As we age, many women will start to notice a change in their digestive ability. Signs that your digestive system isn’t optimally functioning include heartburn, burping, nausea, food intolerances, bloating, cramping, flatulence, and constipation.
Did you know that digestion starts in your brain? Just think about a lemon for a moment, imagine the sourness of it in your mouth. Have you started salivating? The thought, the sight, and the smell of food can all trigger the commencement of digestion long before the first bite of food hits your mouth.
One troublesome symptom associated with the menopausal transition is dry mouth or the lack of saliva.
Daily production of saliva can differ from 1/2L to 1.5L daily this is a big difference. Saliva contains 2 digestive enzymes amylase and lipase, these start the digestive process by breaking down starches and fats, in your mouth.
Mental stress can also contribute to dry mouth. It's worth considering your surrounding when you are eating. We want to do everything possible to enhance our natural production of saliva.
The first thing you can do is slow down. Look at your food, smell your food, taste your food, eat slowly but chew often. It's important to sit and not stand while eating. Can you play music, or have a relaxing conversation? Watching the news or having an argument at meal times can switch off your digestion. On the other hand, going for a gentle walk after a meal can enhance the digestive process.
Something else to consider when you eat fast is aerophagia. This condition is caused by excess air being trapped in the digestive tract. This can occur when you eat fast and swallow a lot of air in the process causing an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach, and this is associated with burping, hiccups, heartburn, bloating, gurgling sounds, distention, flatulence, and digestive pain.
Addressing how you eat and slowing down the entire process can help, but it's also worth mentioning a few underlying conditions that may be contributing to aerophagia and these include sleep apnea and having a lip or tongue tie. So many of us have undiagnosed and untreated tongue ties. If you think this might be you it is not too late to seek help.
The whole point of digestion is to take in food and break it down into the smallest parts possible so that we can absorb it. We have mechanical digestion, cutting your food up physically with a knife and also with your teeth - hence the emphasis on chewing.
And we have chemical digestion - this is where your bile, acids, and enzymes come in.
Digestive enzymes are released in your saliva, stomach, pancreas, and small intestines.
Macronutrients, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, need specific enzymes to break them down
In case you didn’t notice it anything ending in “ase” is an enzyme.
Unfortunately, as we age our body's production of these naturally occurring enzymes reduces and this is why digestive issues are more common as we age. We can remedy this by increasing foods that enhance of production of our own enzymes, we can increase the consumption of foods that contain these enzymes or we can supplement. Next, we need to consider the role of enzyme inhibitors in our food.
So let's get started
Bitter or sour foods are known to kickstart the digestive system, they can stimulate saliva, bile, acid, and enzyme production. They are a fantastic way to start a meal.
Bitter foods include citrus fruit like lemon, limes, and grapefruit or greens such as rocket (you might know this as arugula) dandelion or kale.
Several foods naturally contain digestive enzymes that can aid in the digestion process. Including these foods in your diet may help improve digestion and nutrient absorption. Here are some examples of foods rich in digestive enzymes:
APRICOTS - Apricots contain invertase, an enzyme that assists with carbohydrate digestion
AVOCADOS - Avocados contain lipase, an enzyme that assists in the digestion of fats.
BANANAS - Bananas contain amylase and maltase, adding in carbohydrate digestion
GINGER - Ginger contains a protein-digesting enzyme called zingibain, but it also stimulates the body to increase its natural production of amylase and lipase helping to also break down carbohydrates and fats.
HONEY - Raw unprocessed honey contains diastases, amylases, and invertase enzymes helpful in digesting carbohydrates plus a protease that aids in protein digestion.
KIWI FRUIT - Kiwi Fruit contains a protease enzyme called actinidin, which breaks down protein.
MANGOES - Mangos contain enzymes like amylase, which helps break down carbohydrates, and proteases that assist in protein digestion.
PAPAYA - Papaya contains papain and this helps to digest protein. The riper the fruit the less papain is present. Best to eat green.
PINEAPPLE - Pineapple contains bromelain, which is a protease enzyme meaning it aids in protein digestion.
NUTS & SEEDS - Sprouting seeds and nuts activate enzymes that aid in the digestion of proteins and fats.
This is a good spot to switch sides and talk about enzyme inhibitors in foods, as nuts and seeds contain these but activating (soaking and drying them) or sprouting them deactivates the inhibitors and provides the enzymes. Another major food source of inhibitors is soy. If you eat the standard soy products found in Western countries, (which by the way I don’t recommend) these are full of inhibitors but if you ferment your soy and eat it the traditional Japanese way, the fermentation process deactivates the inhibitors and releases the enzymes.
Other major sources of enzyme inhibitors include grains, beans, and lentils. Some individuals feel best when they avoid these foods but in most cases soaking, sprouting, or fermenting them deactivates the inhibitors and releases their enzymes.
Then of course there are supplements. Some enzyme supplements are specific such as lactase, this product is good for the occasional consumption of dairy consumed by a lactose intolerant individual and then there are others that are more broad spectrum to improve your general digestive processes.
Digestion is a subject I have brought up many times and I will continue to discuss it as it's so important. As Hippocrates has famously stated, “All disease begins in the gut”.
If your digestion is not optimal, please work on it.
I’m here for you if you need a hand.
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