Sources: Papers On Health

Digestion is the process whereby the food we eat is turned

into material fit to be assimilated by the blood. It begins in the

mouth by the mechanical grinding and crushing of the food, and the

chemical conversion of the starchy part into sugar, in which form alone

it can be assimilated. This conversion is carried out by the saliva.

Hence the necessity for thorough mastication, even of sloppy foods that

do not seem to require it, and for attention to the teeth in order that

they may thoroughly chew. Alcohol and tobacco, as they spoil the

saliva, are very unfavourable to digestion, and should always be

avoided. Twenty minutes longer to chew one's dinner is worth a whole

box of pills, and no one need expect good digestion who neglects

thorough chewing and salivation of the food. This may, with advantage,

be increased to an extent which most people would think quite absurd.

It has been proved that when all food is chewed until completely

reduced to a liquid, its nutritive qualities are so increased that

about half as much will suffice. This is of immense importance in all

cases of weak digestion, or indeed whenever an absence of vigorous

health renders the economy of vital energy important.

In the stomach the food meets with the gastric juice, which has the

property of turning proteid (see Diet for the various substances

contained in food) into material ready for assimilation. The walls of

the stomach are muscular, and their contraction churns the food with

the juice. The gastric juice is secreted by glands embedded in the

walls of the stomach, and is poured out when food is taken.

The whole food, now in the form of a paste, passes into a pipe about 12

inches long (the Duodenum), into which pours the secretion of the

pancreas and that of the liver (bile). The pancreatic juice acts upon

the starch which has escaped the action of the saliva, and also

continues the work of the stomach. It furthermore emulsifies the fat or

divides it into extremely fine drops.

The food passes now into a long coiled pipe--the small intestine. This

secretes the intestinal juice which further assists the pancreatic

juice. Absorption has been proceeding from the stomach onwards (see

Assimilation). The mass of undigested food is pushed along the small

intestine by means of muscles in its walls and passes into the large

intestine where a similar process to that of the small intestine goes

on, the remains of the food ultimately reaching the vent in a semi

solid form, consisting of the undigested part and the debris of


During this complex process much blood and energy is needed for the

abdominal region, therefore hard work or exercise should not

immediately follow a meal. It will be noticed that each stage of

digestion prepares the food for the next stage e.g., the mouth

prepares the food for the stomach. Now, as the food ceases to be under

our control when it leaves the mouth, every effort should, as we have

said, there be made to prepare the food for its reception by the

stomach. Chew food dry as far as possible, for that excites saliva. It

is best not to drink till after the meal. The digestive powers often

become weakened in advancing years, but may be greatly preserved, and

even restored to health after long debility, by careful attention to

the above hints.

Drinks made of lemon juice or orange juice and water are often very

good to help an invalid digestion, but nothing is better than sips of

hot water for some time before a meal. Distilled water is especially a

most valuable drink. Cooling applications to a fevered stomach and warm

fomentations to a cold one will often promote digestion marvellously.

The feet and legs may be fomented if cold while the cold cloth is

pressed over the stomach, especially if the process be long continued.

Where heat is necessary it should be gradually and cautiously applied,

so that sickening the patient may be avoided. (See also Assimilation,

Food in Health, Indigestion).