A journey through the digestive system – Step 2 The Mouth
As you would have seen from my previous article digestion actually begins in the brain and I gave some simple steps that might allow you to improve this starting point of digestion.
As we venture to the mouth you will now start to see the first stages of the breakdown of food. Not only does our mouth chew up and breakdown into smaller pieces and liquidise our food, there are also enzymes present in our saliva that begin the digestion of carbohydrates (amylase). Admittedly this is a very small amount and short term, as the acid in the stomach will eventually inactivate this enzyme, however it sets the scene for optimal digestion further down the system. Another enzyme found in the mouth is lipase and this is known to breakdown fat. Various forms of lipase act on fats throughout the digestive system including the mouth, stomach and small intestine.
Interestingly saliva can also help us absorb nitrates from our food, converting into nitrites on the tongue by bacteria and eventually in the stomach into nitric oxide, primarily from green leafy veg and beets.
Nitric oxide has become famous over the years for a number of reasons, one being that it is a powerful vasodilator (dilates the blood vessels), and may bring cardio protective effects, but has also been said to help improve recovery rates, reduce fatigue and enhance endurance and may help increase glucose use. This is commonly the reason used for beets being a good pre workout meal food due to their NO stimulatory effect.
Chewing in the mouth also stimulates the production of a hormone from the parotid glands that help stimulate the thymus to produce T cells which play a crucial role in the function of the immune system.
Tips for optimising digestion in the mouth
- Chew your food thoroughly. Increase the surface area so that the body is able to more easily continue the breakdown process.
- Avoid washing down your food with lots of fluids. Allow you enzymes to get to work without diluting them. A favorite proverb of mine is “drink your food and chew your water”.
Having come from a family where if you eat fast you get more, slowing down my eating is a continual challenge!