What are enzymes?
- Enzymes are proteins that assist in speeding up chemical reactions.
- They are pH specific. This means that enzymes only work well within a narrow pH range. The further outside of this range, the enzyme’s ability decreases and may eventually cease to function.
- Enzymes require vitamins and minerals to work. If the body does not have adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals, one’s metabolism will be negatively affected.
Where does digestion begin?
Digestion starts in the mouth.
- Mechanical breakdown begins with the chewing action of teeth. This increases the foods surface area that will then be exposed to digestive enzymes.
- The parotid (salivary) glands lubricate your food. The saliva from the parotid gland contains enzymes that chemically break down starch. These particular enzymes work well in alkaline environments, so their activities cease in the acidic environment of the stomach. The parotid gland also works to identify what is in your mouth. The action serves two purposes, First, it prepares the rest of the digestive system for the mix of food that is about to arrive, and second, it acts as the first line of defense against antigens by tagging them as “foreign.” This tagging helps the immune system, so a sign that the parotid gland is not working properly is allergic reactions to foods, and other things such as pet fur, pollen, dust, and fragrances.
What does the stomach do?
- The stomach mixes food through the efforts of its smooth muscle. Mechanically mixing food ensures that all of it will come in contact with stomach juices, the mixture of food and stomach juices is called chyme.
- The stretching of the stomach stimulates the gastric glands in the stomach to secrete hydrochloric acid (HCL) and other protein-digesting enzymes. HCL does not actively digest your food. It decreases the pH so that the protein-digesting enzymes can work more efficiently. HCL also transforms calcium from foods to make it usable to the body.
What can cause a lack of HCL production?
- The typical American processed food diet. Almost any food that comes out of a box, can, container or from most restaurants falls into this category.
- The use of antacids (Tums, Rolaids) or heartburn medication (Prilosec, Nexium).
What can happen when HCL production is insufficient?
- Heartburn. Protein not sufficiently digested will remain in the stomach and rot. Acid is then formed as a by-product of the rot, which then produces the majority of heartburn cases.
- Osteoporosis is more likely to result since the usable calcium is reduced.
- May result in the inability to meet the bodies daily protein needs. Every day your body is rebuilding itself and requires a minimum of 60-70 grams of replacement protein. If the dietary protein does not meet the body’s needs it will begin breaking down muscle and connective tissue.
What happens in the small intestine?
- The stomach begins to slowly release small amounts of chyme into the small intestine. The presence of this acidic mixture makes the body initiate many actions in the body.
- Hormones released by the small intestine in the presence of the chyme, thus triggering the release of bile from the gallbladder and both digestive enzyme and alkaline bicarbonate ions from the pancreas. The effect of this mixture on digestive issues is to:
- Increase the pH of the chyme above seven, through the introduction of bicarbonate ions to create the optimal environment for digestive enzymes to work.
- To emulsify fat through the actions of bile salts.
- To break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into their most basic building blocks. Carbohydrates = simple sugars (glucose, fructose, and galactose). Proteins = amino acids, Fats = fatty acids and glycerides.
- During the digestion process, the small intestine is where the majority of nutrient digestion occurs.
- The small intestine contains protrusions called villi that increase the surface area of the small intestine.
What problems arise from the small intestine?
- Inflammation within cells causes sufficient space for larger molecules, bacteria, parasites and ingested toxins to enter the bloodstream. This is what’s known as leaky gut syndrome.
- Damage to the cells in the small intestine, when severe enough is referred to as celiac disease or sprue.
The brain and digestion
Proteins of certain foods like wheat, corn, pasteurized milk, and soy can cause physiological changes in the brain. The foreign proteins cause allergic reactions inside of the immune system which then can lead to depression, irritability, ADD, ADHD, and physios. Another antagonist is refined sugar and may be the reason why young children can be diagnosed with behavioral issues. These issues seem to go away once these foods are eliminated from the diet.
What happens in the large intestine?
- The large intestines’ main job is to absorb five to eight liters of fluid and electrolytes each day.
- Wave-like muscular movements called peristalsis move the chyme through the large intestine to the rectum eventually leading to elimination. This muscular action is similar to the one that occurs in the small intestine.
- The large intestine is home to more bacteria and yeast than the number of cells that make up our bodies. A good deal of these bacteria and yeasts form a symbiotic relationship with us because they keep unwanted and harmful bacteria/yeast in check. A healthy gut flora will also produce antibiotics, along with antifungal and anti-viral properties.
What problems arise in the large intestine?
- One of the most pervasive complaints is constipation. Among the causes of constipation are; irregular bowel habits (holding your bowel movements), the overuse of laxatives, the consumption of processed foods, poor nutrition, and muscle spasms in small sections of the large intestines.
So what does it all come down to?
Gastrointestinal problems and related health issues are often due to our food choices. The processed foods that we eat have two main attributes:
- They are not nutrient dense foods so they cannot give our bodies the full array of nutrients required for our bodies to stay healthy.
- They cause our bodies to expend their mineral and vitamin stores in order to process them.
A healthy digestive system is made by eating a diet based on nutrient-dense whole foods!
Sources: “Textbook of Medical Physiology”, Guyton and Hall; “Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine”, by Murray and Pizzorno, “Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary” by F.A. Davis, “Standard Process Products Seminar” by Dr. Michael Dobbins, The Weston Price Foundation, “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”, by Campbell-McBride