Optimising Digestion For Better Energy, Mood and More

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

Video & Transcript (Podcast Episode 10):

Laura: Hi everyone. Welcome to curious conversations. In this episode I’ll be discussing Digestion with Wade Lightheart. Wade is a 3-Time Canadian Natural Bodybuilding Champion, and one of the world's premier authorities on Natural Nutrition and Training Methods. Having majored in Sports Science at the University of New Brunswick, he has authored numerous books on health, nutrition and exercise which have sold in over 80 countries. Wade is sought out by athletes and high-performance oriented individuals worldwide for his advice on how to optimise their health and fitness levels. Wade is the president and cofounder of BiOptimizers - a company with one mission: to help humans shift from a sick or unhealthy condition into a peak biologically optimised state, where all of the body’s functions operate in perfect harmony.

Laura: Well high five to that! Hello Wade, thank you so much for talking with me today.

Wade: Thank you so much it's great to be here.

Laura: How are you today?

Wade: Feeling fabulous, feeling blessed and excited for the new decade. I guess we’re in a new decade right.

Laura: Yes its not only a new year but also a new decade! I really feel like in the collective it’s a decade of change. I think theres a lot of shifts that are going to happen and one of these areas is going to be health, and thats the field that we are in and I love the work that you’re doing, and really excited to talk with you today about digestion. I feel digestion is something most people don’t fully understand in terms of what it is and the actual process and the importance of it.

I think we focus very much on what we eat and getting nutritious food but then what actually happens to it when its in the body is imperative and I know this from lots of the things that I’ve read but also from you. And the reason we know each other is I saw you talking at the Upgraded Labs in LA doing a brilliant talk on digestion, which prompted me to ask you to speak with me.

I'd really love to start just by giving the audience and understanding of the process of digestion, like a step by step of what actually happens for digestion.

Wade: Yes I’m very happy to do that. So I’m a formerly trained nutritionist and I’ve read hundreds of books on nutrition and stuff and very little information is actually focused on the mechanics and process of digestion in all of these information journals. Even if you talk to your traditional medical doctors, I’m shocked at frankly their ignorance about how the digestive process works, or how its impeded. Heres why this is so important and I want to get to this first. Right now today twelve per cent of the emergency hospital visits in the US are Gastro-Intestinal related issues. So think about that.

Laura: How much?! What percentage?

Wade: Twelve per cent of the emergency hospital visits! There is on any given day theres 100 million people (in US) suffering from some sort of digestive condition on a daily basis - thats almost a third of the population.

Laura: Oh my goodness I knew it was bad.I didn’t realise it was that bad.

Wade: Yeah about 25% of the population is on some form of prescription for digestive related illnesses. And we go well why is this, how is this possible, what’s going on?

The reality is our definition of food is frankly limited and it needs to be upgraded dramatically because that definition kind of ushered in the development of monoculture farming, which required the use of nitrogen fertilisers, which depleted the protein content in all the plants and diminished enzyme content because of minerally deficient soils. We just keep going though the soil. Now they say theres about 60 generations of crops before we cant get any kinds of nutrients out of the food we are eating and why I believe supplementation is essential if you want to optimise health.

And then on top of that you’ve got herbicides, pesticides and fungacides that interact with the digestive enzymatic activity. We’ll talk about that. Even in USDA organics theres 50 different chemicals that can be allowed on it. Then on top of that you’ve got preservatives, you’ve got dyes and all these different agents which are now coming with the food that people are eating. And what that does is all those elements combined together compromise our ability to digest, absorb and utilise the food we are eating.

So digestion is basically the process of converting what it is you consume into either energy units or into building blocks. And the other piece of that is your need to properly eliminate what you don’t use.

And so theres basically 5 stages to digestion. So its important for people to recognise Its a single canal from your mouth to your bum, and the reality is the food is in that tube, its not inside your cells, your body.

Laura: No its external. It’s inside but its actually external, it’s like a tunnel.

Wade: Correct, it’s not in your body. This is a concept that people have to grasp because we just think we eat it and its automatically magically converted.

Laura: Most people just don’t even give it a thought.

Wade: So the reality is you start traditionally with your food, taste sight touch smell of the food.

Now It's interesting if you look in eastern culture like India thats a big part of the process so that you eat with your fingers and hands. Look at the most popular foods in America today. Almost all of them are finger foods. People eat their french fries, and burgers and pizza. They eat it with their fingers and that's normal as opposed to a proper fork and knife dinner, so I thought that was kind of interesting just to note that. When we smell the food, see, touch, taste it the first thing is our body starts to have an actual reaction to that.

Laura: Hmm, well even thinking about food, when I think about certain food my mouth starts to water.

Wade: Yeah so talk dill pickles to people and all of a sudden the salivary glands start to activate, even the thought of it.

Laura: Yeah.

Wade: So thats the first initial part. As the food comes into the mouth mastication (or chewing it up) is an essential component. And most people gulp their food and don’t actually chew it thoroughly and that helps break it down.

Laura: Some people inhale it. Literally.

Wade: Yeah I'm one of the people and traditionally if you are watching a screen or in front of TV the likelihood that you’re consuming food in that way is pretty high and thats one of the things that I think is really a challenge, because we’re actually in a different nervous system response in this phase.

Laura: Totally. Yeah they’re not in the relaxed parasympathetic state.

Wade: Exactly and that effects digestion and elimination right there off the bat. So ideally you would eat in conditions not looking at a screen, not watching stuff, and in a calm centred state. Thats why if you go to a nice restaurant a lot of the thing is just based on ambience; nice lighting, using red tablecloths or whatever. That is a big part. And people go “oh why is the food so good” its partly because you’re actually prepping the body to actually be in a state where you can absorb, assimilate and utilise that food better. So the more care and attention that you put into your eating environment the better the food tastes, the better you absorb it.

So that stage is chewing it and you release a little bit of pitalin an enzyme that starts to come up right in the salivary glands and the food will travel down the Oesophagus into the upper cardiac portion of the stomach.

So in the first 30-60 minutes what happens is the naturally present enzymes in the food are going to start breaking it down in the high temperature wet environment that we find in there. Now there is not a big bowl of Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) sitting in your stomach at all time. It takes somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes for that to be released. So in that stage we are supposed to be getting the enzymes in the food. Now heres one of the challenges. Humans are the only species on the planet that cooks their food. Any time you heat food past the 114 degrees you destroy all the enzymes. So when I talked about the food definition, enzymes are the difference between the living and the dead. The difference between stones plants and people is enzymatic activity.

Laura: Yep.

Wade: Erm, with any species, so if I’m a tiger and I’m hungry and I go out and I knock down a zebra that day, I’m going to kill the zebra, I’m going to open up its entrails where the enzymes and probiotics are.

Laura: Yes.

Wade: And I’m going to consume that and then I’m going to eat the carcass. If I’m a horse or cow I’m going to find the most nutrient rich sprouts which is very high enzymes and also Im going to get the microbes on that food.

Laura: Uh huh. They’re smart those animals aren’t they (laughter).

Wade: Correct. So this is how we are naturally determined to get our food. However, now there are advantages to cooking and preserving food.

Laura: Yeah some people do better on cooked food, and theres a whole you know other story around that.

Wade: Yeah I could actually get into that but we’ll stick with the digestive process. So general you’re eating enzymatically deficient food, and what happens is we’re either cooking it or its been eradicated or its been pasteurised or whatever which eliminated all the enzymes so it increases shelf life.

Laura: Yeah.

Wade: So what happens is our body actually has to produce its own enzymes in order to break down that food. Now humans relative to body weight have a pancreas thats about four times larger than any other species per body weight. And if you feed any other species cooked food, guess what? That pancreas starts to grow and thats one of the areas where you start to release and distribute you’re enzymes. So anyway, thats challenge number one that happens.

Then on the next stage, hydrochloric acid comes in and it changes the PH of that environment making it more acidic. Now theres two purposes to that. Purpose number one; it disinfects against bacteria, and viruses and parasites and other pathogens that may have entered into the body through food. High levels of hydrochloric acid are very important to maintain your immune system, it’s the primary defence in your immune system that you don’t get these agents.

Laura: Hmm, yes!

Wade: And of course whats interesting, if you’re not producing enough hydrochloric acid, people get acid reflux and heartburn.

Laura: I know, this was me for years. I was taking these antacids. I was in the UK so we have different brands and stuff but its the same thing, these antacid tablets, which my doctor told me to take because I kept getting heartburn and acid reflux, and I suffered for years, and then when I discovered Functional Medicine, it was actually Chis Kresser I learnt this from, I realised that I didn’t have enough acid and when I started taking HCL within days my symptoms stopped and I’d been suffering for years. And this is something that hardly anybody understands, and I guess this is why so many people are on so much medication for this stuff right?

Wade: Exactly and if you look at the literature for people who are on proton pump inhibitors (PPI's).

Laura: Ugh its so bad.

Wade: The pharmaceutical agencies talk about this that they’re only supposed to be on those for four to six weeks. This is a temporary measure and all sorts of people are on them for years and what this does is sets them up for lots of intestinal infections, viruses, parasites, bacteria agents, and they get sick a lot.

Laura: Yes it’s very damaging to the gut right?!

Wade: It really is, and so that hydrochloric acid, and how the mechanism is, when you hit a certain level of hydrochloric acid what happens is theres a flap on the top of your stomach called the oesophageal sphincter. That stays open, and some of that acid will splash up. Thats how you know you don’t have enough. When your acid levels are high enough what happens is that flap closes and it locks that tight, so if you’re suffering from acid reflux and heartburn, my suggestion is its probably low Hydrochloric acid. The average person by the time they hit 40 has less than 30% of the enzymes and less than 30% of the hydrochloric acid production.

Laura: Yes. It reduces right with age and I know this because my mother started suffering with issues, not only with having erm heart burn but also with her digestion she would say to me I'm not able to digest food very well any more, like I get tummy ache and I have all these problems, and I said to her “ no I think its to do with your HCL and your enzymes”. And again she started taking the supplements and she was then able to deal with with the food in the way that she used to.

Wade: Yeah its really amazing and I’ve seen so many people thats made that shift. The second component of hydrochloric acid is its designed to also change the PH, and so you’ll have different enzymes that’ll become deactivated and others that will become activated in the various PH’s. So for example particularly your Proteases. Theres three main proteases when you look at formulations, you’re looking at Protease 3.0, 4.0 4.5 and 6.0 which are relative to the PH range. Now they have a band that runs up to say 7 right down to 2.

Laura: And for listeners could you just explain what Proteases are?

Wade: Yes, Proteases are the enzymes that break down protein. Amylase are the enzymes that break down carbohydrates, Lipase are the enzymes that break down fats and cellulase is the enzyme that breaks down fibre. So those are what I call the four horseman if you will.

Laura: Yeah I like that.

Wade: Everything’s derivatives of those and theres variances of those. And so with proteases those three are the most important ones, and are pretty much devoid in most enzyme formulations, they just put in one set of cheap protease, and all proteases are not equal. So thats stage 3. Now once that chyme is mixed up and you’ve got your peristaltic contractions, your body will release whats called bicarbonate buffers, which is a fancy name for alkaline minerals, which will buffer the acids as that food chyme comes out into the intestinal tract. Now if you are mineral deficient, excessively, and a lot of people are as they get old, or are stressed a lot, what happens is this is where you’ll get a duodenal ulcers and these kinds of things. You get that acid going into an area where it’s not designed to be. In the stomach it's safe because the lining can protect you from this powerful hydrochloric acid. And by the way I forgot to mention hydration is a key component to producing hydrochloric acid. Most people are chronically dehydrated.

Laura: And stressed, so it's all the things working against them.

Wade: Yes so if you do not have enough minerals in the body you’ll get these spill overs and thats when you can get ulcers. Ideally most people are OK there and as it goes into the intestinal tract erm and it's been buffered, this is where the bacteria are going to work on it. so we have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the body. Most people learn that bacteria is bad, that you want to kill all of them, but the reality is we have anywhere between 200 and 500 different strains of bacteria in our gut at any given moment.

Laura: Oh yep.

Wade: And I always say 10% are good, 10% are bad and 80% are opportunists, depending on your diet, depending on your lifestyle they’ll have different interactions.

Laura: Of course.

Wade: And there’s what we call colonies of these. Now, heres the thing these probiotics are essential to taking whats broken down food and either converting it into energy, or converting it into building blocks and getting it so that it can cross the intestinal barrier into your system. So you hear a lot of talk today about the microbiome.

Laura: Ohh yes!

Wade: And the microbiome is the totality of these bacteria, your diet, your lifestyle, travelling, getting subjected to different bacterias. All of that are going to be constantly changing. So your microbiome is very dynamic. This is changing all the time and for people who have conditions of constipation or gas and bloating and these tings often times theres a misbalance with the ratios of these various bacteria’s. It’s often called dysbiosis.

Laura: Yes so they either have dysbiosis or leaky gut or both.

Wade: Correct. And so what happens is as a health regimen to optimise digestion is you want to make sure that you bring balance back to your microbiome so that you have enough good bacteria, and not too many bad bacteria and that allows you to not only assimilate your food properly but it also is another factor of boosting your immune system, and then finally that contributes to the last stage of digestion which is peristaltic contraction where you go to elimination, and thats a proper elimination. Now of course we sit a lot in chairs.

Laura: Yes.

Wade: Which can interrupt the electrical flow to contract those muscles. Again being in that sympathetic condition where you’re overly stressed and contracted can also do that. For women thats a very common thing because often times theres I would say a lot of social pressure about women going to the bathroom and stuff like that and when they’re young and tend to hold it in too much and all this sort of stuff. And so they are generally more susceptible to those type of conditions but it happens to anybody and of course constipation is as anyone who’s had experience of like travelling, its very uncomfortable and also extremely dangerous for peoples health long term because what happens is if you’re not breaking down your food in these proper areas the bad bacteria will particularly focus on sugars and undigested proteins, and what they produce is a variety of chemicals and this can cause things like depression, it can cause uncontrollable overeating, breakouts on the skin and all sorts of conditions. Brain fog, if you wake up with brain fog in the morning, bad breath in the morning, chances are you are having undigested proteins that are being consumed and creating these neurotoxins. Or a lot of people who are suffering from depression or anxiety will find that when they correct their digestion it goes away because they’ve not been able to make the polypeptide chains to turn on their neurochemistry.

Laura: Totally, and in the gut we produce so many of those you know, most of our serotonin is produced in the gut, theres so many different things that happen there as well. And I know from my own personal experience, I used to suffer with depression but also a lot of anxiety. I used to just feel on edge and like there was just this feeling of impending doom and it was actually when I improved my diet but I also improved my digestion those symptoms started to dramatically improve and even I have clients now who when they start to do this and heal their gut they find that their mood completely changes. It’s amazing.

Wade: It’s remarkable. We had a gentleman, he was in his mid 70’s, had suffered from depression for over 30 years, was on medication. We cleaned up his gut and literally in a couple of months he got off all his medication - now we ‘re not suggesting thats whats going to happen for people but he got off all his medication and started feeling so good he started another business, got in a relationship in his 70’s. His whole life transformed simply because he was able to assimilate the food he was eating. And also he noticed he started to lose weight because he wasn’t craving a lot of the foods he used to eat before. Thats another thing if you’re craving a lot of foods, generally its not you that has the craving its the bacteria are hooked in your nervous system and they’re demanding.

Laura: I know yeah.

Wade: The sugar and the bad fatty acids or bad proteins.

Laura: I kind of liken it to a zoo. Its like the bacteria are the animals in the zoo and they are wanting to be fed you know, and they’re kind of screaming out for food. And I think thats why a lot of people really struggle with cravings and they try to just use willpower and often it’s actually a biological cause that you can address, as you just explained.

Wade: Yeah I always take whatever’s going on in anybody’s life as neutral. It’s just feedback and there are mechanisms that are going in the body that can be corrected to change that so I think thats an important thing for people to recognise is if you’re having those types of issues say you’re having constipation, or you’re having depression or you’re having food cravings or you’re bloated or gassy or you’re skins breaking out, this is actually a perfect response to the conditions both inside and externally to your body and when you change those conditions externally and internally you can correct those conditions because the body always wants to default back to super health.

Laura: Of course.

Wade: Thats its natural mechanism. We’ve evolved over millions of years to get here and so all we need to do is manipulate those conditions externally and internally so that we can get back to letting our body produce the natural health its designed and literally want to be.

Laura: Totally. It’s interesting that a lot of people these days I think we’ve come to almost accept that the symptoms that are so common are just normal. And I always say its not normal or natural, its just common and theres a difference, and so its really all about trying to get us back to our natural functioning and our natural state, which is challenging in this modern world because most people as you say they are sitting a lot, eating on the run , not chewing, not relaxed, feeling stressed out which is depleting and creating issues with the minerals, and theres so many things and its all to do with our modern lifestyles and the food system and all facets of modern life.

Wade: Yeah and it is changeable and thats why I think we’re getting so much traction with our company, is i had my own digestive health issue after I competed at the Mr Universe contest. I gained 42 pounds of fat and water in 11 weeks.

Laura: Woah! Thats a lot in 11 weeks!

Wade: Yeah I had completely messed up my digestion following a high performance diet. And keep in mind I had the best coach in the world, I had a spartan like discipline and I thought I was doing everything right but I didn’t understand the roles between enzymes and probiotics and hydrochloric acid. And thats what started me on my journey, and we ended up starting a company on it because it was so important to me in transforming my life, and thats carried on and we’ve helped literally tens of thousands of people. And so you don’t know what your crisis may actually cause. It may be an opportunity that you cant imagine, so I encourage that for people.

Laura: Absolutely and I find it always seems to be the case with people doing the kind of work we do, that it always comes from a personal experience and we can then you know use that to help other people and yeah thats how we change the word right?

Wade: Absolutely 100%.

Laura: And so what are some of the practical actions that listeners can take to rally optimise their digestion and hen get all of these amazing benefits that we’ve talked about.

Wade: Yeah fantastic question. So the biggest thing that people can do number 1 is if you can create a relaxed eating environment where you just turn the phones off and start. The second thing is I suggest especially with compromised digestion adding some enzymes before you eat , hydrochloric acid after, and probiotics (I like probiotics before bed). So those three things.

Laura: So the timings then. The enzymes before you eat so just before you’re about to start eating.

Wade: Yep.

Laura: And then why the HCL after?

Wade: Yes so you take the HCL after as you want that 30 to 60 minutes of pre - digestion before the Hydrochloric acid comes in. So you’re working in alignment with your bodies natural action. Now I do know people who, a lot of people say Im not going to worry about it I’m just going to take the enzymes and the hydrochloric acid and the probiotics all together and they’re fine and thats simple and easy. In fact we have little containers that we have for our company so people can just carry around that container , and have all of it and put it in their pocket wherever they go and they’re off to the races so to speak. And thats great, its a wonderful way to kind of address digestive issues simply but of course some people want to go all in and I’m an all in guy.

Laura: Awesome. Thats great. Look at the end of the day I think the more that we can mimic our natural process and the timings the better, and if you’re going to have you supplements with you and you’re eating its very easy to take one when you start eating and one when you finish.

Wade: Exactly.

Laura: It's not that difficult (laughing).

Wade: It’s not that difficult. And the benefits so outweigh, as you illustrated earlier, you’ve kind of experienced what thats like and its remarkable. And the other thing is its also going to increase the value you get out of any nutritional supplements your’e eating or any food that you’re eating. You’re actually going to absorb and utilise the food that you’re eating and so over the long term by optimising your digestion with enzymes, probiotics and hydrochloric acid what happens is you actually reduce how many supplements that you ned in your life. most people over a period of time will actually reduce the amount of for they eta, they find they get filled up. You don’t have bloating and gas that food sitting in your stomach like a rock. And then usually over a period of time you know the relationship with the bathroom is much better.

Laura: Yes.

Wade: And so you find a much smoother elimination process.

Laura: Absolutely.

Wade: And we’ve documented this now we’ve been doing this for 15 years so we’ve literally thens of thousands of people and we’ve got all this feedback. For people who are really compromised, usually you’ll start to notice a difference immediately with just how you feel about bloated. Sometimes theres some changes in the first couple of weeks, you may have some skin breakouts or some mild headaches sometimes as you start to detox. That usually fixes in a couple weeks. After a month people notice their smoother elimination, skin starts to feel better, often times they notice their concentration levels increase. Typically what happens is a reduction of sleep, energy levels are higher and food cravings going. And usually but the third month people are like ok I actually feel amazing.

Laura: Yes.

Wade: Joint pain starts to diminish for a lot of people. Skin starts to get that radiant glow look. You wake up in the morning and don’t need a coffee to get your brain clear. And typically fat levels start to diminish and concentration levels continue to improve.

Laura: Yeah, wow.

Wade: This is whats so common - people don’t realise we are naturally supposed to get these things in our diet. When we picked a carrot out of the ground it had its enzymes in it. It had the microbes on it that went with that. Or when we ate other types of food we were all designed that way but with modern food production and distribution thats all changed. I'm not saying thats bad but we have to recognise the world we live in is different than our ancestors before and thats why we need these things.

Laura: Absolutely yeah, and thats an amazing list of benefits that you just reeled off as well and of course as you know there are potentially many different reasons why we lek energy or why we don’t feel good or whatever but I definitely erm believe and we’ve heard how digestion is imperative as a part of that process and yeah its amazing. And look I can vouch for it myself because I said to you i tarted taking your HCL and digestive enzymes. I was taking some enzymes before and then I had a break because I was living in Bali and I couldn’t get hold of the supplements that I needed and so after meeting you previously I started taking your supplements and even within just a few days I noticed a dramatic difference. You know my digestion had gone from being a bit hit and miss to being perfect and that was only within like a week. And its such a simple easy thing that people can do so now again I try whenI eat to be calm. I actually have a thing I call the ABC of eating. So its Attention, being very mindful and deviating the attention and really appreciating the food. Breathing so that im relaxed, and Chewing.

Wade: Wow thats great.

Laura: Well most people don’t chew, right? And before it all gets into our stomach we can do these things which are beneficial and I guess going back to what you were saying about the food, local seasonal and organic I guess is, ok I guess it still sometimes has some chemicals and things in but if wherever possible thats going to be much more beneficial than eating a Mcdonalds.

Wade: Correct.

Laura: Because even with digestive enzymes, you're not getting much greatness from a Mccdonalds (Laughter).

Wade: No you’re not going to get a lot of nutrients thats going to power you up for another great day.

Laura: No, it’s not the ideal anti-inflammatory diet, so yeah, and then with probiotics as well I know you guys do a probiotic. I'm actually not taking a probiotic at the moment but I know you do one that has very good reviews.