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The Connection Between Chiropractic and Digestive Health

By Martha Michael

Chiropractic and Digestive Health

After Lisa Marie Presley died in early 2023 of a small bowel obstruction, discussions about digestive health suddenly passed as polite party conversation. From comedian Pete Davidson and Broadway singer Audra McDonald living with Crohn’s disease to model Tyra Banks and actress Kirsten Dunst managing irritable bowel syndrome, famous people who have had digestive health issues have enhanced public health by sharing their struggles openly. It has helped to reduce the stigma associated with digestive conditions which are sometimes embarrassing for people to discuss.

And the perils of digestive health doesn’t play favorites.

How Does Digestion Work?

Your digestive system serves to break down food so it can be absorbed into your body and provide you with the energy you need to function, according to an article by Johns Hopkins Medicine. There are three processes performed by the digestive system: mixing food, moving nutrients through your digestive tract, and breaking it down into smaller molecules. Many parts of your anatomy are involved in the process of digestion.

Mouth

The first stage of digestion begins before you put food in your mouth, according to the Cleveland Clinic website. Your salivary glands are activated by the sight or smell of food so that when you begin chewing, it’s broken down to a form your body can absorb.

Esophagus

When you swallow food it is sent down your esophagus through muscular contractions known as peristalsis. The esophageal sphincter relaxes to send the food into your stomach.

Stomach

Acting as a vessel or container for your food, the stomach is the organ where enzymes work to further break down food. The walls of your stomach secrete acid that prepares the nutritive contents for the intestines.

Small Intestine

At 22 feet in length, the muscular tube known as the small intestine has three parts.

  • Duodenum
  • Jejunum
  • Ileum

Peristalsis also plays a part in the digestive process within the intestines. The duodenum breaks down food while the jejunum and ileum help in the absorption of nutrients. Food is semi-solid when it enters the small intestine, but the presence of bile, water, enzymes, and mucus cause it to become more liquified.

Pancreas

When food passes through the esophagus it is combined with digestive enzymes from the pancreas that break down fats, carbohydrates, and protein. The pancreas also releases insulin into your bloodstream.

Liver

Sometimes referred to as a “chemical factory,” the liver secretes bile into the small intestine and turns raw matter into digestible fat and vitamins. It also breaks down drugs to detoxify potentially harmful chemicals in your body.

Gallbladder

A storage tank for bile from the liver, the gallbladder releases it into your small intestine so you can absorb fats.

Colon

Also referred to as the large intestine, the colon is a 6-foot tube connecting the small intestine to the rectum. It processes waste, making it easier to empty your bowels.

Rectum

After food has been reduced to waste products, it enters the 8-inch chamber known as the rectum. Here your brain receives the message that there is gas or stool ready to be evacuated.

Anus

The last stop in the digestive system, the anus is a canal measuring about 2 inches long that’s supported by pelvic floor muscles and two anal sphincters.

What Are Symptoms of Digestion Problems?

From simply feeling gassy to experiencing a level of pain that’s serious enough to require hospitalization, digestive ailments can cause minor or major setbacks. Symptoms of digestive health problems can mean a few days of rushing to the toilet or they can indicate a more serious condition.

The American College of Gastroenterology offers a list of common GI conditions.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Acid reflux
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Gallstone pancreatitis
  • Gallstones
  • Dyspepsia
  • Constipation
  • Biliary tract disorders

The most common gastrointestinal condition is irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Marked by bouts with abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements, the illness is called a “functional bowel disorder” by experts in a video posted by Mount Sinai Hospital. The sensation may be coming from the abdomen, but research shows that IBS originates in your brain.

People who battle IBS often have high levels of stress and report being anxious or depressed. It affects women at two times the rate of men and it typically begins in your teenage years. Though it’s associated with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, its origins remain unclear. IBS sometimes occurs following a bout with giardiasis, or a parasitic infection of the intestines. Postinfectious IBS has also been linked to bacterial infections.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, illnesses associated with the digestive system have various causes and affect people at different stages of life.

Digestive health conditions found in infants and children include:

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Acid reflux
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Hirschsprung disease

A comprehensive list of health issues associated with digestion is lengthy. Diseases and other conditions typically found in adult patients includes:

  • Abdominal adhesions
  • Appendicitis
  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Hemorrhoids
  • GI bleeding
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Viral gastroenteritis

What Foods Should We Be Feeding Our Bodies

An article by Medical News Today has suggestions about the best foods to eat to reduce the chance of contracting illnesses related to the digestive tract. Certain ingredients give your body the nutrition and energy it needs while reducing the chance of digestive issues arising such as diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.

Ginger - Good for reducing stomach aches and bloating, ginger powder can be added to tea or as a spice for flavor in rice and other mealtime choices. You get the best results by using fresh ginger root.

Vegetables with skin - Fiber is found in the skin of vegetables and it’s effective in stimulating the bowels, which promotes the digestion process.

Whole grains - The high fiber content of whole-grain foods reduces the speed of your digestion and keeps blood sugar at a healthy level. Ideal menu choices include brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, or cracked wheat.

Yogurt - The probiotics in yogurt contribute to better gut health by maintaining a proper balance of microorganisms in your body. Including yogurt in your diet provides live bacteria and yeasts associated with a healthy digestive system.

Leafy green vegetables - The sulfoquinovose in leafy greens can support the survival of healthful bacteria in your stomach. They also contain nutrients that aid in digestion.

How Does Sleep Affect Digestion?

Though it may seem like an unrelated health concern, proper sleep can aid in the process of digestion. Sleep habits affect every system in your body, from maximizing your energy level to supporting your immune health, says an article by Henry Ford Health.

“Sleep and gut health are definitely interconnected,” says Ryan Barish, MD, a functional lifestyle medicine physician with Henry Ford Health. “There’s still a lot we don’t know -- we’re just scratching the surface, especially when it comes to how sleep influences our gut health -- but we do know that digestive health can play a role in how well someone sleeps, and sleep can affect how well the digestive system functions. It’s a two-way street.”

Examples of the relationship between sleep and digestive health include the following.

  • Inadequate sleep affects the balance of your hormones, which can lead to the onset of stress, in turn, affecting your GI tract
  • Lack of sleep affects your diet, so you may eat too close to bedtime or reach for junk food to fight drowsiness
  • When you don’t sleep enough, your melatonin level can fall, which is a hormone that helps you fall asleep

How Does Chiropractic Care Affect Sleep?

Regular chiropractic care is one way to get assistance with disrupted sleep patterns, which can have an effect on your digestive health. By maximizing nervous system function, chiropractic adjustments aid in the maintenance of other systems of the body, including digestion.

Through consultation and other chiropractic treatments, your practitioner can help you address painful symptoms that keep you up at night or health conditions that make you sleep deprived. A chiropractor can discuss tips for improving sleep hygiene and design an optimal diet and exercise plan that can aid you in falling asleep and getting a full night of slumber.

Everyone faces times in life when stressors and other circumstances affect their digestive health. Your lifestyle, levels of anxiety and depression, and the digestive system work together to create symptoms ranging from diarrhea to abdominal pain. The consequences of poor digestive health are very real, which was the case with Elvis Presley, whose final years were marked by weight gain and crippling constipation.

The public may have an appetite for stories about celebrities with IBS and miraculous weight loss tips, but overall health and wellness should always be the bottom line.

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