THE STEPS OF DIGESTION
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© January 2012, The Center For Development
To live, our bodies must take in food and then break it down into its basic components. Then it must put these components back together to form our body tissues like our hands, feet, hair, skin and so on. This is one of the most important tasks our bodies perform each day. It involves a series of critical steps, all of which must work right for us to be healthy and happy. This article is an explanation of how digestion works.
DIGESTION BEGINS IN THE MOUTH
Chew your food at least 20 times for healthy digestion. Digestion begins in the mouth with chewing. Chewing mechanically breaks down food, and is very important. This is why bolting your food, or not chewing thoroughly, is a very bad habit and always leads to malnutrition. Only the mouth has teeth to mechanically tear apart the food.
In addition, chewing breaks down the food chemically. Chemicals in your saliva called amylase enzymes, break down starches and other food components right in the mouth.
Many people do not realize that some food components including some vitamins and minerals, sugars and others, can be absorbed directly from the mouth into the body.
Chewing each bite at least two dozen times or so is most helpful for good health. It may feel odd at first, but it quickly becomes a healthful habit. Chewing your food at least two dozen times each bite is also a simple and very healthful way to eat less and lose weight. Everyone else will be on their second or third portion and you will still be on your first portion. If you chew your food two dozen times, you will also feel full a lot faster.
If you absolutely cannot chew food thoroughly for some reason, then blend, puree or juice the food in a blender, food processor or juicer. This is not as good as chewing. However, it is much better than swallowing food without proper chewing.
DIGESTION IN THE STOMACH
From the mouth, food passes down a long tube, the esophagus, into the stomach. Here, the food is mixed with powerful acids and other chemical enzymes such as pepsin. The stomach is designed to handle these powerful chemicals, which further digest your food. At this stage, digestion should have begun in the mouth, and it continues here. The stomach is very important for the breakdown of proteins. They are torn apart chemically, breaking them down into polypeptides and some isolated amino acids. Starch digestion from the mouth also continues in the stomach, but less intensely.
The stomach also mechanically churns the food and thoroughly mixes it with the acid and the enzymes, just like in a chemical factory. The stomach also stores the food so that it enters the small intestines slowly and surely, and only when it is digested enough.
Eating simple meals makes digestion in the stomach and elsewhere much easier. I suggest eating only one, two or three foods per meal. More than this is very hard on digestion. It is like asking your body to break down many chemicals at the same time, and this is much harder for everyone. Taking a digestive aid containing ox bile and pancreatin can help, but eating simple meals is the best.
For best digestion, do not drink much liquid with meals. Drinking more than a small cup of water or tea with meals dilutes the powerful stomach chemicals and makes the stomach less able to digest your food. Drink your water one hour after meals, and up to about 10 minutes before meals only. However, water is needed in the body, so be sure you drink two to three quarts or about 90 ounces of water daily – preferably natural spring water or carbon-only filtered tap water. Do not drink soda pop, coffee, Kool aid, Gatorade or any sugary drinks, reverse osmosis water, or alcohol. This makes digestion much worse.
After it leaves the stomach, partially digested food passes into the small intestines. Here, bile from the liver and digestive enzymes from the pancreas are added to the food mixture. These secretions of the liver and pancreas add more powerful chemicals to the human chemical factory to break down the food even more. These break down fats, starches, proteins and some sugars as well.
Digestion continues as the food winds its way through about 30 feet of small intestine. This is where most digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place.
The villi. Absorption of nutrients is quite complex. The small intestine has trillions of tiny hair-like projections that stick up into the intestine called villi. These have a rich blood supply. Somehow the body is able to transport the nutrients from the food across the cell membranes of the villi, and from there they join the blood stream.
The small intestine is also home to a myriad of bacteria that should assist the digestion process. These together are called the intestinal flora. Unfortunately, many people do not have enough pancreatic and liver enzymes, and their intestinal flora is either incorrect, or even missing. This causes bad symptoms like gas, bloating, stomach and intestinal cramps, smelly bowel movements, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
Reasons why the intestinal flora are almost always incorrect or weak in most people are:
á Not relaxing and sitting down quietly when you eat. It is very important to sit quietly, relax and chew your food thoroughly each time you eat a meal. Animals know to do this but people are not that smart. Eating on the run, eating in your car, eating too fast, or when you are upset or busy, is very hard on digestion and upsets the entire process.
á Toxins in the food such as preservatives, dough conditioners, MSG, sweeteners like aspartame and sugar, artificial colors, artificial flavors, pesticide residues, insecticide residues, toxic chemicals, and others. Our government stupidly allows over 3000 of these chemicals to be added to prepared foods. Stay away from all of them if you want good, strong digestion.
á Improper food, such as living on sweets, or bread, or drinking too much water or soda pop with meals.
á Infected or contaminated food. This introduces the wrong bacteria into your intestines. Never eat bad quality food, if you possibly can avoid it. Always treat yourself to organic, high quality food.
á A low level of digestive enzymes. This permits harmful organisms to survive in your body, and impairs proper digestion as well.
á Impaired health may reduce the production of many chemicals in the intestinal tract that protect it from invaders, or bacteria that should not be there and are harmful.
á Antibiotics, and perhaps other medical and over-the-counter drugs like Aspirin, Tylenol, Aleve, Excedrin and many others. These are just chemicals that are very damaging for the stomach, so they can severely impair digestion. Antibiotics kill the good bacteria in the intestines in many cases, and should be strictly avoided. Instead, use natural methods for infections. To learn about how to handle infections, read Boosting Your Immunity and Beyond Antibiotics on this site. Antibiotic residues are now found in many city water supplies, and in some foods such as commercial meats and some dairy products because they are fed to cows and chickens.
á Infections in the intestines such as parasites, viruses, or yeast problems. These either kill off or upset the proper bacteria that should be in the intestine. They go away, in most cases, when you eat properly, rest enough, and balance your body chemistry with a nutritional balancing program. Be careful about using drugs for them, as the side effects can be worse than the original problem.
THE APPENDIX AND LARGE INTESTINE
After food passes through the small intestine, it goes through a valve called the ilio-cecal valve into the large intestine or colon. Very close to this valve is a small gland called the appendix.
The appendix. The function of the appendix is somewhat of a mystery in modern medical care. However, it is really not very mysterious. It secretes chemicals that further help digest foods. Rarely, the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with bacteria that the body is unable to remove. If it is very infected, one must have surgery to remove it quickly or it can burst, spreading germs throughout the abdomen. Fortunately, in the past 100 years or so, surgery was developed and removal of the appendix is not a difficult operation in most cases.
THE LARGE INTESTINE
The large intestine or colon is about two feet long and is a thick tube of tissue that starts in the lower right corner of your abdomen. It runs straight up the right side of the abdomen to around the bottom of the ribs, and then it makes a sharp 90-degree turn. It then goes across the belly, underneath the belly button, roughly, and then makes another 90-degree turn downwards on the left side of the body. It goes straight down, more or less, and ends in the anus and rectum.
The functions of the large intestine are 1) to finish any incomplete digestion of your food, and 2) to absorb the nutrients and to absorb all the water in the leftover or waste product, which is mainly undigestible vegetable fibers and some other chemicals that our bodies cannot use. This is a very important step in digestion. The water is recycled into the body, if everything works right. However, if too much water is absorbed, or the food sits too long in the colon, you will become constipated. If not enough water is absorbed, you get diarrhea, or watery stools. Some minerals, vitamins and other nutrients are also absorbed in the colon with the water.
The large intestine is one of the most diseased organs in most people today. The reasons why are:
á Drinking too little water and/or the wrong kinds of water. I recommend adults drink three quarts daily of either carbon-only filtered tap water, or preferably natural spring water or so-called mineral water. All other types of water are not as good for hydrating the body, in my experience.
á Fatigue and stress of every kind. All stress tends to affect the digestive system. The large intestine is particularly sensitive to stress, which tends to slow or even stop its activity. This is a major cause of constipation in some people.
á Hurried lifestyles and not heeding the call to evacuate.
á Refined foods in the diet. These include white sugar, white flour, white rice and other poor quality, low-fiber, highly processed foods. These can literally Ògum upÓ the large intestine. Some cheeses can do this, too. When people have an enema or more so a series of colon hydrotherapy session, some people eliminate up to 10 pounds of impacted fecal material that was just sitting inside of them, making them fat and sick. Sometimes they also eliminate worms and other parasites, as well.
á Chemicals added to many foods, especially refined and prepared food items. Some of these, such as sugars, are quite harmful for the large intestine and cause the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, viruses and other organisms.
á Bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infections. These are common, especially if you eat raw food, which I do not recommend. Traveling to nations that are not too clean is another way to get parasites. Raw fish, sushi, and not washing food thoroughly is another case. Unfortunately, eating any pig products can also cause parasitic infections, even if it is thoroughly cooked. Some will disagree with this, but this is my experience.
á Medical prescriptions and over-the-counter or drugstore items. These often damage the intestines, as explained above. Again, among the worst for the colon are antibiotics, which often damage or destroy the natural intestinal bacteria, allowing bad bacteria to multiply and take over. Many drugs also slow bowel activity or irritate the sensitive mucosa of the small and large intestines. Diuretics can remove too much water from the bowel and cause constipation. Vitamin tablets with iron can irritate the intestines.
á Other causes. The colon can develop many problems such as prolapse (a collapse of the colon), diverticuli (pockets filled with bacteria and food residues), colitis (inflammation),and irritable bowel (alternating diarrhea and constipation due often to dietary problems). Cancers of the colon are extremely common because the colon can become highly toxic and filthy.
Colon cleansing. Colon health is so important today that I suggest doing a daily coffee retention enema. When done properly, it is not harmful or habit-forming, as some say it is. It not only cleans the colon, but also helps remove many poisons from the liver. For more on this interesting procedure, read Coffee Enemas on this site. Many clients report that coffee enemas Òsaved their livesÓ.
DIGESTION VERSUS PUTREFACTION, ROTTING AND FERMENTATION
Excellent digestion is the most important single process needed for health besides rest and sleep. However, most people have very poor digestion today, even though one may have no symptoms of it at all. Instead of digesting their food, most of their food either rots, putrefies or ferments. Let us compare these important processes that go on inside the body:
á Digestion. This is a process whereby food is acted upon mechanically by chewing and then chemically by acids and enzymes in the intestines. As a result, the food is broken down into simpler chemical compounds. For example, protein is broken into its amino acids. Fats are broken into fatty acids. Starches and sugars are broken down to simple sugars. Proper digestion requires good food, proper eating habits, enough digestive enzymes and other favorable conditions in the intestines.
Putrefaction. This is a chemical process in which proteins from food are
changed by certain intestinal bacteria into very toxic chemical
substances. Among the chemicals
are cadaverine, indol and skatol.
Toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide are also produced. A small amount of putrefaction is
tolerable, but more is very harmful and toxic for the body.
Causes for putrefaction include eating too much protein at one time, insufficient chewing, bad food combinations, deficiencies of digestive enzymes such as trypsin and chymotrypsin, improper pH of the intestinal tract, and the presence of incorrect flora in the intestinal tract.
á Rotting. This is similar to putrefaction. However, it occurs in the absence of putrefying bacteria. This is what happens if you leave an egg or a piece of meat in the open air for a few days. The distinction between rotting and putrefying is not great and the words are often used interchangeably. However, technically they are not the same.
Fermentation. This is a chemical process in which certain yeast
organisms change sugars into methane, alcohol, vinegar, acetaldehyde and other
very toxic substances. This is
extremely common, especially in slow oxidizers. Candida albicans is the most common fermenting organism, but
many other yeasts may be involved as well.
One way to tell if fermentation or putrefaction is occurring in your body is the smell of your stool or intestinal gas. Fermentation smells mild, often like horse manure, for example. Putrefaction produces a more foul-smelling stool.
THE ABSORPTION OF NUTRIENTS
While digestion may seem simple, in fact it is incredibly complex. Somehow the body knows which of the thousands of chemicals in food that it needs. It is able, when healthy, to sift through the food and absorb the nutrients, while rejecting the many chemical poisons. These are eliminated as the feces.
Most of the nutrients are absorbed from the small intestine, though some absorption occurs in the mouth, and in the large intestine as well.
The role of the liver. A key to digestion is that all the blood from the intestinal tract goes not to the body, at large, but to the liver directly. The liver is like the Supreme Court of the body.
The liver is a truly amazing organ. It can sift through the absorbed material and it rejects some toxic chemicals, toxic metals and other toxins that have been absorbed in the intestines with the food. The waste products then pass out of the liver in the form of a substance called bile.
Interestingly, the bile is dumped back into the small intestine, and some of the poisons such as too much cholesterol, can be reabsorbed once again. However, in most cases, the liver has transformed the toxins so that the body somehow knows not reabsorb them. It is as though the liver ÒtagsÓ the toxic metals and toxic chemicals in some way so they pass harmlessly out of the body in the feces.
The liver has about 500 other functions, however. It further breaks down some nutrients, transforms some into other chemicals the body needs like cholesterol, and puts some chemicals together to form proteins, starches, fatty acids and millions of other chemicals we need to live. Never treat your liver badly by drinking alcohol or taking drugs or any poison. You are just ruining the most amazing organ in the body.
Digestion is just one of the most astonishing processes in the body whereby we take in certain chemicals called proteins, fats, starches, sugars, vitamins, minerals and more, and we break them all down into their parts, and then they are absorbed and rebuilt – or really recycled – into the tissues that make up our bodies. This is digestion.