The Digestive Process
The Digestive Process
When we eat a meal the food we consume goes through what we call the digestive process. Digestion is the process of breaking down the foods we eat into components that our bodies can absorb and use as nutrients. The digestive process is a complicated process which begins the moment we place a bite of food into our mouth. We have been led to assume that the digestive process is something that happens without our effort and just happens flawlessly. We believe any food we eat is efficiently broken down to the nutrients we need and absorbed. Then our bodies use these nutrients to perform all our bodily functions while the waste gets eliminated from our bodies when we defecate. It’s a little more complicated than it might at first seem.
Our bodies use the nutritional substances found in the foods we eat to perform an unbelievable complex myriad of biochemical processes. Our bodies use the nutritional substances found in the food we eat to give us energy, to repair and rebuild cells, and many other functions. However, digestion is a fairly simple and straightforward process that has been understood for many decades.
Our bodies break down the foods we eat by a series of enzymes that work on the food at different points in the digestive tract. Enzymes are complex molecules that can chemically change other complex molecules and break them down to simpler molecules.
It All Starts In The Mouth
Digestion actually begins when we take a bite and chew our food. A digestive enzyme called Amylase is secreted in the saliva. This enzyme breaks down starches into simple sugars. This is why it is so important to chew your food well. If you want to see for yourself how this works, get a cracker and chew it well without swallowing. As you chew you will probably notice a sweet taste as the saliva breaks down the starches in the cracker into simple sugars which you are able to digest.
If you don’t chew your food well the digestion of starchy food is impaired. If the starches reach the stomach without being broken down, they pass through into the small intestine. There they begin to ferment and can cause gas and bloating. Chewing your food well will tend to elevate your blood sugar faster while eating. This would tend to make you feel full sooner and possibly lead to losing weight. On the other hand, if you are unable to gain weight, chewing your food well may be able to allow your body to absorb more nutrients. In any case, chewing your food well has the added benefit of allowing easier digestion and your body to absorb more of the nutrients in the food you eat.
Next Stop- The Stomach
Once food is swallowed it passes through the esophagus and into the stomach. In the stomach, the food is mixed with hydrochloric acid and the enzyme pepsin. Pepsin is an enzyme that breaks down proteins. The mixture of hydrochloric acid and pepsin breaks down proteins into water-soluble amino acids. To make this happen the stomach muscles agitate and turn the food constantly. This is where the digestive process can break down.
The strong acid environment of the stomach breaks down the enzymes present in saliva. This means any starches not converted to sugars in the mouth cannot be further digested. Stress can also slow down the churning action of the stomach, causing proteins to pass into the small intestine undigested.
When starches are undigested because of a lack of chewing they pass into the small intestine, where they begin to ferment due to the actions of yeasts. However, if proteins are undigested in the stomach when they pass into the small intestine they are acted on by anaerobic bacteria and they begin to putrify. These undigested proteins can cause foul smelling gas from the process. It is believed that over time the build-up of toxins from undigested proteins contributes to the development of colon cancer.
The Role Of The Intestines
The small intestines absorb the nutrients from the broken down starches and proteins that we consume. All of the necessary nutrients and water-soluble amino acids our bodies use in normal day to day functions are absorbed through the small intestine.
The large intestine absorbs any remaining water from the digested food and passes the waste through so it can be eliminated from the anus by defecation. However, undigested foods can interfere with the function of the large intestine and cause constipation. Constipation is not only defined as the inability to have a bowel movement. It is also the retention of waste in the large intestine for longer than the time it should be there. This can cause a build up of waste in the large intestine and cause additional health problems.
Food that is not properly digested can begin to coat the walls of the large intestine and interfere with the passage of waste, as well as the absorption of water. As this retained waste continues to break down and putrify it creates potent toxins which are detrimental to the cells of the colon. If these deposits continue they can begin to harden and begin to block the colon as more and more waste builds up.
Since the colon also is responsible for absorbing moisture and water-soluble minerals from the food waste prior to elimination, the retained waste can interfere with this process. Also, the toxins produced by the retained proteins as they break down and decay can be absorbed into the bloodstream. These toxins then have to be eliminated by the liver and kidneys. This places a larger burden on those two organs and can lead to other symptoms as well.
Many people recommend a colon cleanse to prevent the buildup of toxic undigested proteins in the colon. But that’s a subject for another article.