Diet vs. Absorption

By Dr. Jason Slagel | September 12th, 2022

There are three main aspects of physical health. We have biomechanical, functional, and structural.  Biomechanical is things like nutrition, smoking, hydration, basically anything to do with body chemicals.  Functional health has to do with weightlifting, stretching, running; things that have to do with body motion. Structural health is where your legs are even, your hips are centered and level, your center of gravity is balanced, your head and neck are straight; it has to do with body stability.  In my office I fix structural issues, but today we will be discussing a common misunderstanding that many of my patients have expressed regarding the biochemical aspect of physical health.

 Now, many health-conscious people eat certain foods based on the nutrients that are found in that food.  For example, people will eat chicken for protein, or they will eat coconut oil for fat, or they will eat spinach for the vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, folate, iron, etcetera, etcetera. We could list out every healthy or unhealthy food and all the nutrients or chemical compounds in it, but you get the point, people eat certain foods because they have certain nutritional value in them. However, here is the thing, you can eat certain foods with desirable nutrients in them, but that does not mean that the body is absorbing the nutrients.  Sometimes our body does not absorb the nutrients that are found in the food we eat.  In other words, your body could be getting less nutrients than what you put into your mouth.  Let’s use the really healthy example of Diet Mountain Dew.  On the label of a can of Diet Mountain Dew the calories will be listed as zero.  Let’s take a second and think about this, do you really think that there are actually zero calories found in that can of soda? Does that seem right to you? No! Of course not, you know better, you know that there must be something with some calories in that can. The thing is, Diet Mountain Dew has been engineered and designed so that our bodies cannot absorb the calories that do exist in the can.  Therefore, to our bodies Diet Mountain Dew is zero calories, because our bodies absorb zero of the calories that are in that can.  

We can look at this as it applies to nutrition as well.  Our intestines, that are absorbing the nutrients, are like a colander where some nutrients pass through into or bodies and some don’t.  We call this the semi-permeable membrane.  Now, there are certain things that impact our semi-permeable membranes in our gut, or in our intestines, that change what our bodies are even able to absorb and what they are not able to absorb.  Some examples of things that affect nutritional absorption in our gut are autoimmune disease, problems in the pancreas, infections, food allergies, weak gut lining.  However, I today I want to focus on three specific things that affect nutrient absorption.  They are inadequate nutrients, microbiome imbalance, and neurological dysfunction.

The first thing is poor absorption of the nutrients being caused by inadequate nutrients.  Basically, if you eat garbage, your body will be built out of garbage and your intestines will not work as well.  This means you will not be able to absorb nutrients as well, which means you will have the even more inadequate nutrition, which means even poorer absorption, etcetera, etcetera.  Essentially, it’s a spiral down.

 The second thing that we need to talk about that causes poor absorption of nutrients is microbiome imbalance.  Most people have heard of the microbiome.  The gut microbiome heavily impacts digestion and absorption of nutrients in your gut.  Because of this, if your gut microbiome is off, then your absorption rates will be poor.  The gut microbiome is heavily influenced by diet.  So now we’re back to the first point about inadequate nutrients, because that is going to impact the gut microbiome, and then impacting absorption of nutrients.

The third, and the most important thing we need to talk about, on the impact of poor absorption of nutrients is neurological disfunction.  With this we’re talking about cranial nerve 10, the vagus nerve.  For our purposes, we are just going to call it the vagus nerve.  The vagus nerve largely controls digestion and absorption in the body.   Therefore, if there is a problem with vegus nerve function, then there will be a problem with nutrient absorption.  One of the most common disruptions in vegus nerve function is from what is called brain stem pressure.  The vegus nerve starts in the brainstem at the top of the neck, travels down the neck, and into a lot of the torso and abdomen.  It controls all kind of things, including digestion and absorption of nutrients in the gut.  So, if a person sustains an accident or injury to the head and neck, and the head and neck get shifted out of place, then that can put pressure in the brainstem, where the vegus nerve starts.  This can cause the vegus nerve to become dysfunctional, which ultimately affects digestion and absorption.  At my office I correct this shift of the head and neck, which is why I commonly hear patients express surprise at certain gut related things getting better.

In conclusion, some people are not properly absorbing the nutrients in the foods that they are eating.    This means that even though some people have a great diet they can still be malnourished or unhealthy.  Because of this, to make sure that your body is correctly functioning neurologically, so that you can absorb the nutrients you are eating, it makes sense to get your brain stem checked to ensure long term health and proper absorption of the nutrients.


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