5 Surprising Reasons You Need Optimal Digestion

Are you thinking about optimal digestion and wanting to optimize your digestive health? If not, you should be!

Many people think: I’m just bloated; it’s not a big deal; or I just have heartburn, or it’s just occasional constipation. But the truth is that digestion affects every fiber of your being. 

Long standing problems with digestion can later show up as other health consequences. At this point it’s not a far venture to say that the majority of people living in the global north have some digestive dysfunction. 

By the end of this article, you’ll understand why optimizing your digestion is essential for good health. We will review endocrine (hormonal) health, immune function, cardiovascular function, detoxification, and nervous system effects of digestion, plus how to get started with improving your digestion!

Optimal Digestion is Fundamental to Your Health

Digestion involves the breakdown of foods: the whole process that begins with eating and ends in defecation. Proper digestion is necessary to get the nutrients from our foods. Nutrients being the molecules that build and let our body function. 

You could eat the best, most organic, local, seasonal home cooked meals, but if you can’t digest them your health will suffer. 

Through no fault of your own, compromised gut bacteria, environmental toxins and modern food-like products, all contribute to various conditions of the gut, and therefore the rest of the body. 

Let’s dig into why you may not have optimal digestion and how it could be affecting your body!

Lemon water to support optimal digestion

1.Digestion Affects Your Hormonal Health

Our hormones are made from the nutrients that we consume. If your digestion is compromised then you are not breaking down food into the parts needed to make hormones.

Protein needs to be broken down into amino acids. If you have difficulty breaking it down, maybe because your stomach acid is low, your body may struggle to make hormones that are derived from amino acids (amine, peptide, protein hormones).

For example, serotonin, which you’ve probably heard of, is a peptide hormone made of the amino acid tryptophan (found in your Thanksgiving turkey). Human growth hormone, which you need to…grow and regenerate, is another example. Your thyroid needs tyrosine, another amino acid, to make its hormones (Khaliq et al, 2015).

Insulin, which shuttles away glucose for later use after you eat, is also made of peptides. And adrenaline which comes to rescue you, when your blood sugar drops too low is made of amino acids as well!

Many of your hormones are made of fatty acids. However if your gallbladder is struggling, or was surgically removed, a not uncommon occurrence these days, your body may have difficulty breaking down dietary fats into fatty acids. 

The thing is, you need eicosanoid hormones which are made of fatty acids to regulate inflammation, increasing and reducing it as necessary to keep you healthy. 

Additionally, your steroid hormones: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, are made of cholesterol. Consuming and digesting at least some dietary fat is not optional!

2. Digestion is Critical for Immune Function

Healthy digestion is critical for proper immune function. So let’s start with the good stuff. 

The acid in your stomach serves as a defense to neutralize potential pathogens. Your intestines are lined with gut associated lymphoid tissue, that is a constant surveillance system for your body. 

Healthy gut flora stimulate the immune system, feed epithelial cells which line the intestine and crowd out pathogenic bacteria. Gut bacteria are crucial in maintaining an effective physical barrier against colonization or “invasion” by pathogens. 

For all of these protective mechanisms, if your digestion is compromised, the consequences can be serious. You need sufficient stomach acid to properly digest your food. You also need sufficient healthy bacteria to maintain your internal ecosystem functioning properly.

Undigested or partially digested food particles have the potential to cause inflammation and damage the inner layer of the intestinal wall. Toxins from your diet, stress and one too many rounds of antibiotics will also disturb this careful balance. 

If your mucosal lining is damaged, partially digested food particles and/or microbes can enter the bloodstream through a leaky gut. These foreign particles then trigger an immune response to something that should be innocuous. When this happens chronically, autoimmunity develops (Campbell-McBride, 2020). 

Digestion affects cardiovascular health

3. Your Cardiovascular Health is affected by Digestion!

Now you’re probably asking yourself, what does digestion have to do with my heart?! The answer is that your heart needs amino acids like taurine and carnitine, which we get from good protein digestion. 

You need high enough stomach pH to absorb calcium. The other thing you need is proper bowel flora to produce vitamins B1, B2, B12, and K2. 

Why? Because vitamin K2 gets calcium to the bones where it needs to go, and away from where it doesn’t, like the arteries. (Though we also consume foods rich in vitamin K2). 

Your liver and gallbladder enable the digestion of healthy fats and the fat soluble vitamins. Dietary fats that are broken down into fatty acids are the predominant energy source for the heart!

Fatty acids make up much of the cell membranes that form the tissues of the heart and the coronary arteries. Fatty acids are also critical for the management of inflammation which is considered to be a major factor in heart disease (Nutritional Therapy Association, 2020).

4. Digestion is a major form of Detoxification

This might be obvious, but digestion is a major way we eliminate toxins. The obvious form of elimination we all know about is…poop. Byproducts from eating our foods are eliminated through bowel movements (so hopefully you’re having one of those at least once a day)!

But there’s so much more. Your gastrointestinal tract scans your food for pathogens. It detoxifies poorly digested toxins and filters food and intestinal bacteria, eliminating substances we don’t need from the body. 

Your liver is a key organ which filters and purifies toxins from our blood and neutralizes them in preparation for elimination. The neutralized toxins pass to the gallbladder in bile and are eventually excreted out of the body in feces. 

The caffeine in your coffee, the alcohol in that margarita, and those mystery ingredients in processed foods, all need to go through your liver. 

Now here’s where things get a little nuts. Remember those microbiota we mentioned earlier? The microbes in your intestines do lots of good things for you, like helping you digest fiber and even making vitamins! 

But, when our microbiome is damaged (through long term consumption of processed foods or too many rounds of antibiotics), we enter the realm of dysbiosis. When our internal flora is out of balance, our digestive system will actually produce toxins called endogenous toxins (Campbell McBride, 2020). Uh oh! 

Those endogenous toxins can wreak havoc on your body, causing all sorts of physiological and psychological conditions, which is why supporting healthy digestion is of utmost importance.

Digestion affects your nervous system

5. Digestion Affects the Nervous System (and Vice Versa)

The enteric nervous system is a network of neurons in the walls of the gastrointestinal tract. It is regulated by the autonomic nervous system and helps to manage the activity of the glands and muscles in the GI tract (Tortora & Derrickson, 2019). 

These neurons are located within the submucosa and control secretions of the organs of the GI tract. For example, the stomach acid needed to digest proteins, and the enzymes released from the pancreas for further digestion in the small intestine. 

You must be in a parasympathetic state to optimally digest your food. Salivation, digestion and defecation are all parasympathetic functions, what we call “rest and digest” mode. But the neural highway runs both ways.

The enteric nervous system sends messages to your brain detecting what nutrients are in the food you are eating (Nezami & Srinivasan, 2010). It also has an important function in motility, meaning moving the food through the digestive system. 

Our major neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine and GABA, are produced in the digestive system (Cambell-McBride, 2020). They are then transported to the brain and majorly affect how we feel: happy and relaxed if we have enough of them and sad, depressed or anxious when we don’t!

How Can I Optimize My Digestion?

We all want to be happy, feel good in our bodies, and prevent symptoms of dis-ease. 

Learn more details about the whole process in Understanding Digestion 101 here!

Now that you understand the importance of proper digestion, you’re probably asking yourself, how can I optimize my digestion? 

Here are a few simple suggestions to get you started. Happy digestion begins in the brain when you think about, smell, and anticipate your meal!

How to support your digestion:

  • Sit down for meals
  • Take a deep breath: look at and smell your food. Put down your phone.
  • If you’re inclined, take a moment for gratitude or prayer.
  • Chew each bite 20-30 times.
  • Take your time to enjoy your food and your company!
  • Limit drinks while you are eating (to not dilute stomach acid)

Bonus: Consider adding naturally fermented foods to your meal. They serve as a natural digestive enzyme.

How GAPS Supports Digestion

The whole entire point of the GAPS framework is to restore optimal digestion! By healing the gut lining, detoxing substances that are damaging the gut lining, and re-innoculating the gut with beneficial bacteria, the GAPS program is the most natural way to restore digestion.

There are so many different methods and supplements that can help digestion. These days, functional medicine testing such as blood work, stool testing, and even hair testing can be a way to get more details into what is going on inside YOUR gut.

If you need more individualized help and are ready to improve your digestion, book a free consultation call and let’s find what makes you feel good.

For a complete program that you can do on your own, The GAPS Diet is the way to go. However, it’s not necessarily the easiest lifestyle to manage, so again, a consult can be helpful.

Did you learn something new about the importance of digestion? What did you find most surprising about digestion?


Campbell-McBride N. (2020). Gut and physiology syndrome : natural treatment for allergies autoimmune illness arthritis gut problems fatigue hormonal problems neurological disease (U.S.). Medinform Publishing.

Khaliq, W., Andreis, D. T., Kleyman, A., Gräler, M., & Singer, M. (2015). Reductions in tyrosine levels are associated with thyroid hormone and catecholamine disturbances in sepsis. Intensive Care Medicine Experimental, 3(Suppl 1), A686. https://doi.org/10.1186/2197-425X-3-S1-A686

Nezami, B. G., & Srinivasan, S. (2010). Enteric nervous system in the small intestine: pathophysiology and clinical implications. Current gastroenterology reports, 12(5), 358–365. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11894-010-0129-9

Tortora, G. J., & Derrickson, B. (2019). Introduction to the Human Body. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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