Caught Out and About
Have you ever been happily strolling through a park on a beautiful summer’s day when all of a sudden you get a feeling from down below?
Your buttocks tense and your jaw clenches. A bead of sweat swims down your brow and your eyes dart in every direction. Frantically you search for your saving grace. In the distance, you spot your heavenly savior – the toilet.
Tepidly you dash across the grass on your tiptoes hoping that somehow you can keep things in an upward direction. You arrive at the entrance, barge past the old timer, freak out the little kid, kick open the door, unbuckle your belt and empty your bowels just in the knick of time.
No doubt you have been in that situation.
You know what I mean, without warning, and all of a sudden, your bowels are knocking and the restroom is calling. For most of us, we do our business, sigh in relief, and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
But have you ever thought to take a closer look at what has just left your body?
On Closer Examination
It might seem like a disgusting prospect to some, but taking a few moments to look at the remains of last night’s dinner can be quite enlightening.
Our digestive system is a bit like a recycling complex. It takes what it can use from the materials (foods) we have put down the chute and then it crushes and blends up the rest of the waste in preparation for removal. (source)
This is where our bowels come in and flush the trash out. (source)
Sometimes though our recycling system (digestive system) does not process all of the foods we consume and we end up with partially digested foods. (source)
This means is that we not only end up with malabsorption of nutrients due to the fact that we did not assimilate all of the food, but we also end up with undigested proteins, fats, and carbs.
Before we go any further into the issues caused by poor absorption, assimilation, and digestion, lets first look at what the digestive system is and how it works.
The Second Brain
The digestive system, often referred to as our second brain, is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the gallbladder, pancreas, and liver. (source)
The organs that make up this long twisting tube in the GI tract running from the mouth to the anus include the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.
The large intestine includes the rectum and anus and is the final destination for all waste products that leave the body via the process of digestion. (source)
Along with bowel movements, the body gets rid of waste via the skin, lungs, kidneys, lymphatic system and liver. (source)
The GI tract houses an army of healthy bacteria known as gut flora. These bacteria are essential to proper digestion, making it important to ensure that we eat foods that are abundant in friendly microorganisms. (source)
Along with healthy gut flora, the digestive system is supported by hormones, nerves, and blood.
Our nervous and circulatory system, along with the GI tract, work in tandem to complete the complex job of digesting our foods and liquids so that the body can utilize the building materials of the things we put in our mouths.
Break The Walls Down
As mentioned earlier, digestion breaks food down into its constituent nutrients and sends them on their way to assist in growth, regeneration, and energy production.
In order for our cells to absorb the nutrients from food and drink, they must be broken down into smaller molecules so that the blood can transport them to where the body needs them most. (source)
These nutrients are known as macro and micro nutrients. Macro nutrients include proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Micronutrients include vitamins, mineral and phytonutrients. (source)
It All Begins in The Mouth
Digestion begins in the mouth as we chew food. By first breaking up the food with our teeth and mixing it with saliva we prepare the materials for the relatively slow journey through the GI tract. (source)
The GI tract contains a layer of muscle that contracts and pushes the food or liquid through the large hollow organs. During this journey, the food mixes with digestive juices as it passes through our digestive system.
Once it gets to our stomachs it mixes with hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) and is broken down even further in preparation for assimilation. (source) After this initial process, the molecules will be ready to be absorbed by tiny finger-like projections known as villi.
The molecules pass through the intestinal wall via the villi, and into the bloodstream where they are transported to wherever they are needed most. (source)
The process of converting food into usable materials happens in the small intestine. Any waste products which the body cannot utilize, travel through the large intestine and out of our bodies via the rectum. (source) This waste product is known as our stool.
My Experience With Poor Digestion
Last October I undertook an experiment. I conducted a 5-day water only fast. I do not recommend that you undertake a fast without proper medical guidance!
One of the most important elements of successfully completing an extended fast is breaking it in the correct way. That is to say, eating the right foods and the correct portion sizes. I did this, as recommended, by eating a fist sized portion of watermelon every 3 hours.
Gradually I introduced other fruits into my diet, along with high water content foods such as leafy greens and vegetables. About 1 week after the fast I was drinking large amounts of blended watermelon with the fiber still present. I noticed that I began to feel pain and get stomach cramps.
Because I had begun exercising again I felt that I needed to eat larger portions of food. Unfortunately, I should have taken the advice to reintroduce physical activity at a slower pace.
Because I was now eating food portions similar in size to those I was accustomed to before the fast, my digestive system was not ready to deal with the workload.
As a result, my sleep was interrupted, I would sweat more than normal, and I struggled to go to the bathroom. Eventually, I used an enema to assist in the process of elimination. This immediately alleviated the stomach cramps.
It was interesting was to observe, however, that there were completely undigested chunks of food in my stool. I was taking in a lot of greens and would see actual chunks that had not been chewed properly and were likely the cause of my suffering.
The likely culprit of my digestion issues was low gut flora. My friendly bacteria count was low due to the huge amount of cleansing I had gone through during the fast and I had not thought to rebuild it.
Immediately I prepared a raw cultured almond coconut yogurt recipe that I was familiar with and began adding it to smoothies. This fixed everything!
The probiotics in the yogurt increased my friendly bacteria count which in turn assisted my digestive system and my bowels began to move properly as I began digesting more efficiently.
The almond coconut yogurt recipe can be found here.
Water fasting is not recommended without proper medical supervision and I do not recommend undertaking an extended fast without medical assistance.
To learn more about the health benefits of water fasting you can visit the True North Health Center website by clicking here.
To purchase probiotic digestive supplements go to amazon.com
Symptoms of Poor Digestion
As mentioned above, stomach issues such as pain, bloating or cramps can be a sign that you are not digesting your food properly. (source)
Another common sign that you are not absorbing nutrients and digesting your foods is unexpected weight loss.
You might be consuming plenty of calories but because the food is passing through your gastrointestinal tract without the benefit of proper digestion, you will not receive the benefit of those calories. (source)
Unexplained weight loss can also be a sign of serious illness such as cancer, so if you are experiencing this symptom, make sure to get checked out by a doctor.
Children who fall below the expected growth milestones when compared to other children may be suffering from serious digestive issues. Poor growth can be linked to poor nutrient absorption which in turn leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies which can stunt a child’s natural growth.
If you suspect that your child isn’t reaching the height and weight of other children in their age group then a visit to the doctor might be shed light on the issue. (source)
Lack of Energy
Fatigue, low energy and no drive, can all be signs that you are not absorbing significant nutrients and that you are not taking in enough calories despite eating the recommended amount.
Digestive problems have often been linked to deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, and folate. The resulting consequence is anemia, a condition which is related to a lack of energy. (source) Find supplements to prevent anemia by following this link.
A detailed list of digestive disorders can be found here.
To learn more about how digestion works watch this video:
Undigested Food in Stool, What Does That Mean for Your Health?
The long term effect of digestive issues can be very serious, leading to a whole host of undesirable problems. For this reason, it’s important you get checked out by a doctor if you find undigested food in your stools.
Some long-term illnesses causing poor digestion are as follows:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS, is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine (colon).
Symptoms include constipation, cramping, gas, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain and mucus in the stool.
Thankfully, only a small number of people suffer from the most severe symptoms but because it is a long-term condition, living with it can prove to be stressful.
Crohn’s disease, like IBS, is a chronic condition that persists for a long time. The intestinal tract becomes inflamed meaning that everything from your mouth through to your stomach to your colon, is affected by this bowel disease.
Most commonly, Crohn’s disease affects the lower portion of the small intestine known as the ileum.
There is no known cure and the symptoms, although not always present, usually do not go away on their own. (source)
Celiacs disease results from the absorptive surface of the small intestine becoming damaged by the substance gluten. This results in the bodies inability to absorb macro and micro nutrients.
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhea
If the disease goes untreated, malabsorption will occur due to damage in the small intestine.
Adopting a gluten free diet has proven to be highly successful in alleviating the symptoms. (source)
5 Simple Ways to Improve Digestion
It doesn’t matter how many nutrients and calories the food contains, if you have digestive issues then you simply will not absorb what you need.
Poor digestion can lead to painful symptoms whilst malabsorption can lead to a host of chronic disease.
To avoid treading the miserable path of poor digestion follow these steps for better digestion.
1. Herbal Teas
Herbal teas have been known for their medicinal properties for thousands of years but did you know that some of them specifically aid in digestion?
Ginger, nettle, fennel, peppermint and chamomile are all known to stimulate digestion. (source)
2. Chew your food well and eat at a moderate pace
You’ve heard it before but your mother was right when she said chew your food and stop eating like a starving dog.
There are a variety suggestions for how many times we are supposed to chew each mouthful but I suggest you chew until the food has turned to liquid.
By doing this you will have thoroughly mixed the food with your saliva juices, essentially pre-digesting the food and suitably preparing it on its journey through the rest of you GI tract. (source)
3. Eat simply and combine properly
By keeping it simple we put less strain on the digestive tract by giving it less to deal with.
Combining sugars and fats is a digestive nightmare so try your best to avoid these combinations and you will make things easier down below. (source)
4. Eat fruit between meals, not with meals
Because fruit is primarily natural sugar, it digests quicker than most other foods.
If we eat fruit at the end of a meal, a common practice, then we have a situation where the fruit begins to oxidize and ferment while it waits in line behind the other foods you have eaten. (source)
Ever wonder why fruit desserts give you flatulence? Now you know.
5. Avoid overeating
Aim to finish your meal feeling like you could eat just a little more.
One way to avoid over stuffing our faces and burdening our digestive system is to eat little and often. This way we don’t starve ourselves and overindulge. (source)
Take A Look Down Below
So the next time you are feeling any of symptoms covered in this article, take a peek at the brown stuff. If you see chunks of different colored things in your stool then it’s likely that it is undigested food and you will need to take some action to get back on track.
Good digestion is one of the major components of health. It is vital that we absorb the nutrients from our food and effectively get rid of the waste.
By increasing your friendly bacteria with natural probiotics and increasing your digestive enzyme count you might be able to prevent serious conditions further down the road.
If serious symptoms to arise, then consult your medical practitioner but always remember that diet is the most important factor meaning that there is plenty that you can do to help yourself.