Digestion Tips

Ok – so Hippocrates may have been a bit of a drama queen, but he was certainly no dummy!  The reality is that poor digestion really does affect our health on all levels.  If we can’t digest the food we ingest, we won’t absorb its nutrients and every cell of every tissue of every organ in our bodies relies on those nutrients for proper structure and function.  “But how do I know if I’m properly digesting my food” you ask?  Burping, upset stomach, heartburn and reflux, gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation…these are NOT normal!  These are your body’s way of letting you know that the digestive train has run off the track.  Ignoring or putting a bandaid disguised as an antacid over them will only lead to bigger issues in the future.  Let’s take the journey and see exactly where and how that train jumped the track.  

Just as the route of proper digestion travels north to south, so too does the dysfunction.  Let’s start with the brain then.  If you were so kind as to read my last post all the way through (insert applause here), you’ll remember that digestion only occurs when we are in a relaxed state.  Stress completely shuts down digestion.  Think about it, if you’re being chased by a bear (admittedly, a pretty stressful situation), do you want your brain sending messages telling the digestive system to organize the breakdown of the berries and deer meat you just consumed?  Or do you want it to ignore that stuff and send those resources to your heart, lungs and muscles to give you the energy to get the heck out of there!?!  The brain, as amazing as it is, cannot differentiate between the stress of a bear attack and the stress of our modern lives.  So when you are grabbing breakfast on your way out the door, eating dinner while stuck in traffic on the way to the ball game, working through lunch or mindlessly shoving popcorn down while watching Game of Thrones…you probably aren’t digesting.  Just for kicks, let’s carry on with the journey. 

Everyone can remember at some point in their lives being told (usually by mom or grandma) that you need to “slow down and chew your food”.  Rather than just a devious plan to make family mealtime even longer, it was valid advice!  Food should be chewed for about 30 seconds before swallowing.  Without proper chewing, the brain does not receive the message to trigger digestive processes and the production of saliva.  Without enough saliva, the breakdown of carbohydrates does not begin in the mouth and cannot be completed further down the line in the small intestine.  So we end up with undigested carbohydrates entering the colon, feeding candida (yeast) and generally disrupting the balance of microbes in our gut (dysbiosis).

We now arrive at the stomach.  The stomach is all about that stomach acid.  The acid in the stomach is our first line of defence against any little nasties (bacteria, parasites, viruses) that we may ingest.  Without enough stomach acid, these organisms can thrive and proliferate, wreaking havoc on our G.I. tract.  Digestive issues in the stomach most often stem from too little stomach acid.  You read that right.  The heartburn, reflux, bloating many experience is caused by TOO LITTLE ACID.  I know you are thinking “what about all those people who have to take antacids every day because they have TOO much stomach acid?”  The reality is that producing too much stomach acid, a condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, is very rare and affects only about 1 in every 1 million people (https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/zollinger-ellison-syndrome).  The majority of us have too little stomach acid (HCl) and its production is inhibited by things such as stress, excess carbohydrate consumption, alcohol and certain nutrient deficiencies.  But how can we experience such discomfort and burning if we don’t have enough acid?  Let’s take a look.  When there is not enough acid in the stomach, food does not get broken down.  This undigested food sits in the stomach and start to degenerate.  Carbohydrates ferment, proteins putrefy and fats rancidify.  Sounds lovely, no?  This produces gas and increased pressure in the abdomen causing a backward flow into the esophagus.  The lining of the esophagus was not intended to be exposed to acidic conditions so, even though the amount of acid in the stomach is too low for proper digestion, it will still burn the heck out of the unprotected lining of the esophagus. 

Compounding the problem, the pyloric sphincter – or doorway –  to the small intestine does not want to open because the chyme in the stomach is not at the right acidity.  This further potentiates the degradation, gas and pressure build up.  Eventually the sphincter releases allowing the contents into the small intestine.  The acidity of the chyme is not low enough to trigger the release of the pancreatic juices containing sodium bicarbonate and pancreatic enzymes.  Without the sodium bicarbonate, the chyme remains too acidic for the tender tissues of the small intestine and duodenal ulcers can occur.  Pancreatic enzymes, which complete digestion, can only work at a higher pH.  Their activity is impeded in this acidic environment and we now have large molecules of food impacting those little villi and microvilli of the small intestine.  This, essentially, punches “holes” in the lining of the small intestine causing LEAKY GUT SYNDROME.  With the integrity of this membrane compromised, large molecules of protein and fats can pass through and activate the immune system. (Your immune system sees these large molecules as foreign).  

The maldigested foods then pass on to the large intestine where they continue to degenerate.  This disrupts our healthy gut flora and causes a weakening of the cells of the colon.  This can cause inflammation, loss of tone and contribute to a myriad of intestinal health issues.

You can see how just one imbalance (low stomach acid) can lead to a snowballing cascade of digestive issues.  I haven’t even touched on the effect of unhealthy fats and inadequate hydration on the digestive processes.  More on those at a later date.  We are sneaking into “overwhelm” territory with this post!  I think it’s also important to recognize that digestive processes require nutrients.  Nutrients like chloride to produce stomach acid and proteins to create enzymes.  When we aren’t digesting our food properly, we aren’t absorbing these required nutrients and so it becomes a viscous cycle.  So what can you do?


  • REST TO DIGEST – create a relaxed mealtime routine.  Use breathing techniques to “come down” from the stress of the day.  Take time to appreciate and savour your food.   
  • CHEW your food thoroughly – try putting your fork down between bites!
  • DON’T drink a lot of fluids right before or during meals – this can dilute stomach acid
  • DO drink adequate water at other times during the day  – provide your body with the nutrients it needs to produce stomach acid.  These include good quality, filtered water, chloride from sea salt and zinc (meat, shellfish and properly prepared legumes are good sources)
  • AVOID unhealthy fats (hydrogenated, trans, canola, soy) and low fat diets  – these lead to gallbladder dysfunction and issues with fat absorption
  • DO eat a nutrient dense, properly prepared, whole foods diet – many foods help support proper digestion by supplying the nutrients required for the digestive processes  

I think we’ve done a pretty thorough job of making our way through digestion and seeing how important it is to our overall health.  For those of you who managed to stick with me through the journey (Hi mom and dad!), this is the end of my Community Outreach Project for my Nutritional Therapy Course.  Going forwards, I plan to mix it up a little to include some favourite recipes, meal prepping tips, food sourcing info along with a little more (less intense) talk about the foundations of health.  If there is anything you’d like to learn about please let me know by clicking on the post and commenting!  Until then, I wish you good health!


The Nutritional Therapy Association believes every person’s nutritional needs are unique to themselves and, by utilizing the wisdom of our ancestors in combination with contemporary research, we can work to balance the very foundations of our health and reverse the damage done by today’s modern diet.  The NTA provides us with the knowledge to transform an individual’s health using nutrient dense, properly prepared, whole foods.  They bring together like minded people to connect, learn from each other and work together to change the way society approaches health and wellness.  Nutritional Therapy Practitioners (NTPs), who are certified by the NTA, empower individuals to take control of their own health and work with them to reach their personal health goals.  Each interaction is adapted to the individual client to meet their specific needs — there is no One Size Fits All plan here!  By using proper nutrition, positive lifestyle changes and reversing nutrient deficiencies, NTP’s help set the stage for the optimal health each of us deserve!

A big focus of the program is the consideration of each person’s bio-individuality.  Bio-individuality is basically just a fancy way of saying that each person is unique and, as such, each of our diets (beyond being comprised of nutrient dense, whole foods) will vary depending on many factors.  These can include genetics, current health status, gut microbiome and even personal taste.  In fact, what is properly nourishing for a person at this moment in time may not be as nourishing further down the road if any of these factors change. (Pregnant vs non-pregnant, digestive health etc.)  Respecting bio-individuality is significant.  It highlights the fact that there is no single type of diet that will work for everyone.  The road to true health is dependent on finding out what works best for you in the moment and recognizing when your nutritional needs have changed.  Figuring all this out can feel a little like throwing darts at a moving target, but don’t worry!!  Nutritional Therapy Practitioners help clients learn to recognize and listen to what your body is telling you it needs (or doesn’t need!).  Our bodies have innate intelligence – sounds a little hokey I know!  But, the body uses this intelligence to govern every single action in our bodies, to heal itself and bring us back to optimal health.  To supply the body with the ingredients (or nutrients) it needs to carry out all these tasks, there are certain fundamental factors that need to be brought back into balance.  We refer to these as “The Nutritional Foundations”.  It’s kinda like building a house, if the foundation is shaky – that house isn’t going to stand for very long!  

In my next post I’ll go over what we consider to be the foundations of Nutritional Therapy and how they support our health! If you’d like to leave me a comment, click on the post’s title! Thanks!

Pharmacist to “Farmacist”….

Real Medicine

Nutritional Therapy??  I thought you were a pharmacist?!?

Well, I was!  Technically, I still am (licensed in Canada and all up to date on my continuing education units!)  So why the switch?  Most of you probably know my story, but for those of you that have somehow stumbled upon this newbie’s blog – let’s catch up!

I had been working in the health care system as a pharmacist for nearly 20 years (I graduated when I was 9 😉 ) when my husband was offered a dream job in the Seattle area.  We certainly weren’t looking for a huge life change, we had just finalized plans to build our dream house, both our families lived nearby and we enjoyed a close circle of friends – but after a lot of discussion and sleepless nights, we decided to take the leap and I hung up my lab coat, joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Initially, I fully intended to write the myriad of exams that would allow me to practice pharmacy in the States.  Having spent the first 6 months reviewing subjects I hadn’t thought about since pharmacy school (I’m talking to you Organic Chemistry!),  I soon realized that maybe the fact that I was dragging my feet in applying to write the exams was evidence that I really didn’t feel excited about returning to the dispensary.  What I had, though, was an opportunity to pursue a whole new passion!!  The only catch was that I had to figure out what that passion was.

I’ve always loved the sciences and learning about what makes us humans tick, it’s kinda my comfort zone at this point.  I also knew that my interest in all things food runs a lot higher than the average person who is just trying to get a meal slapped together at the end of the day.  I first started eating Paleo about 9 years ago when it was introduced to me through my Crossfit gym.  I’ve gone back and forth, tinkered with a more Primal style of Paleo, tried Keto and intermittent fasting.  Sometimes I was consistent and sometimes I was very inconsistent – but I knew from my own experience that a whole food, nutrient dense diet was a key foundation to health and vitality.  One of my biggest frustrations as a pharmacist was seeing people come to the counter to pick up their prescriptions for diabetes, heart disease etcetera and then seeing the junk they had in their grocery carts!

Combining these two interests led me to looking at different Nutrition programs.  I was feeling pretty defeated since most were very expensive and wouldn’t recognize the pre-requisites I completed all those many moons ago.  I didn’t want to go into debt and I DEFINITELY didn’t want to repeat Biology or English 101!  But the biggest reason I kiboshed these programs was that the curriculum offered in most of them didn’t align with my personal beliefs regarding nutrition.  Finally, I came across the website for the Nutritional Therapy Association and I thought “WOW – This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!”  Being the over thinker that I am, I talked myself out of it several times.  I have no experience in creating and fostering a business – how could I possibly make it work?  But I kept coming back to that website and, finally, took the leap.

My hope in pursuing this area of study is to educate and empower people to be proactive, not reactive, with their health and to encourage clients and other health care professionals to see proper nutrition as the first step in optimizing wellness.  I want to be a part of creating a positive shift in the healthcare system where people don’t just survive, they thrive. 

Next time – We talk Nutrition and what makes the Nutritional Therapy Practitioner program different!!  See you soon!