Digestion by Design: Part 7

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By Melanie Stewart, Yum Tum Nutrition

Just when you think it couldn’t get any more exciting, it’s time for our jugglers! These two multi-tasking geniuses are designed to keep all the balls in the air making lightning fast responses and micro adjustments as needed to protect us. Please meet the gallbladder, valuable, yet potentially underappreciated, and your almighty liver, undoubtedly the hardest working and most adaptive of our organs of digestion.

I am beginning to wonder if we need to put the gallbladder on the endangered species list! While we can live without it, it certainly has an important role in efficient digestion and nutrient absorption. Primarily, the gallbladder is designed to store and concentrate bile, which is manufactured in the liver and used to transport waste products. Bile is triggered to be released from the gallbladder into the small intestine when we eat fatty foods. There, in addition to taking out the trash, it helps pancreatic lipase break down fats and aids in the absorption of our fat-soluble vitamins. And, finally, bile salts act as bactericides, protecting us by destroying potentially harmful microbes in our food. What an awesome multi-tasker!
More than any other organ, however, it is the liver that most compensates for our daily dietary choices. I like to picture the liver like a sentinel standing guard between the intestines and general circulation. Though it does about 500 different jobs, we’ll just focus on a few relevant ones. As a filter, the liver processes virtually EVERYTHING we take in and either lets it pass, breaks it down, changes it into something new, stores or eliminates it. This includes all nutrients and, just as important, all anti-nutrients including alcohol, drugs, toxic food additives, toxins from our external environment and those created internally by improperly digested foods.

Now, here is where the conversation between the liver and the pancreas takes place… Remember, at the top end of digestion the pancreas creates enzymes to release nutrients. At this stage of digestion, the pancreas releases hormones that effectively tell those nutrients where to go and what to do. These hormones are insulin and glucagon.

When we eat foods that break down into glucose, the liver notifies the pancreas and insulin is released to escort the glucose into the cells to use as energy. However, not all of our cells are insulin dependent. So, when we take in more sugar than we need, this limited audience begins to hang out the NO VACANCY sign. We call that insulin resistance, which is the precursor to type II diabetes (America’s newest health epidemic). When insulin can’t find a cell to take the glucose, it is returned to the liver for short-term storage or the liver instructs insulin to send the glucose into a storage unit.

Our storage units are called Triglycerides and we find them in our blood stream and in our adipose tissue, which is why insulin is also called a “fat storage hormone.” High triglyceride levels can be associated with diabetes, kidney disease, and the use of some medications. Highly elevated triglyceride levels might also cause fatty liver disease and pancreatitis. Normal triglyceride levels in the blood are less than 150 mg per deciliter (mg/dL), although ideal levels are under 100.

In addition to our triglyceride levels, understanding glucose levels, cholesterol ratios and markers of internal inflammation is important, because these internal numbers can more accurately reflect the state of our health. We have a tendency to obsess over our weight, but our weight is not the single defining element of over-all health. Even people who maintain a healthy weight put themselves at risk for preventable diseases if they are not eating correctly! So, we will discuss these internal numbers as we continue with almighty liver next month. Stay tuned!

Note: Read the first articles in this series at MyDestinLife.com.

Melanie Stewart has written three books for children (Yum Tum, Good Food is Fun!, Yum Tum, We Get it Done! and Theo of South Walton coloring book) and one for adults (Yum Tum For Everyone!). For more information, to book a seminar, or for private counseling, you can fill out the contact form at yumtumnutrition.com/ or email melanie@yumtumnutrition.com. All content is commentary or opinion and is protected under free speech laws. It’s not meant to give individual medical advice or to make any health claims on the prevention or curing of diseases.