Saliva is another important part of having a healthy body for many reasons, one being.
Saliva contains special enzymes that help digest your food. An enzyme called amylase breaks down starches into sugars, which your body can then more easily absorb. Saliva also contains an enzyme called lingual lipase, which breaks down fats.
Digestion is a several-step process that begins the moment you put a piece of food in your mouth or sip a drink.
Breaking it down:
When you begin chewing, glands in your mouth and throat begin to secrete saliva—known as saliva glands. This process can start with the sight or smell of food. Saliva is a liquid that aids digestion moistens your mouth, reduces infections in the mouth and throat, and helps protect your teeth and gums.
You have 3 major pairs of salivary glands:
- Parotid glands, the largest, are on both sides of your face, in front of your ears
- Submandibular glands are underneath your jawbone
- Sublingual glands are underneath your tongue
How do we taste:
We use many senses, our sight, nose, and our mouth, to enjoy the taste of the food we eat. When you see or smell food, your glands begin to secrete saliva, which begins to break down your food, and the taste buds on your tongue and on the roof of your mouth sense how the food tastes. Taste buds contain gustatory cells, which send taste signals to the brain. This is how you sense the 5 basic tastes of food: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and savory. Nerves in your nose, mouth, eyes, and throat let you experience the other qualities of food, like texture, the heat of spicy foods, and the coolness of peppermint.
The role of your teeth and your tongue:
Your teeth and tongue are also part of the digestive process. Teeth break down food for swallowing and further digestion. The incisors, located in the middle front of the lower and upper jaws, cut and gnaw pieces of food. The molars, in the back of the mouth, grind and chew. The more your chew, the more saliva you produce to break down your food, making it easier to both swallow and digest. When you swallow, your tongue should rest and push up against the roof of your mouth.
To keep your teeth at their healthiest, follow these simple preventive measures:
- Eat a healthy diet rich in protein, fruits and vegetables, calcium, and whole grains.
- Limit eating and drinking between meals.
- Limit sugary foods and beverages.
- Breathe through your nose
- Keep your lips together
- Tongue on the roof of your mouth
- Swallow correctly
- Brush your teeth and tongue twice a day, and floss once a day.
- Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and exams.
A condition known as dry mouth (xerostomia) occurs when you don’t have enough saliva in your mouth. This can make it difficult for you to chew and swallow food. Stress or dehydration can cause occasional xerostomia. Certain medicines or more serious conditions such as diabetes and Sjogren syndrome can also cause it. Mouth breathing, especially at night, leads to reduced saliva, which has so many implications for your health.
To reduce the symptoms of dry mouth, drink plenty of water, take sips of water while eating, and don’t have caffeinated or alcoholic beverages and mouthrinses with alcohol. These can make dry mouth worse.
After you chew and swallow your food, it enters your esophagus. This tube connects your throat to your stomach. A series of muscular contractions, known as peristalsis, pushes your food downward and into your stomach. There, it mixes with more digestive enzymes to continue the breakdown process.
When you eat a meal, your body needs to break it down into smaller nutrients, so your cells can use these nutrients from your food for energy and function. However, the process of breaking down food is highly impacted by chewing, how much saliva you make, swallowing, and the function of digestive enzymes.
The Digestive Process:
Digestion Begins in the Mouth
The function of digestion enzymes depends on which specific enzyme it is. For example, certain enzymes help break down each food type, like carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fats.
What Enzymes Help With Digesting Foods?
Here’s a look at the most common enzymes and what foods they break down:
- Amylase: breaks down complex carbohydrates, like potatoes and rice, into simple sugar molecules.
- Protease: breaks down proteins, like chicken, into amino acids and peptides.
- Lipase: breaks down fats, like avocado, into smaller fatty acids that the body can use.
- Lactase: breaks down lactose found in dairy products for proper digestion.
- Papain: helps break down proteins into amino acids.
- Xylanase: breaks down plant fibers found in beans, legumes, and fibrous vegetables into sugar molecules.
- Bromelain: helps break down proteins into amino acids
How Does the Body Use Digestive Enzymes?
Your body produces some of these enzymes naturally, like amylase, protease, and lipase — but only if it’s functioning optimally. You can get other enzymes through the food you eat. It’s also important to note the production of enzymes can be affected by many things, including:
- Your age; as you age, your internal production of digestive enzymes starts to decline.
- Mouth breathing drys out your mouth, and you produce less saliva
- If you have common food sensitivities, like lactose (dairy) or gluten, it can be linked to lower enzyme production or other digestive imbalances.
- Imbalances within your body, like low stomach acid, can lead to weakened digestion and affect enzyme production and effectiveness.
- Underlying digestive imbalances or digestive issues conditions.
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices can increase stress and lower enzyme production and function: smoking and alcohol.
This is why taking a digestive enzyme with whole-food meals can provide more support and increase nutrient absorption and bowel regularity.
How Is Food Digested in the Stomach?
Few activities in life seem as natural as eating and drinking. You do them every day without giving them much thought. Yet, what happens inside your body after you eat is complex. The digestive process pulls out the energy you need to function and then throws out what’s left behind.
When you chew and swallow, a well-orchestrated chain of events takes place inside your body that you are not aware of. Peristalsis is an involuntary muscular action that pushes food through your digestive system. It’s an important part of the digestive process. If you were to watch this process on an X-ray, it would almost look like an ocean wave pushing food from one organ to the next. In the first step of this journey, you chew and activate the salivary glands, then the food moves down your esophagus. This takes it from your throat to your stomach.
The gateway to your stomach is called the lower esophageal sphincter. This ring-like muscle opens and closes the passage between your esophagus and your stomach, as needed. During the digestive process, the sphincter relaxes and lets food pass into your stomach.
Food goes through a significant part of the digestive process inside your stomach. You may think of your stomach as a simple pouch. But it’s actually much tougher than other organs in your body. For example, the digestive juices and enzymes that your stomach makes to break down food could literally dissolve most of the other organs in your body. Your stomach contains a thick mucous lining that prevents these strong juices from eating through its walls. Our bodies are really amazing when you put them all together.
The stomach is also very flexible. When the most recent food first enters your stomach, the upper part relaxes and expands. This lets your stomach hold and process a large amount of food and liquid.
During digestion, muscles push food from the upper part of your stomach to the lower part. This is where the real action begins. This is where digestive juices and enzymes break down the food that you chewed and swallowed. It prepares it to provide your body with energy.
The stomach makes several digestive juices and enzymes that mix with food. Next, the stomach’s strong muscles act like a blender to turn food into a usable form.
This process takes longer for some types of foods than others. Carbohydrates, for example, break down the fastest. This explains why many recommend carb-heavy foods for a quick energy boost. Proteins take longer to digest and exit the stomach. Fats take the longest time of all. Zero-calorie liquids, such as water, empty the fastest from the stomach.
Leaving the stomach:
Once the stomach completes its role in the digestive process, its contents slowly pass into a short tube at the base of the stomach. This is called the duodenum. It’s the first part of the small intestine. Here, the next stage of digestion takes place. Digestive juices produced in organs such as the liver and pancreas continue the process of turning food into energy.
How Digestive Enzymes Can Help Your Health:
If the production or function of digestive enzymes isn’t optimal, it could lead to digestive discomfort, including gas and bloating. If you experience discomfort after eating, consuming a digestive enzyme could support this issue. Let’s take a look at how and why this is the case.
There are many things that can disrupt this process. If you have diverticulitis, the food can get trapped in the folds causing pain. So you may not be able to digest certain foods. Your Dr may give you a list of things to avoid, like popcorn and certain nuts.
Aerophagia is a medical term used to describe the swallowing of air. When a person swallows improperly, the air is swallowed, leading to digestive issues such as frequent stomach aches and acid reflux.
While we all ingest some air when we eat, talk, breathe, swallow, or laugh, Aerophagia occurs when we take in too much air. This symptom can change from day to day and from moment to moment.
Most people swallow about two quarts of air a day just by eating, drinking, and swallowing, which is expelled by burping or flatulence.
Common ways we take in the air include:
- Eating too fast
- Chewing gum
- Talking while eating
- Drinking through a straw
- Eating hard candies
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Mouth breathing
- Rigorous exercise
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Gulping fluids
- Sleep deprivation
Research has also found that stress, including anxiety-caused stress, and emotional swings, can cause and aggravate Aerophagia.
These effects can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms, including stomach symptoms brought on by Aerophagia.
Oral myofunctional disorders can add to this. Sometimes myofunctional therapy can help by strengthening the facial muscles and learning to control the tongue and swallow. Helping you breathe, swallow and sleep better.
If someone asked you if you were good at swallowing, what would your answer be?
Would you think they were crazy for the asking? Did you know there is a right and wrong way to swallow? The tongue plays a lead role in the proper swallowing technique. The tip of the tongue starts in the roof of the mouth, just behind your front teeth. As you begin to swallow, the middle of the tongue continues to rise up to the roof of the mouth.
It is almost like a “wave” pattern, with the very back of the tongue contacting the roof of the mouth. We learn this pattern as infants in nursing.
How Myofunctional Therapy Helps
As a myofunctional therapist, I teach correct swallowing mechanics. This includes learning how to slow down, chew slowly and bilaterally, and swallow without compensation of any additional muscles. This will also get the salivary glands flowing to aid in digestion.
Learning the correct tongue posture can improve digestive problems by stimulating the vagus nerve ending located at the “spot”. The vagus nerve is responsible for the regulation of breathing and digestion.
Learning how to breathe properly will also help decrease or eliminate digestive issues due to the balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system responses.
Mouth breathing can dry out the mouth, reducing saliva flow with affecting digestion, sleeping, focus, and mood.
How Are Digestive Problems Related?
Solving digestive issues is one of the most rewarding outcomes of my therapy.
Many of my clients have digestive issues because chewing and swallowing are not enjoyable. This affects the way they chew, eat in a hurry, and they swallow incorrectly.
I always tell my clients, If their digestive issues are caused by myofunctional impairment, you should see improvements in their digestive symptoms. Many of my clients see improvements right away, while others take a little bit longer.
Mouth breathing can also cause digestive issues because the body is in chronic fight or flight mode, which causes a more sympathetic nervous system response instead of the “rest and digest” response of the parasympathetic nervous response.
Which leads us to.
Going without adequate sleep can affect the body in many ways, such as:
- It prevents the body from sufficiently refreshing itself
- Stresses the nervous system
- Impairs brain function
- Increases blood pressure
- Increases blood sugar
- Increases moodiness
- Increases cortisol secretion to compensate for feeling tired (cortisol is a powerful stress hormone)
Saliva and sleep Improve Digestion and Absorption.
Digestive enzymes can break down food to help with digestion and absorption, as you need first to be able to digest foods before you can optimally absorb the nutrients. This will allow your body to turn the food into usable nutrients to receive more vitamins and minerals required for energy and optimal functioning. It may be as simple as more enzymes to help break down your food. Listening to your body will give you clues as to what it needs. If you are having night sweats, it could be you ate too close to bedtime, and your body is digesting while you’re trying to sleep. This can throw off your circadian rhythm. Waking up to go to the bathroom or with a dry mouth can be a sign of a myofunctional disorder that can be improved with therapy.
Supports Regular Bowel Movements
Digestive enzymes can also support bowel movements. Proper digestion means your body can break down the food you eat, absorb nutrients and eliminate the rest.
If your body isn’t breaking down the food optimally and at an efficient rate, then that food may sit in your digestive system for an extended period. This could lead to slower transport time, the reuptake of toxins into the body, and bacteria fermenting, contributing to increased gas buildup. Taking digestive enzymes may help support slower transport time and increase bowel regularity.
How to Enhance and Supportive Your Digestive Enzymes
Here are a few ways you can improve your internal production of digestive enzymes or look at supportive supplementation as needed:
- Practice mindful eating: this starts with chewing your food properly as digestion begins in the mouth. Chew your food into a paste before swallowing to enable the saliva and the digestive enzymes to work more effectively.
- Take time to eat your meal slowly: this will help to avoid overeating
- Consume foods that contain natural enzymes. For example, pineapple, papaya, and ginger.
- Manage your stress: high-stress levels can inhibit the proper breakdown of food as your body needs to be in a relaxed ‘rest-and-digest’ state to support digestion.
- Breathe through your nose: This will engage your diaphragm muscle which also aids in digestion.
- Incorporate fermented foods: as part of your meal, including sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, as they contain natural digestive enzymes.
- Take a daily digestive enzyme: with your meals or a supportive supplement with enzymes aimed at specific food sensitivities like dairy and gluten that are often harder to digest and can lead to digestive discomfort.
- Eat at least three hours before bed: This allows your body time to digest your food, so you’re not up at night with an upset stomach, indigestion, or acid reflux. And it helps you stay asleep.
The function of digestive enzymes is vital for optimal health. Supplementing with enzymes can help your body absorb the nutrients it needs from your meals efficiently, enabling your body to function at its best and avoiding digestive upset in the process.
When the stomach and digestive symptoms become chronic, such as bloating, belching, stomach distention, upset stomach, stomach pains, and other gastrointestinal problems, they can upset the entire digestive system.
This upsetness can create a host of other digestive system problems and symptoms. In this case, they can be stubborn to turn around without professional help.
Sometimes anxiety-related digestive problems can lead to or trigger other digestive problems, such as the leaky gut. Working with a Practitioner can help you return your digestive system to healthy function.
An experienced Practitioner can be extremely helpful when the digestive system is experiencing chronic problems and symptoms.
For instance, a temporary change in diet and eating habits could be all that is required to return an upset digestive system to normal and healthy function.
My goal is to create an understanding of just how much our mouth and the way we breathe is connected to all of the functions in the body and that we start to examine how we breathe from a young age. The chronic diseases we are suffering from are preventable if we change our habits and teach our kids better habits so they can live happier longer, healthier lives.
It all starts with knowledge and sharing that knowledge. A healthy mouth is a healthy body and a longer, happier, healthier life!
My friends can help with testing.
Kelly Shockley, AKA “Dr of Cause,” If you’re not testing your guessing
Melissa Deally is the friendly toxin slayer who can help with finding out if toxins in your body are the cause.