Optimizing Digestion to Improve Whole Body Health

Optimizing Digestion, Part I

Happy Autumn!

I’d like to take a moment to focus on digestion this fall because, not only is the foundation of our health linked to our gut, but digestive dysfunction is one of the most common issues we see in our clinic.  

There are a wide variety of gut disorders we see, but some of the most common include IBD (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis), IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), and Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid).  While each of these conditions is different and presents uniquely in each person, there are three foundations to gut health that are vital to our wellbeing. 

The three foundations of gut health are:

  1. Healthy GI (gastrointestinal) Circadian Rhythms
  2. Microbiome Diversity (the bacteria, fungus, and viruses in our large intestine)
  3. Digestive Functionality

GI Circadian Rhythms

Let’s talk about the first foundation of GI health, our GI circadian rhythms. Our GI tract does not have eyes to see whether it is day or night but rather receives its signal of time, and therefore function, by when we eat. 

Traditionally humans ate during the day and did NOT eat at night. Well, things have changed in modern day America, with 24-hour diners, 24/7 convenience stores and stocked pantries and fridges, open at all hours for snacking. 

Why is it important for your GI tract to “sleep” and have no food coming in for at least 12 hours every night? 

Because your GI microbiome, which consists mostly of bacteria, along with some fungi, and viruses, is arguably the most complex ecosystem ever discovered.  This ecosystem is critical to nearly all aspects of digestion. Namely, sending out circadian signals to other organs in your GI tract. 

Your liver, brain, immune system, and hormonal system all receive circadian signals from this diverse biome. For example, the liver’s proper functioning and rhythms are pivotal for healthy detoxification and metabolism.  

Every single one of the trillions of microbes in your gut microbiome has its own clock genes that perform completely differently during the day compared to the night. When we eat food, our gut thinks, “Day!” and when we stop eating our gut thinks,” Night!” and then sends this signal on to other organs in the body. 

Why is this signal important?

The importance of this signal was well illustrated in a study done with two groups of overweight women. The two groups were fed the exact same diet except that the percentage of calories for breakfast and dinner were opposite in each group. One group ate a very light breakfast, 1/3 of their calories for lunch and ½ their calories for dinner while the other group ate ½ their calories for breakfast, 1/3 of their calories for lunch and a very light dinner. The amazing thing that happened was both groups lost weight BUT the women who ate ½ their calories for breakfast lost 2.5 times more weight just by eating their biggest meal in the morning instead of at night. 

How can I optimize my GI Circadian Rhythms?

Fall is a wonderful season to implement new routines. If you are struggling with digestive issues, I challenge you to evaluate your meal times.  I recommend eating a nice big breakfast within 1-2 hours of waking, followed by a plentiful lunch and make dinner your lightest meal or at least keep it 3-4 hours away from bedtime to ensure healthy GI circadian rhythms, which translates to decreased inflammation, improved metabolism, detoxification and hormone balance. 

 See you soon for Part II of Optimizing Digestive Health through creating a diverse, robust Microbiome–one of my favorite topics! 

With much care, 

Dr. Sara Koorjee