let’s have look at some of those nutrients and the role they play in your health. To kick things off, we will start with biotin.
Biotin is a member of the B vitamin family (B7), although it is sometimes referred to as vitamin H. Like other members of the vitamin B complex family, biotin is a water-soluble nutrient. Itis essential for human health and is involved in important metabolic pathways for energy production and metabolism. It also acts as a co-factor (helps other nutrients to ‘work’) for other actions in the body.
Where do we get it?
Many foods contain biotin including organ meat (such as liver), meat, eggs, fish, seeds, nuts and certain vegetables (such as sweet potatoes). Humans also synthesise biotin in the gastrointestinal tract via our gut microbes.
What it does for us
Our body uses glucose as its primary energy source, mainly because it’s easy. Our bodies are really quite efficient and will take the easy road where possible. Because we have an abundance of carbohydrates (sugars) available to us, this is what the body will use as energy. Any excess in glucose is stored in the liver and skeletal muscles as glycogen – a process called glycolysis. Once those stores are full, excess glucose is stored as fat.
Fun fact – humans have an unlimited ability to store excess energy as fat. Our fat cells (adipose tissue) upregulate in response to requirements so the more excess we have, the more fat cells increase in size and number in order to store this excess.
There are some tissues in the body that need glucose to function. In order to provide glucose for vital functions such as the metabolism of red blood cells and for the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) during periods of fasting (greater than about 8 hrs after food absorption in humans), the body needs a way to provide glucose from other nutrient sources (fats and protein). This process is referred to as gluconeogenesis, essentially making new glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. It occurs in the liver and kidney and makes energy through the oxidation of fatty acids. Pretty amazing that our body can adapt like this and, really, this is what our bodies are designed to do.
So, what does all this have to do with biotin?
Well, biotin is essential to this process. It is one of the nutrients that activates the enzyme reactions required for this reverse glycolysis to happen.
Biotin is also an integral part of our gut microbiome and the functions it facilitates. As our microbes (gut bacteria) are breaking down our food, specifically fibre, they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – butyrate, acetate and propionate. These SCFAs are known to have wide-ranging impacts on human health and disease. They are important for maintaining health through regulation of the immune system, maintenance of the epithelial barrier (gut barrier) and promotion of satiety following meals (letting you know you are full and satisfied). They may be protective against several diseases including colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, graft-versus-host disease, diabetes and obesity. And SCFAs can’t do any of those things without the help of biotin.
Some other important functions of biotin
– Helps to maintain hair, skin, nails, sebaceous glands (oil glands), bone marrow and sex glands
– Metabolism of protein, fats and carbohydrates
– Cell growth
– Reduction of cholesterol plaques on blood vessels
Humans only require a small amount of biotin daily (30 micrograms), therefore biotin deficiency is rare, and supplementation isn’t usually required.
Biotin seems to be a popular addition to over-the-counter supplements marketed to support the growth of hair, skin and nails; the dosages in these formulas being well above what your body needs.
Taking biotin, especially in high doses, can influence how other nutrients work in the body and can alter blood test results. It can cause the results of these tests to be either falsely high or falsely low. As a result, people can be misdiagnosed or treated incorrectly which can have serious consequences.
The affected tests are immunoassays that use biotin in their testing mechanism to bind chemicals and other substances in the blood to the test tube so they can be measured. Excess biotin in the blood from supplements can block that binding and the substances are not measured accurately. For anyone taking any biotin-containing supplements, it is important to cease taking the supplement for at least 48 hours before having blood taken for testing.
It is also a great idea to see a qualified health practitioner to decide if in fact biotin is indicated for you.
Written by Amanda Lorch, BHSc
Naturopath & Kinesiologist
If you would like to know more about this topic, or have a digestion- or other health-related concern, book an appointment with Amanda and find out what’s really going on in your body.
We all have to eat, right? But have you ever stopped to think about the effect the foods you consume have on your health, mood, energy levels and the planet? Do you know exactly where your food comes from and how it gets to be on your plate? Are you aware of how what’s in the food affects how your body functions and the impact it has on your health and wellbeing?
Every single function of our body, every minute of every day, requires nutrients.
Without nutrients in the correct form and ratios, things don’t work so well.
There are three main sources from which we get our nutrients.
Carbohydrates– a group of foods including sugars, starches and cellulose.
Carbohydrates provide fuel and energy for the cells of the body and the brain. They are digested by the enzyme amylasewhich cleaves the bonds between the sugars, breaking them down into their smallest form. Digestion of carbohydrates begins in the mouth and continues briefly in the stomach before being completed in the small intestine.
Proteins – made of amino acids, which are commonly found in meats and animal products but can also be acquired through nuts and legumes. The protein you eat is broken down into amino acids by HCl acid in the stomach and the enzyme pepsin. These amino acids are absorbed through the small intestine and combine to form new proteins which are used to help the body grow, break down food, repair tissue and perform many other body functions.
Lipids (fats)– Lipids are abundant building blocks in our body – our cells, brains and hormones are made of fat. They are also a fuel source for energy production. Digestion of fats begins in the mouth through the enzyme linguallipase. Lipids then continue to the stomach where chemical digestion continues by gastric lipase. Once digested, they move to the small intestine where pancreatic enzymes and bile finish off the digestive process, making the lipids small enough to be absorbed through the intestinal wall.
Sadly, it’s not as simple as eat the good food and get the good nutrients. A lot must happen in our body from the time we take a bite of food, to the time it comes out the other end. Our food just isn’t the same quality it once was. We have over-farmed the soil and lost the natural minerals and nutrients from our soil quality. More sprays, pesticides and chemicals are used in growing, picking, harvesting, transporting and storing raw food materials, not to mention what is done to our food when it is processed and packaged. Any wonder our foods don’t contain high levels of nutrients any more!
Decades of treating our food this way, and our over consumption of heavily processed foods, has caused our bodies not to work as effectively.
A large percentage of the population has somedegree of digestive dysfunction. This can manifest in many ways, with the most common being:
pain/nausea/bloating/discomfort after eating
altered bowel habits
Most people have had these symptoms for so long they begin to think it’s ‘normal’.
So, let’s talk about that for a minute. What does normal digestionlook like?
Basically, our digestive tract is a long, hollow tube that starts at the mouth and ends… you know where. This is pretty much it, with a few twists and turns in-between. Starting at the top, the eyes and nose are pretty important in the whole process. When you see food, think about food and smell food, it’s a signal to your mouth to produce saliva, which triggers your stomach to produce gastric acid in preparation to digest food.
But your mouth is more than just the entry point. We have three pairs of salivary glands that produce saliva to keep our mouth moist, help to digest food and provide bacterial protection for our bodies. Saliva is mostly made of water but also contains enzymes, antibacterial compounds, mucus, minerals and electrolytes. All of these things help to digest food and keep our teeth and gums healthy.
Our teeth chew and breakdown our food (masticate), reducing it to small pieces. Our tongue is a muscle that helps to move the food around our mouth and taste the different components of our food, which is very important as this sends signals further down the line as to what is coming. We have five main perceptions of taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The taste perceived on our tongue sends a message to the brain as to the likely types of food about to enter the gut so our body can prepare to digest and absorb the food we eat as efficiently as possible.
Our mouth and throat contain immune tissue which helps to prevent any nasties from entering the body. This is found in the form of our tonsils. (Most people are only familiar with their tonsils once they become infected – tonsillitis.) These are called your palatine tonsils, but they aren’t the only ones in there! There is a ring of immune tissue that circles the back of the throat known as Waldeyer’s ring. This tonsil group are like ‘security guards’, checking everything that comes through to make sure it is ok for the body. Anything suspect trying to sneak past is detained and dealt with by the immune system. This is what is happening when our tonsils are swollen and painful.
Once our food (now called bolus) gets past the security guards, it enters our oesophagus, a straight chute down to the right-hand side of our stomachs. The oesophagus is lined with muscular rings which stretch to accommodate the bolus and, as it moves along, the muscles contract back to their normal position once it passes, preventing things from going back up. Fun fact – These one-way muscle contractions are so strong the food will still reach your stomach even if you are standing on your head! (Please don’t try this!) The oesophagus is also sealed at the bottom end with a muscular ring known as a sphincter, the lower oesophageal sphincter to be exact. It opens briefly to allow the bolus to enter the stomach and then snaps shut again.
And now we are in the stomach – the weird lopsided j-shaped organ that sits just below the breastbone, with the heart and lungs perched on top of it. The stomach is also a muscle-lined organ, with three muscle layers which work to mix and churn the food (retropulsion). The stomach has four main areas, all with their own individual functions, and two routes the food can take. Liquids pretty much pass straight through and into the duodenum (small intestine). Some carbohydrates move through relatively quickly as well. Solid foods, which take a bit longer to digest, are sent down the other path so they can be macerated and mixed with gastric secretions to form a soupy liquid calledchyme. Carbohydrates are digested first in the stomach and pass fairly quickly down the line, with proteins and fats held longer as they require more work to digest fully.
As we all know, the stomach can stretch to accommodate food; when it is empty, it hangs loose with wrinkles (rugae). Our stomach is the stretchiest part of our digestive tract, enabling it to hold an entire meal until the small intestine is ready to do its part.
In addition to the muscular contraction of the stomach to mechanically digest our food, there is also chemical digestion taking place. The wrinkles and folds in the stomach lining form pits into which gastric juice is secreted. This gastric juice is a combination of substances produced by three different types of cells: mucus neck cells (produce mucus which keeps things moist and slimy and moving along), parietal cells (produce intrinsic factor needed for the absorption of vitamin B12, in addition to secreting hydrogen [H+] and chloride [Cl-] separately, which, when combined, produce hydrochloric acid [HCl]) and chief cells (secrete pepsinogen and gastric lipase, which are the enzymes required to break down fat and protein into their smallest form).
Once all these chemicals have dissolved the food particles and the muscles have churned, it is time to move on to the small intestine (duodenum). The bottom of the stomach has a sphincter (just like at the top) to allow macerated food to pass into the duodenum. The small intestine is where all the magic happens! This is where the whole food has become micronutrients for our body to use. The small intestine is long – anywhere from 2 metres up to 10 meters long. It is lined with specialised skin cells called enterocytesthat have hair-like projections of skin (microvilli) on them. This helps to increase the surface area of this long tube and aids with propulsion, moving the liquid onwards, all the while absorbing nutrients across the thin membrane and into the blood stream for transport around the body to be used for growth, repair, energy, maintenance and the millions of amazing things our bodies do every second of every day.
Once the food has been absorbed and any undigestible matter is moved to the large intestine, the small intestine sends in the cleaning crew. It is called the migrating motor complex (MMC) and sweeps the entire length of the tube. It can only do this when the stomach and small intestine are empty. This is why it is important to have a break between eating so the housekeeping and maintenance can take place.
Anything that is moved along enters the large intestine. Any essential nutrition has been removed from the food, absorbed into the blood stream and utilised by our body. Anything that is left is essentially a waste product and needs to exit the system in a timely manner. The large intestine is home to the greater portion of the microbial ecosystem that lives within us. This helps to further breakdown the waste product and decompose it. Sounds gross, right?!
There are no microvilli here to move things onward; the motion of the large intestine is called peristalsis. The length of this organ is divided into sections of band-like muscular rings which stretch and contract in response to the fullness of the bowel. As a section fills up, it stretches the muscle wall and the wall pushes back against the bulk, squeezing it on to the next section, until it makes its way through and out the other end.
This a general outline of what ‘normal’ digestion looks like. From here we can determine if something isn’t working well. If you have any digestive symptoms, or things just don’t feel right, book a naturopathic consult and get to the bottom of the issue.
Amanda Lorch (BHSc)
Naturopath & Kinesiologist
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