The Digestive Process


Categories: The Nature and Cause of Disease
Sources: 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

many decades.



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.





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