Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
In the first part of this two-part series on gut health, we looked at the profound effects that the brain and mind state could have on digestion.
In this second part, we are going to take a look into the importance of hydration and chewing for gut-health.
As suggested in Part 1, the amount of saliva produced by the body can be down to the autonomic nervous system, but it can also be affected by your hydration status.
The Mouth (second step)
The reason the brain is the first step is that the brain can override the hydration status of the body via the sympathetic state explained in the first part of the blog. Once that has been fixed, the next area to look at is the mouth, and more specifically hydration and chewing.
Hydration plays a massive role in salivation. If the body becomes dehydrated, the salivary glands stop secreting saliva to conserve water, which can become a problem as saliva is a vital element in the digestive process. It contains enzymes and antibodies that begin the breakdown of food and protect us from foreign invaders.
The water in saliva provides a medium for dissolving foods so that they can be tasted and so that digestive reactions can begin. The principle enzyme of saliva is salivary amylase. It is an enzyme that starts the breakdown of starch (carbohydrates) in the mouth. Once the food has been swallowed salivary amylase continues to act on starches for about another hour, at which time the stomach acid will inactivate the enzyme.
A second digestive enzyme, lingual lipase, is produced to hydrolyse dietary triglycerides (fats). Lingual lipase is most helpful in infants, enhancing the breakdown of fats within the mother’s milk. This enzyme gets to work once it has been swallowed and has entered the acidic environment of the stomach which activates it. However, this particular enzyme activity diminishes with age.
Not only does the salvia contain enzymes that begin digestion, but it also provides a painkiller more potent than morphine called Opiorphin, which, it is also suggested, may have antidepressant effects . Saliva also contains antibacterial and antiviral proteins such as immunoglobulin A (antibody), and other enzymes which destroy the cell walls of harmful bacteria. The immune system is omnipresent.
Even without the presence or thought of food, saliva is still being produced to protect the teeth and gums from food residue, acid and old cells that have been shed from the mouth. A healthy body should produce anywhere between 1-1.5 litres of saliva per day (yeah, that’s a lot).
To keep yourself adequately hydrated, aim for half your bodyweight in pounds (lbs), in ounces (oz) of water per day as a standard base line. For example, if you weigh 200lbs you would have a daily intake of 100 oz water, this equates to 2.8 litres.
So now you can see how your two cups of coffee and one small bottle of water at lunch isn’t meeting the requirements of your physiology.
We must chew our food, not just for the simple reason that it’s easier to swallow but chewing increases the surface area of the food which allows the enzymes and immune cells to cover more of the food and begin the breakdown and destruction of any harmful bacteria.
If you don’t chew your food as well as you should, you will be causing more work for your stomach and the rest of your digestive tract and you are also less likely to get as much digestion and assimilation out of your food, which could lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients.
Food molecules begin to dissolve in the water of the saliva, an essential activity because enzymes can react with food molecules in a liquid medium only.
Always give yourself enough time to consume your meal, there isn’t a magical number of chews per mouth full, but I would suggest 20-40 chews per mouth full. If you’re having digestive issues and you feel you’re hydrated enough, and in a parasympathetic state, then a few more chews wouldn’t hurt.
Digestion is a very complicated topic, but when broken down into segments it gives us an easier way to look at the whole process and really determine the issue.
Listed below are the steps I look into when assessing digestion:
- Small intestine
- Large intestine
- Hydration plays a significant role in digestion
- Saliva contains digestive enzymes and immune cells
- We produce 1-1.5 litres of saliva per day
- Half bodyweight in lbs in oz of water per day
- Chewing creates a larger surface area to allow for maximal breakdown
- Enzymes can react with food molecules in a liquid medium only
- Give yourself adequate time to eat a meal
 Javelot H, Messaoudi M, Garnier S, Rougeot C. Human opiorphin is a naturally occurring antidepressant acting selectively on enkephalin-dependent delta-opioid pathways. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology: an Official Journal of the Polish Physiological Society. 2010 Jun;61(3):355-362.
By James Eagle