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The Digestive Process
Category: The Nature and Cause of Disease
Source: How And When To Be Your Own Doctor
After we have eaten our four-color meal--often we do this in a
hurry, without much chewing, under a lot of stress, or in the
presence of negative emotions--we give no thought to what becomes of
our food once it has been swallowed. We have been led to assume that
anything put in the mouth automatically gets digested flawlessly, is
efficiently absorbed into the body where it nourishes our cells,
with the waste products being eliminated completely by the large
intestine. This vision of efficiency may exist in the best cases but
for most there is many a slip between the table and the toilet. Most
bodies are not optimally efficient at performing all the required
functions, especially after years of poor living habits, stress,
fatigue, and aging. To the Natural Hygienist, most disease begins
and ends with our food; most of our healing efforts are focused on
improving the process of digestion.
Digestion means chemically changing the foods we eat into substances
that can pass into the blood stream and circulate through the body
where nutrition is used for bodily functions. Our bodies use
nutritional substances for fuel, for repair and rebuilding, and to
conduct an incredibly complex biochemistry. Scientists are still
busily engaged in trying to understand the chemical mysteries of our
bodies. But as bewildering as the chemistry of life is, the
chemistry of digestion itself is actually a relatively simple
process, and one doctors have had a fairly good understanding of for
Though relatively straightforward, a lot can and does go wrong with
digestion. The body breaks down foods with a series of different
enzymes that are mixed with food at various points as it passes from
mouth to stomach to small intestine. An enzyme is a large, complex
molecule that has the ability to chemically change other large,
complex molecules without being changed itself. Digestive enzymes
perform relatively simple functions--breaking large molecules into
smaller parts that can dissolve in water.
Digestion starts in the mouth when food is mixed with ptyalin, an
enzyme secreted by the salivary glands. Pylatin converts insoluble
starches into simple sugars. If the digestion of starchy foods is
impaired, the body is less able to extract the energy contained in
our foods, while far worse from the point of view of the genesis of
diseases, undigested starches pass through the stomach and into the
gut where they ferment and thereby create an additional toxic burden
for the liver to process. And fermenting starches also create gas.
As we chew our food it gets mixed with saliva; as we continue to
chew the starches in the food are converted into sugar. There is a
very simple experiment you can conduct to prove to yourself how this
works. Get a plain piece of bread, no jam, no butter, plain, and
without swallowing it or allowing much of it to pass down the
throat, begin to chew it until it seems to literally dissolve.
Pylatin works fast in our mouths so you may be surprised at how
sweet the taste gets. As important as chewing is, I have only run
into about one client in a hundred that actually makes an effort to
consciously chew their food.
Horace Fletcher, whose name has become synonymous with the
importance of chewing food well (Fletcherizing), ran an experiment
on a military population in Canada. He required half his
experimental group to chew thoroughly, and the other half to gulp
things down as usual. His study reports significant improvement in
the overall health and performance of the group that persistently
chewed. Fletcher's report recommended that every mouthful be chewed
50 times for half a minute before being swallowed. Try it, you might
be very surprised at what a beneficial effect such a simple change
in your approach to eating can make. Not only will you have less
intestinal gas, if overweight you will probably find yourself
getting smaller because your blood sugar will elevate quicker as you
are eating and thus your sense of hunger will go away sooner. If you
are very thin and have difficulty gaining weight you may find that
the pounds go on easier because chewing well makes your body more
capable of actually assimilating the calories you are consuming.
A logical conclusion from this data is that anything that would
prevent or reduce chewing would be unhealthful. For example, food
eaten when too hot tends to be gulped down. The same tends to happen
when food is seasoned with fresh Jalapeno or habaneo peppers.
People with poor teeth should blend or mash starchy foods and then
gum them thoroughly to mix them with saliva. Keep in mind that even
so-called protein foods such as beans often contain large quantities
of starches and the starch portion of protein foods is also digested
in the mouth.
Once the food is in the stomach, it is mixed with hydrochloric acid,
secreted by the stomach itself, and pepsin, an enzyme. Together
these break proteins down into water-soluble amino acids. To
accomplish this the stomach muscles agitate the food continuously,
somewhat like a washing machine. This extended churning forms a kind
of ball in the stomach called a bolis.
Many things can and frequently do go wrong at this stage of the
digestive process. First, the stomach's very acid environment
inactivates pylatin, so any starch not converted to sugar in the
mouth does not get properly processed thereafter. And the most
dangerous misdigetion comes from the sad fact that cooked proteins
are relatively indigestible no matter how strong the constitution,
no matter how concentrated the stomach acid or how many enzymes
present. It is quite understandable to me that people do not wish to
accept this fact. After all, cooked proteins are so delicious,
especially cooked red meats and the harder, more flavorful fishes.
To appreciate this, consider how those enzymes that digest proteins
work. A protein molecule is a large, complex string of amino acids,
each linked to the next in a specific order. Suppose there are only
six amino acids: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. So a particular (imaginary)
protein could be structured: 1, 4, 4, 6, 2, 3, 5, 4, 2, 3, 6, 1, 1,
2, 3, etc. Thus you should see that by combining a limited number of
amino acids there can be a virtually infinite number of proteins.
But proteins are rarely water soluble. As I said a few paragraphs
back, digestion consists of rendering insoluble foods into
water-soluble substances so they can pass into the blood stream and
be used by the body's chemistry. To make them soluble, enzymes break
down the proteins, separating the individual amino acids one from
the other, because amino acids are soluble. Enzymes that digest
proteins work as though they are mirror images of a particular amino
acid. They fit against a particular amino acid like a key fits into
a lock. Then they break the bonds holding that amino acid to others
in the protein chain, and then, what I find so miraculous about this
process, the enzyme is capable of finding yet another amino acid to
free, and then yet another.
So with sufficient churning in an acid environment, with enough time
(a few hours), and enough enzymes, all the recently eaten proteins
are decomposed into amino acids and these amino acids pass into the
blood where the body recombines them into structures it wants to
make. And we have health. But when protein chains are heated, the
protein structures are altered into physical shapes that the enzymes
can't "latch" on to. The perfect example of this is when an egg is
fried. The eggwhite is albumen, a kind of protein. When it is
heated, it shrivels up and gets hard. While raw and liquid, it is
easily digestable. When cooked, largely indigestable.
Stress also inhibits the churning action in the stomach so that
otherwise digestible foods may not be mixed efficiently with
digestive enzymes. For all these reasons, undigested proteins may
pass into the gut.
Along with undigested starches. When starches convert best to sugars
under the alkaline conditions found in the mouth. Once they pass
into the acid stomach starch digestion is not as efficient. If
starches reach the small intestine they are fermented by yeasts. The
products of starch fermentation are only mildly toxic. The gases
produced by yeast fermentations usually don't smell particularly
bad; bodies that regularly contain starch fermentation usually don't
smell particularly bad either. In otherwise healthy people it can
take many years of exposure to starch fermentation toxins to produce
a life-threatening disease.
But undigested proteins aren't fermented by yeasts, they putrefy in
the gut (are attacked by anaerobic bacteria). Many of the waste
products of anaerobic putrefaction are highly toxic and evil
smelling; when these toxins are absorbed through the small or large
intestines they are very irritating to the mucous membranes,
frequently contributing to or causing cancer of the colon. Protein
putrefaction may even cause psychotic symptoms in some individuals.
Meat eaters often have a very unpleasant body odor even when they
are not releasing intestinal gasses.
Adding a heavy toxic burden from misdigested foods to the normal
toxic load a body already has to handle creates a myriad of
unpleasant symptoms, and greatly shortens life. But misdigestion
also carries with it a double whammy; fermenting and/or putrefying
foods immediately interfere with the functioning of another vital
organ--the large intestine--and cause constipation.
Most people don't know what the word constipation really means. Not
being able to move one's bowels is only the most elementary type of
constipation. A more accurate definition of constipation is "the
retention of waste products in the large intestine beyond the time
that is conducive to health." Properly digested food is not sticky
and exits the large intestine quickly. But improperly digested food
(or indigestible food) gradually coats the large intestine, making
an ever-thicker lining that interferes with the intestine's
functioning. Far worse, this coating steadily putrefies, creating
additional highly-potent toxins. Lining the colon with undigested
food can be compared to the mineral deposits filling in the inside
of an old water pipe, gradually choking off the flow. In the colon,
this deposit can become rock-hard, just like water pipe scale.
Since the large intestine is also an organ that removes moisture and
water-soluble minerals from the food and moves them into the blood
stream, when the large intestine is lined with putrefying undigested
food waste, the toxins of this putrefaction are also steadily moved
into the bloodstream and place an even greater burden on the liver
and kidneys, accelerating their breakdown, accelerating the aging
process and contributing to a lot of interesting and unpleasant
symptoms that keep doctors busy and financially solvent. I'll have
quite a bit more to say about colon cleansing later.
Next: The Progress Of Disease: Irritation, Enervation, Toxemia
Previous: Why People Get Sick