Digestion in a Nutshell
Digestion is one of the most important functions of the body. Not only is food necessary for energy, it provides nutrients for every aspect of life. Digestion is the process of splitting food into micro-sized particles, nourishing millions of our cells.
Amylase is secreted in saliva as an enzyme to digest carbohydrates. This combination of enzymes, saliva and food enters the stomach. It undergoes further enzymatic action in the upper segment of the stomach. It takes about 45 minutes for enough hydrochloric acid (HCl) to be concentrated for protein digestion. Enzymes continue digesting up to 85% of the meal in the stomach within this period of time. As food enters the upper portion of the small intestine, the pancreas secretes enzymes to finish digestion. Here nutrients enter the bloodstream for nourishing our body’s cells.
SIGNS OF POOR DIGESTION
|Bloating, gas and heartburn|
|Constipation or diarrhea|
|Irritability, insomnia, restlessness|
|Pain in any abdominal quadrant|
|Stiff or sore joints|
|Does not tolerate exercise or stress|
|Menstrual cramps and irregularity|
|Inability to concentrate or think clearly|
WHAT IS HYDROCHLORIC ACID?
Hydrochloric acid is made in the stomach by combining hydrogen and chlorides. Hydrogen is in the air we breathe. Chlorides come from sodium chloride–salt. Sodium and chloride are split apart in the stomach, releasing sodium and chloride molecules into the blood.
Hydrochloric acid is one of the strongest acids known. It can eat through metal. HCl lowers the acidity of the stomach. The lowered acidity activates pepsinogen, converting it to pepsin, which is the active enzyme that digests protein. HCl has an important immune function. It is one of the first lines of defense in the body. HCl kills invading micro-organisms entering the stomach by dissolving them much as it will metal. Pour undiluted hydrochloric acid onto a piece of metal. The HCl will corrode it.
I WAS TOLD MY BODY MAKES TOO MUCH HYDROCHLORIC ACID
The stomach is a muscle that churns its content, thoroughly mixing food, enzymes and HCl. The inner lining of the stomach is protected by a thick wall of healthy mucus. Cells that produce mucus can become stressed, reducing the output of mucus, resulting in areas of the stomach missing this lining or having it too thin. This creates the burning sensation in peptic ulcers, acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) found in an estimated 40% of the population.
Severe or prolonged stress may cause HCl production when the stomach is empty. When the mucus lining wears away you experience the familiar burning sensation. The typical approach uses drugs to neutralize or prevent HCl production. When HCl is minimized by either approach, the response of the body is to make more HCl. The protein you have eaten still must be digested and can only occur in an acidic environment! If the valve from the esophagus to the stomach is weak, HCl and bile can regurgitate upwards into the esophagus causing pain and burning of the esophageal lining. A severe and prolonged example of this is known as Barrett’s disease.
WHAT IF I DO NOT MAKE ENOUGH HYDROCHLORIC ACID?
In some cases a person may be told they do not make enough stomach acid. Many vegetarians lack adequate salt intake leading to a chloride deficiency. It stems from a belief that one should obtain salt only from food not table salt. This can lower HCl production affecting protein digestion. Enzymes, hormones, minerals and vitamins all need sufficient amounts of protein for transportation in the body. While animal protein is replaced with vegetable protein in a vegetarian diet, protein is still protein in any form. An inability to completely digest either source of protein may result in sub clinical deficiencies affecting bodily functions.
HEAL THE STOMACH NOT SUPPRESS STOMACH ACID
As stated earlier, HCl is only a problem when the mucus lining of the stomach has been reduced. It is an irritant. Healing the stomach requires dietary modification and supplemental enzymes to aid in digestion. Emollient herbs combined with other nutrients sooth and trigger specific cells to produce more mucus inside the stomach.
The healing process takes several weeks, though longer in more severe cases. The difference between medical intervention and complementary treatment is that with alternative measures, the stomach re-establishes the delicate mucus lining instead of altering HCl production. Over time the mucus lining becomes stronger enabling improved protein digestion. The stomach heals through healthier mucus production instead of suppressing HCl.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
There is an innate intelligence to the body governing all its functions. How else could anything be accomplished? We must support the body’s natural healing abilities. Rather than block production or neutralize stomach acid, cells producing mucus must be nutritionally supported for increased production. This is how the stomach heals.
In cases with low stomach acid, improving digestion with enzymes is the first step. This relieves any burden placed on the stomach. Next, improve chloride values as confirmed in the urinalysis. Increasing salt may be necessary. Though media reports of the relationship of hypertension and salt, recent studies suggest this is not factual.
Unlike authentic sea salt, isolated sodium chloride has a drug like affect in the body. It is a solitary mineral. Unprocessed sea salt contains numerous other trace minerals essential for life. The balance of the natural components of sea salt does not affect blood pressure.
Recovering from any of these ailments requires patience and time. Enzymes aid in digestion fortifying the body’s millions of cells. The better one’s digestion is, the faster the recovery. Monitoring digestive capabilities with 24-hour urinalyses reveal dietary stress factors needing to be modified.
Finally, acupuncture has been shown to help regulate production of HCl. Needling specific points on the surface of the skin balances and strengthens the stomach. Using acupuncture with enzymes and other remedial agents helps the body heal the mucus lining along the entire digestive tract restoring healthy digestive capabilities.
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