Steps of Digestion

March 1, 2012

Diet, Health, Nutrition

by Dr. Larry Wilson — 

Digestion is an astonishing and orderly process that breaks down proteins, carbohyrdates, fat and other complex chemicals found in the plants and animals we eat, and recycles them to manufacture our body tissues. This article will explain how the process works.

Simply put, food either digests or spoils. Digestion is critical for good health, because if you are not digesting properly, malnutrition occurs — no matter how good your diet is. Even worse, food can break down in very poisonous ways, thus ruining your health. This is when putrefaction and fermentation occur, which can cause smelly bowel movements and intestinal gas, bad breath, bloating, fatigue, a full feeling in the intestines, sleepiness after meals, constipation, diarrhea and colitis. Poor digestion also can cause the body to become generally overrun with toxic chemicals.

Digestion begins in the mouth

For optimal health, chew your food at least 20 times. Chewing mechanically breaks down food, which is an important step in the digestion process. This is why “inhaling your food” (e.g., gulping it down or not chewing it thoroughly) is a bad habit and can lead to malnutrition. Only the mouth has teeth to tear apart the food. In addition, chemicals in saliva, called amylase enzymes, break down starches and other components right in the mouth.

Furthermore, some vitamins and minerals, sugars and other nutrients can be absorbed directly from the mouth into the body. For these reasons, chewing each bite at least 20 times is extremely helpful for good health. This practice may feel odd at first, but it will quickly become an easy and healthy habit.

Chewing is so important that if you cannot do so thoroughly, then the next best thing is to puree your foods in a blender, food processor or juicer. This is not as effective as chewing, but much better than swallowing food without proper mastication.

Properly chewing each bite of food is also a simple and healthful way to lose weight. It basically slows you down and makes you feel full much sooner. It also allows for better nourishment. You will not need a second portion, nor will you usually want one.

Digestion in the stomach

After the mouth, the food passes down a long tube called the esophagus and travels into the stomach. The stomach is a muscular organ that mechanically churns the food and mixes it with hydrochloric acid and enzymes, such as pepsin. The stomach also stores the food so that it enters the small intestines slowly and surely, and only when it is thoroughly digested.

The stomach is very important for the breakdown of proteins. It is where the proteins are separated into their components, such as polypeptides and isolated amino acids. Starch and sugar digestion also continues in the stomach, but to a lesser degree.

Ways to make stomach digestion easier include:

1. Eat simple meals. I suggest eating only one to three foods per meal. More than that can be hard on digestion. It is like asking a factory to process thousands of chemicals at the same time, instead of just a few.

2. Take a digestive aid. The best digestive aids are supplements that contain ox bile and pancreatin.

3. Do not drink a lot of liquid with meals. Drinking more than a small cup of water or tea, even with snacks, dilutes powerful stomach chemicals and makes you less able to digest your food. Drink only water or tea and do so one hour after meals and up to about 10 minutes before.

Adequate water, however, is critical for the body, so be sure to drink two to three quarts (about 90 ounces) of water daily. Children may drink less. Natural spring water or carbon-only filtered tap water is best. Do not drink soda, coffee, fruit juices, Kool-Aid®, Gatorade® or sugary drinks, reverse osmosis water or alcohol. These beverages are harmful and impair digestion.

4. Eat quiet, sit-down, relaxed meals. Do not eat while driving, talking on the telephone, at your desk while working, or standing up in front of the refrigerator or anywhere else. Avoid noisy restaurants and upsetting conversation during meals, if at all possible.

For optimal health, chew your food at least 20 times. Chewing mechanically breaks down food, which is an important step in the digestion process.

Intestinal digestion

After leaving the stomach, partially digested food passes into the small intestine. Here, bile from the liver and digestive enzymes from the pancreas are added to the food mixture. These secretions allow many powerful chemicals to continue breaking down the food as it winds its way through about 30 feet of small intestine (where most digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place).

Trillions of tiny hair-like projections, called villi, line the intestine and 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 bloodstream and go to the liver for further processing before they are released into the general blood circulation.

The small intestine is also home to a host of bacteria that are vital for digestion. They secrete substances that help digest food and produce some vitamins, as well. These bacteria are called intestinal flora. Unfortunately, most people do not have enough of the right kind. This contributes to symptoms such as gas, bloating, stomach and intestinal cramps, smelly bowel movements, constipation and/or diarrhea.

The following are reasons why intestinal flora are deficient in most people:

 • Toxins in food — These include preservatives, dough conditioners, MSG, sweeteners like aspartame and sugar, artificial colors, artificial flavors, pesticide and insecticide residues, toxic chemicals and others. Unbelievably, the government allows more than 3,000 of these toxins to be added to prepared foods. Stay away from all of them if you want good, strong digestion.

• Diet — A poor diet consists of eating improper food, such as sweets and breads, or drinking too much liquid with meals.

• Infected or contaminated food — These foods introduce the wrong bacteria into your intestines. Avoid bad quality food. Always treat yourself to organic, high-quality foods.

• A low level of digestive enzymes — This permits harmful organisms to survive in your body and impairs proper digestion.

• Taking antibiotics, and other medical and over-the-counter drugs — This includes aspirin, Tylenol®, Aleve®, Excedrin® and many others. These chemicals are very damaging to the stomach, and they can severely impair digestion. Antibiotics kill the good bacteria in the intestines and should be strictly avoided. Instead, use natural methods to treat infections. (To learn more, read “Boosting Your Immunity” and “Beyond Antibiotics” at www.drlwilson.com.) Antibiotic residues are now found in many city water supplies and in some foods, such as commercial meats and dairy products, due to the fact that antibiotics are given to cows and chickens.

The appendix and large intestine

At the end of the small intestine, the food mixture passes through the ileocecal valve and into the large intestine or colon. Very close to this valve is a small gland called the appendix.Modern Western medicine treats the function of the appendix as somewhat of a mystery, yet this should not be the case, as this gland secretes chemicals that help further digest food.

Rarely, the appendix can become inflamed and filled with bacteria that the body is unable to remove. If it is infected, it must be surgically removed quickly or it can burst, spreading germs throughout the abdomen.

This surgery has improved in the past 100 years, saving many lives. Before that, people died from a burst appendix. It is important to see a doctor if you develop pain in your lower right abdomen, especially if you are constipated at the same time, as it could indicate a problem with the appendix.

The large intestine

The large intestine, or colon, is about a one-inch-thick tube of tissue that starts in the lower right corner of your abdomen. Approximately two feet long, it runs up the right side of the abdomen to just around the bottom of the ribs. It then makes a sharp 90-degree turn and goes across the belly (underneath the belly button, roughly), and makes another 90-degree turn 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, (2) to absorb nutrients that are left in the food mixture and (3) to absorb most of the water in the leftover material, or waste product. This is called the feces or stool. These are mainly indigestible vegetable fibers and other chemicals that our bodies cannot use. These are very important steps in the process of digestion and in the elimination of waste matter from the body.

If enough water is not absorbed from the colon, the stool comes out watery, which is called diarrhea. If too much water is absorbed from the colon, or if waste matter sits too long in the colon, the result is constipation.

Constipation is a common ailment, and the large intestine is often one of the most diseased organs. The reasons are:

1. Not drinking enough water and/or the wrong kind. I recommend that adults drink three quarts of water daily — either carbon-only filtered tap water or, preferably, natural spring water (mineral water). In my experience, no other waters are as effective in hydrating the body.

2. All types of fatigue and stress, which tend to affect the digestive system. The large intestine is particularly sensitive to stress, which tends to slow or even stop its activity. In some people, this can be a major cause of constipation.

3. Hurried lifestyles and not heeding the call to evacuate. Learn to slow down and relax more often. Also, when nature calls, it is wise to answer.

4. Consuming refined foods in the diet. These include white sugar, white flour, white rice and other poor quality, low-fiber and highly processed foods. These can literally “gum up” the large intestine. Some cheeses can do this, too. When people take enemas, or more so, a series of colon hydrotherapy sessions, some will 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.

5. Chemicals added to many foods, especially refined and prepared food items. Some of these, such as sugars, are quite harmful to the large intestine and cause the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, viruses, yeasts and other organisms.

6. Bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infections in the body. These are common, especially if you eat raw food, which I do not recommend. Traveling to nations that are not very clean is another way to get parasites. Raw fish, sushi and not washing food thoroughly are other causes. Unfortunately, eating pork products also can cause parasitic infections, even if they are thoroughly cooked. Some will disagree, but this has been my experience.

7. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter or drugstore items. These can damage the intestines, as explained above. Among the worst drugs 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, causing constipation. Vitamins with iron can irritate the intestines.

8. 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 syndrome (alternating diarrhea and constipation, often due to dietary problems). Cancers of the colon are also common due to constipation and the buildup of toxic waste products of digestion and putrefaction.

9. Colon cleansing. Colon health is so important that I suggest most people do a daily coffee retention enema. When done properly, it is not harmful or habit-forming, as some say it is. This practice will not only clean the colon, but also will help remove many poisons from the liver. (For more information, read “Coffee Enemas” at www.drlwilson.com.) Many clients have reported that coffee enemas saved their lives. If you have a chronic illness, ask your doctor about this procedure. I have found it to be extremely safe when done properly.

Conclusion

Digestion is perhaps the most amazing chemical process in the human body. It allows us to eat the tissues of plants and animals, and convert them to our own body tissues. Poor digestion is common, thanks to improper diets, hurried lifestyles, lack of rest and sleep, not drinking enough water (or the wrong type) and other factors. Improving your digestion is of the utmost importance for a healthy life.

 

Dr. Lawrence Wilson has a medical degree and has been in the health field for more than 25 years. His books include Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, Legal Guidelines for Unlicensed Practitioners, Healing Ourselves and Manual of Sauna Therapy and The Real Self. He also co-authored Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease and contributed to The Dangers of Socialized Medicine. www.drlwilson.com or 928-445-7690.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 1, feb/march 2012.

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