The phrase “You are what you eat” is only partly true. We are not what we eat—we are the nutrients that our body absorbs. First the food that we eat has to become usable nutrients. There are many reasons why that may not happen.
Diet vs. Nutrition
Diet consists of the foods we eat, while Nutrition is the interaction between our body and our food.
Nutrients are the chemical substances, obtained from our diet, that are necessary to sustain life. Nutrients regulate homeostasis, the body’s innate mechanism for balance. Homeostasis governs every system of the body. Nutrients provide fuel for the functioning of all body processes and are what our physical structure and organs are made from.
On my wall is a plaque that was given to me as a present at the end of a year-long training in nutritional therapy. It was a quote from me in answer to why would someone turn to nutrition for any health issue.
It says, All of the structures and functions of the human body are built from and run on nutrients. ALL OF the structures. All of the functions. End of story.
But as a practitioner of nutrition for the last 20 years, I have a clear view that this is not the end of the story.
It is essential to recognize the different factors that can interfere with the body’s ability to access and absorb the potential nutrients and sustenance from food.
We can eat a meal of grass-fed beef with and organic vegetables, but we can't consistently increase and maintain good health unless the following considerations are supported.
1. Brain Function
You may have heard about the two states of the autonomic nervous system called Fight/Flight (Sympathetic) and Rest/Digest (Parasympathetic). This is critical to understanding digestion.
Digestion begins in the brain, where the brain stem attaches to the vagal nerve. The vagal nerve triggers the parasympathetic state, which turns on processes of digestion: saliva production, sphincters opening and closing, stomach acid production, enzyme secretion, bile release, and peristalsis.
When we are stressed, it shifts the body into the sympathetic state. The body’s functions prepare for emergency and survival, and digestion processes are put on the back burner.
In other words: when stress is ON, digestion is OFF.
Eating in a sympathetic state is a primary cause of lack of assimilation. The value of the finest ingredients — organic food, grass-fed beef, from-the-garden vegetables, free-range eggs — is greatly diminished when you eat in a sympathetic state.
SUPPORTING BRAIN FUNCTION
- Mealtime as a ritual worthy of undivided attention has been lost in our culture. Come to your meal fully present, and set aside distractions.
- Sensory experiences can shift the body into a parasympathetic state. Take time to notice the fragrance and flavor of your meal.
- Vagal Tone applied before each meal supports a signal from the vagal nerve to turn on digestion. When you apply it, take a few deep breaths, with the exhalation longer than the inhalation.
2. Adrenal Function
The adrenal glands play a critical role in nutrient assimilation. If adrenal function is diminished (adrenal fatigue), it slows down digestion. This leads to bloating, constipation, and acid reflux.
Conversely, if the adrenals are overactive (hyperadrenia), the excess cortisol can create a buzzed or anxious state. The body cannot shift into the parasympathetic state for digestion.
Once again: when stress is on, digestion is off.
SUPPORTING ADRENAL FUNCTION
- In cases of both low and high adrenal function, Vagal Tone encourages healing. Strong vagal tone takes the body out of a sympathetic state, so that adrenals can recuperate.
- If you experience chronic fatigue, your adrenals may be exhausted. In addition to using Vagal Tone, these steps for adrenal fatigue will support recovery.
- If you experience insomnia, anxiety, or feel like you can’t sit still, you may have hyper adrenal function. Support yourself with Cortisol Brakes.
3. Intestinal Health
The epithelial tissue is the delicate and phenomenally intelligent lining of the small intestine. Chronic stress, environmental toxins, poor digestion, inflammation, and processed foods all degrade the beneficial bacteria lining this epithelial tissue. As a result, the tissue itself becomes damaged.
Once the intestinal lining is compromised, the ability to digest properly and absorb all nutrients is compromised.
Inflammation of the small intestine leads to a condition called leaky gut. In cases of leaky gut, the body becomes allergic to foods that could otherwise nourish it.
SUPPORTING INTESTINAL HEALTH
- Support small intestinal health with a Leaky Gut Protocol. You’ll eliminate aggravating foods, inundate your body with nutrition, and support balanced gut bacteria.
- The intestinal lining is the fastest regenerating tissue of the body. It only regenerates when in a vagal state. Use Vagal Tone to support the brain’s signals for regeneration.
- Chronic stress and anxiety is the primary cause for intestinal health issues. Use Cortisol Brakes for hyper adrenal states and Anxiety Release for building a brain with a calm outlook. That mental space allows the intestines to regenerate and function easily.
Heavy metal toxicity creates mineral deficiencies, among other problems. Mercury binds with magnesium, reducing the body’s ability to store the mineral. In the same way, lead binds to calcium, making it non-absorbable. Toxins found in poor-quality meat, including antibiotics and growth hormones, will impede nutrient absorption.
Toxicity can also trigger a chronic sympathetic state. The parasympathetic state for digestion is now inhibited.
Detoxification is not when we drink a green smoothie or swallow some activated charcoal. It’s a 24/7 process in the body. In the sympathetic (fight/flight) state, the body puts detoxification on the back burner. It’s another reason why we can’t achieve optimal health without being often in a parasympathetic state.
- Detoxification is a parasympathetic process. Vagal Tone helps shift the body into this state, so detoxification turns on.
- Hyper adrenal function also turns off detox processes. Support your body with Cortisol Brakes.
5. Food Sensitivities and Allergies
Consuming foods to which the body has an allergy or sensitivity stresses the body, which triggers the sympathetic state. You can experience this yourself with a Pulse Test for food sensitivities.
In this test, you take your resting pulse. Then, you put a food in your mouth. If you are sensitive to it, you will have an immediate increase in your pulse.
Food allergies degrade every step of the digestion process. Chronic histamine output from allergic responses inflames gut tissue, leading to leaky gut.
In addition, we rile up the immune system when we eat foods to which we are allergic. This compromises immune function, and disrupts the body's ability to nourish itself.
SUPPORTING FOOD SENSITIVITIES AND ALLERGIES
- Work with a clinician experienced in muscle testing or clinical assessment to determine food sensitivities. You can do this Food Sensitivity Pulse Test at home to determine your own sensitivities.
- Begin a leaky gut protocol to eliminate allergens and allow the gut to recover.
- Food allergies increase when we eat in a sympathetic state. Use Vagal Tone to encourage your body to digest, rather than react to, the foods you eat.
6. Chronic Infections
Dysbiotic conditions—yeast/fungus, bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, or parasitic infestations—all profoundly affect the capacity for absorbing nutrients. Subsequent inflammation and toxicity disrupt all homeostatic systems of digestion.
Inflammation leads to leaky gut which, as discussed above, impairs the remarkable intelligence of the intestinal lining.
The sympathetic (fight/flight) state turns off the immune system. We can only fight the pathogens, bacteria, fungus, parasites, and viruses when we are in a vagal (parasympathetic) state.
SUPPORTING CHRONIC INFECTIONS
- Vagal Tone supports the immune system to fight the bugs that defeat healthy digestion and absorption.
- Excess cortisol, produced by over-active adrenals, depresses the iGA antibodies that hang out in the mucosal lining of the gut. These antibodies protect us, especially from pathogenic bacterial. Cortisol Brakes supports regulating excess cortisol from chronic stress patterns.
How to get the most nutrients from our food
When it comes to health, diet is secondary to digestion. A pristine diet will not deliver nutrients to the cells unless digestion is working properly.
The above factors influence how well our digestion works. With the proper support, we can nourish ourselves with the nutrients present in our whole-food diet.