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Digestion

Making sense of it all

    In order to understand why digestion is so important, we must re-evaluate what we have been taught. Digestion begins in the mouth where food is chewed and saliva added to the mixture. Saliva contains enzymes secreted from various glands.

As food is swallowed, digestion continues in the upper portion of the stomach – the cardiac portion – due to the salivary enzymes and those found in raw food. Dr. Edward Howell, pioneer in the use of plant-based enzymes, said this was the pre-digestive stomach in humans. A reading of his work is essential in understanding enzymes and the importance of digestion

Most of us believe the stomach is a hollow pouch that food “dropped” into, thanks to the Alka-Seltzer & Pepto-Bismal commercials. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our stomachs are basically flat, until food enters into it, stretching the walls. It begins to expand and churn as digestion takes place. Digestion continues in the cardiac portion for 30 to 60 minutes. It is here, that as much as 85% of our food can be digested.

That is the minimal length of time it takes for the stomach to produce enough hydrochloric acid (HCl) to initiate the next step in the process. HCl is produced inside the stomach by taking chlorides and hydrogen from the blood. But in order to make HCl, there must be enough chlorides from sodium chloride (salt) in the blood to be spared. This is one of the reasons a 24-hour urinalysis is so important – it gives an accurate reading of the amount of chlorides (salt) the person is ingesting, which in turn affects digestion of protein.

After enough HCl is produced, the pH of the stomach drops from about 5.0 to about 3.0, making it very acidic. HCl is commonly thought to digest protein, so many health care professionals recommend something called betaine HCl. Betaine is usually made from beets but can also be produced synthetically. It is high in methionine – an amino acid that helps with liver function. The hydrochloride portion is actually a salt of choline. Although it the may acidify the stomach to a minimal degree, it does nothing to digest food in the pre-digestive portion of the stomach.

The chief cells in the middle portion of the stomach make an enzyme known as pepsinogen. Pepsinogen is the inactive form. Hydrochloric acid drops the pH of the stomach, which converts this inactive form to the active form known as pepsin. It is pepsin that breaks down (digest) protein into smaller peptides.

Once the food (now known as chyme) is passed out of the lower part of the stomach and into the duodenum (the upper part of the small intestine), the body must alkalize the chyme. This is done with bicarbonates, again, donated from the blood. This changes the pH from 3.0 up to about 5.5 and again to 7.2. It is here that the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes. Dr. Howell found the pancreas of the average person is 2-3 times larger and heavier than what it should be. This is because of the burden placed on it to supply nearly 100% of the enzymes to digest food.

The pancreas will secrete exactly the right amount and type of enzymes to finish digestion – but that is determined by the amount of digestion that takes place in the stomach prior to the secretion of hydrochloric acid . So if more digestion takes place in the stomach, the pancreas has less of a burden and will not hypertrophy (grow larger & heavier). Not only the pancreas, but the liver & gall bladder will be spared the burden of extra work through the demand of digestion.

The liver can convert up to 57% of the protein in any given meal into glucose – the preferred form of sugar by the brain and muscles. Glucose can be stored as glycogen in the muscles and used later for energy. The liver makes bile, which is stored in the gall bladder and released into the duodenum when fats are present in the food. Bile emulsifies fat – it degreases the oils & fats, breaking them down into smaller molecules. This allows the fat digesting enzymes to break the bonds and convert them into essential fatty acids.

The final stage in digestion occurs in the second part of the small intestine – the jejunum. Protein and fat digestion is all but completed here and the absorption of these essential nutrients takes place. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, must go through another process. Pancreatic amylase cannot completely break the complex bonds found in carbohydrates. They enter the jejunum as disaccharides – 2 simple sugar molecules – such as lactose (from milk), maltose (from grains) and sucrose from white sugar & flour.

The small intestines has micro hair-like fiber called micro-villi. This is where the enzymes lactase, maltase, & sucrase are made to finish the digestion of disaccharides into glucose. It is here that digestion is completed. Nutrients amino acids (from protein), essential fatty acids (from fats & oils), and monosaccharides (from carbohydrates) are absorbed into the blood & lymph to be carried to the cells to nourish the body.

Finally, the cells must either utilize all that has been digested or the body must eliminate it. The large intestine (colon) is the major sight of elimination for solid material. It is here that over 90% of all the bacteria that live inside us reside. If food has not been properly digested (broken down into micro-sized particles), it becomes “food” for the pathogenic bacteria, yeast & fungi that are capable of living inside the colon.

The micro-flora of the colon is a highly interactive population that is not only influenced by the body and what we eat; we in turn are dramatically affected by what “grows” inside us. The bacteria obtain nutrients from our body & what we eat. We in turn receive special nutrients in the form of vitamins & fatty acids. Depending upon what we ingest, the bacteria will be beneficial or pathogenic. A 1980’s article in the Saturday Evening Post related a study from the New England Journal of Medicine about the dramatically high incidence of breast cancers in women who had a history of constipation. When we cannot eliminate waste properly from the colon, toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria are re-absorbed into the blood and recycled by the liver.

The reason why this happens begins when we cannot properly digest (breakdown) food into smaller components. Many alternative health care professionals advocate detoxification programs including colon irrigation with herbal formulas to relieve constipation. Unfortunately, they do not make the connection to digestion. If the body is digesting the food, then the waste material will be eliminated properly. If, however, digestion is impaired, it sets up a vicious cycle where the body’s attempt to detoxify itself is undermined.

Dr. J. H. Tilden, MD wrote in the early part of the last century, “There is no disease per se. What is called disease is impaired health, and brought on from retention of waste products in the blood, to the extent of breaking down resistance. These waste products are called toxins, and, in normal and limited amounts, are natural and give needed stimulation. But, like all stimulants, when an excessive amount is retained in the system, they create over-stimulation, resulting in enervation and systemic drunkenness – Toxemia.”

Auto-intoxication (Indicanuria) has been proposed as one of the root causes of disease. Below are  a few of the symptoms of Indicanuria listed according their respective bodily system:

Cardiovascular:   Cardiac arrhythmias, Migraines, Tachycardia
Gastrointestinal:  Gas & bloating, Constipation, Diarrhea, Food allergies, Gastritis, Hiatal Hernia, Halitosis (bad breath), Indigestion, “Leaky gut syndrome”, Inflammatory Bowel disease (Irritable bowel syndrome)
Endocrine System:  Breast pathology, Eclampsia, Thyroid Goiter
Muscular-Skeletal:  Arthritis, Low back pain & sciatica, Fibromyalgia
Nervous System:  Depression & melancholy, Epilepsy, Loss of concentration & confidence, Mental sluggishness & dullness, Schizophrenia, Senility
Respiratory:  Asthma Irritability, Chemical Sensitivities, Air-born allergies
Sinuses-Nose-Ears-Eyes:  Eye strain, Diseases of the nasal cavities, Sensory poly-neuritis, Diseases of the middle & inner ear

The digestive tract has a protective mucous barrier beginning in the stomach and ending in the colon at the rectum. When the food is not broken down efficiently, waste products continually irritate this barrier destroying the mucous cells. The barrier becomes compromised allowing undigested food to pass into the blood. Food allergies can result. This allergic response is known as digestive leukocytosis. It is a pathological condition found in poisoning, infection, and intoxication. It relates to an increase in white blood cells (leukocytes) and their activity.

Leukocytes have great stores of enzymes. They are forced into the blood to finish the digestion that should have taken place in the stomach and small intestine (from pancreatic enzymes). Since the early 1800’s, scientists have thought this to be “normal”. However, in 1930, Dr. Paul Kautchakoff proved that this phenomena only occurred with cooked food and not with raw food.

He classified the results into 4 groupings:

Raw or frozen food did not produce any increase in White Blood Cells (WBC’S) count
Commonly cooked food produced a mild WBC’S increase
Pressure-cooked or canned food caused a moderate WBC’S increase
Man-made foods (devoid of enzymes), such as alcohol, carbonated beverages, white sugar, flour & vinegar cause a severe WBC’S increase

Kautchakoff showed that meat, whether it was canned, cooked, cured or salted produced a violent reaction as seen in food poisoning!

Circulating immune complexes are antigen/antibody/allergen complexes that circulate in your blood and lymph 24 hours a day. They come from food that was not completely digested and have slipped through an incompetent mucosal barrier. This is what is called “Leaky Gut Syndrome”. When the mucosal barrier has become too permeable, undigested remnants of food get through and set off the immune system. This is how allergies (especially from food) are formed. Fibromyalgia, Chronic fatigue syndrome and many of the “newly” discovered 20th century diseases are simply an inability to digest food.

When we remember that all functions in the body require enzymes, is it not too simple a remedy? Plant enzymes used in Enzyme Therapy offers a unique role in nutrition because they:

digest food in the pre-digestive portion of the stomach before Hydrochloric acid is  secreted
deliver nutrients past an incompetent digestive system
are capable of digesting food in an acid medium, whereas animal enzymes cannot
completely digest food not allowing waste products to accumulate in the blood creating circulating immune complexes and disease.

When we can completely digest food and deliver the nutrients to the body, the body heals itself. Just because we eat organically grown food or take herbs and nutritional supplements does not guarantee us health. If we cannot digest our food, we cannot benefit from what we ingest, whether it is nutritious or not.

The information provided is intended for education and information for the reader. It is not meant as a replacement for services provided by a health care specialist. Any use of the information is at the reader’s discretion. No statement should be taken as medical advice. The author assumes no responsibility for any decision made by the reader regarding treatment choices for any particular condition.

Portions of this information were obtained from Dr. Howard F. Loomis’ book, “Enzymes: The Key to Health”.

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*This article/web page is Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction of this article/page in it entirety or in part is permitted without written permission by Mark Rojek.