A Top Down Approach to Better Digestion

A Top Down Approach to Better Digestion

If you experience bloating, gas shortly after eating and poor digestion, you may not be producing enough pancreatic enzymes!

Before we jump in and highlight the Pancreas this week,  I want to say that in my office we look at digestion in an organized way. We look at a top down approach.  Here is a quick soundbite to help you see why.

Digestion Starts Here

For those of you who have worked we me directly you know I talk a lot about digestion and how it actually starts in the brain and the nervous system.  You need to be in rest and digest mode for digestion to work well.  Stress shuts down the digestive system and this is where we begin to see problems crop up.  Things like gas, bloating and pain/cramps and disruptive bowel habits and more.

If any single step along the way is out of balance, the entire system will be less efficient and any — or all — of the steps below it are more likely to malfunction.  The Pancreas and its function are a very important step if we want good digestion and absorption of nutrients and decreased inflammation.

The Pancreas is a very Important Organ

About the size of your hand, the pancreas is a multi-purpose digestive organ that secretes about 8 ounces of juices a day into the small intestine.

These juices contain bicarbonate to neutralize the acidity of the contents coming from the stomach, as well as enzymes and hormones critical to digestive function.

Pancreatic enzymes

The pancreas creates enzymes to break down sugars, fats, proteins, and starches. These enzymes enter the duodenum at the upper part of the small intestine.

  • Amylase helps break down starches into sugar for energy. Low amylase can lead to diarrhea.
  • Lipase and bile work together to emulsify fats. If you are low on lipase, you will have trouble absorbing fat or vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Symptoms include fatty stools and diarrhea.
  • Protease breaks down food proteins and helps protect against unhealthy bacteria and yeasts in the intestines.

Pancreatic hormones. Unlike pancreatic enzymes that are released directly into the digestive system, pancreatic hormones are released into your bloodstream to communicate with the brain and help regulate the digestive system.

  • Amylin and gastrin are primarily made in the stomach, but are also made in the pancreas. These hormones stimulate your stomach to make acid. Amylin helps to control stomach emptying and appetite.
  • Glucagon helps raise low blood sugar levels by messaging the liver to release stored glucose.
  • Insulin helps your body use sugar for energy. Without enough insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise too high and increase your risk for diabetes.

Sufficient pancreatic enzyme output is extremely important in preventing food sensitivities.   (Different that an actual food allergy)  The more thoroughly the gut breaks down foods into small amino acids, the less likely your immune system is to react to them.

Otherwise, undigested food proteins are recognized as dangerous invaders by the gut’s immune system, which can lead to systemic inflammation and food reactivity. It’s called Leaky Gut.

Symptoms of poor pancreatic enzyme production

  • Feel like you have a brick in your stomach after eating
  • Acid reflux or burning
  • Bloating and poor digestion in response to eating starches
  • Tend to avoid foods high in fiber or lots of plant fiber, such as big salads
  • Pain in lower left rib cage
  • Loose Stools
  • Smelly Gas
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Gallbladder problems and issues digesting fats.

Three main causes for low pancreatic enzymes

Low stomach acid

When food enters the stomach, the stomach releases hydrochloric acid (HCl). This triggers the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes and hormones.

Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) inhibits this process by not sufficiently signaling the pancreas. This is why you must consider whether hypochlorhydria is a factor before moving straight to supplemental pancreatic enzymes.

When you have low stomach acid, it’s helpful  to take supplemental hydrochloric acid to support digestion while you address underlying factors behind the deficiency. For some patients, the added HCl can raise the acidity of the stomach environment enough to trigger the other  digestive reflexes further along the digestive pathway and resolve symptoms.

My Go to supplement support for this is Zypan from Standard Process and Enzymix Pro from Apex. You  can purchase Apex formulas through your Fullscript Account. I also like Enzycore as it also has healing and soothing properties like Glutamine. (Great if you are Vegan or Veggie)

However, sometimes we suspect Inflammation of the stomach lining called gastritis.  In this case we start with the Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Challenge to find out if you can tolerate HCl supplementation.

If you have symptoms of bloating and distention, especially after protein meals, you should take the ACV Challenge as a screen for inflammation of the stomach lining  which could be caused by H’Plylori or Ulcers. Skip to the bottom for more info on how to do this challeneg at home.

Consistently high blood sugar and Insulin Issues

The job of constantly pumping out insulin to lower high blood sugar levels eventually exhausts the pancreas. This leads to low pancreatic enzymes and hormones. Constant stress can also cause glucose spikes.  It might be a good time to evaluate stressors especially now as we move into the holiday season.

Chronic gut inflammation

Digestive enzymes have an anti-inflammatory effect, so the pancreas will secrete them when it senses the gut is inflamed. If gut inflammation is chronic, the pancreas will tire out and be less able to produce adequate enzymes over time.

Other factors that deplete pancreatic enzymes include aging, chronic stress, poor diet, certain medications, and compromised brain function like a TBI or concussion.

Carnivore Based Diets or High Protien Diets.

If you have switched up your diet to include more protien to help build muscle, then I strongly suggest you add digestive support like HCl ( Zypan) to your diet.  If you consume high protien and do not digest it well you will put a strain on the kidneys. Go slow by adding 5 grams a week till you reach your goal.

Treating the digestive system from the top-down approach

If you have bloating and poor digestion, or other symptoms of pancreatic enzyme deficiency, we make sure to address any issues along the digestive function hierarchy.

We evaluate and address the digestive system using the top-down you are more likely experience decrease inflammation, improved pancreatic enzyme function and overall gut health.

These supplement suggestions can be found by clicking the link. Use my code for a 10% discount on your purchases. (W8MJSC).

The Apple Cider Vinegar Challenge

Take 2 tablespoons of undiluted apple cider vinegar (ACV) and observe your reaction.

If this causes gastric burning: You are not yet ready for HCl supplementation. Instead, take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with each meal for four to six weeks.

If this causes burning, you are not ready for the HCl and we must work on healing the gut lining first. Gastrex is one of my go too’s for healing along with some diet and lifestyle changes.

I hope you had a fun time dressing up for Halloween and took a hard pass on the candy! Your Pancreas will thank you!

Have a healthy week

Dr Pia