Why Digestion is So Important to Good Health


diagram of a human digestive system

diagram of a human digestive system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Warning: This post contains graphic content about the stuff that goes on in your body.  If you can’t handle the words poop and fart, please don’t read any further.  When we think of good health, we don’t often think of our digestion first.  Good health usually brings to mind glowing skin, 6-pack abs, and an overall toned body.  However, our digestive system is at the true core of good and bad health.  Our digestive system breaks down the food that we eat, converting it to energy and nutrients for our body, and excreting the metabolic waste from our system.  Most people don’t really have a strong sense of what goes on between the time they put something in their mouth to the time they see it come out the other end.  So, here is a brief synopsis.  The human digestive system is about 30 feet long.  In a healthy person, the digestive process can take between 24 to 72 hours.  When we eat, digestion starts in the mouth when we chew our food and the food comes in contact with our saliva which contains the enzyme, amylase, which starts the digestion of starch in our food and the enzyme, lipase, which breaks down fat.  The food then travels down the esophagus into the stomach where gastric juice, which contain hydrochloric acid and pepsin, in the stomach start to break down and digest protein. While the protein digestion is occurring, peristalsis which are essentially waves of muscular contractions that move along the stomach wall mechanically mixes the slimy mess, allowing the food to further mix with the digestive enzymes.  After about an hour to two hours, the thick liquid (called chyme) is moved into the duodenum, which is part of the small intestine where it mixes with more digestive enzymes from the pancreas, liver, and intestines and then passes through the small intestine.  The small intestines are about 22.5 feet in length.  When the chyme is fully digested, it is absorbed into the blood.  95% of the absorption of nutrients happens in the small intestine.  Blood containing the absorbed nutrients is carried away from the small intestine and transported to the liver for filtering, removal of toxins, and nutrient processing.  The remainder of the food then enters into the large intestine where digestion is retained to allow fermentation which further breaks down some of the substances that remain after processing in the small intestine.   The large intestine is about 5 feet in length and is less vigorous in its absorptive activity.    The large intestine absorbs water from the chyme and stores feces until it can be eliminated through uranus (sorry, couldn’t help myself- just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention during my anatomy lesson).  Food products that cannot go through the villi of the intestine, such as dietary fiber, are mixed with other waste products and become hard and concentrated feces.  The feces is stored in the rectum for a certain period and then eliminated.

Okay, so now that I’ve bored you with my explanation of digestion, why is it so important to our health?  Well, the full process of digestion takes up about 50 to 80 percent of our total energy, which is more energy than any other specific internal bodily function.  If you feed your body foods that are more difficult to digest, such as pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, antibiotic-laden dairy products or meat, you are essentially slowing down the entire process.  Highly processed foods, preservatives, toxic additives, pollution, medication and a host of other things begin to build up as waste and sludge in our intestines.  As the sludge builds up, it slows down the digestion process so that nutrients have a tougher time being absorbed into the bloodstream and the digestion process takes up even more crucial energy than needed.  As I mentioned above, our intestines are almost 40 feet in length.  So, that can be a lot of impacted waste over the years that is just rotting and putrefying in our systems causing us to feel sick and have compromised immune systems.  The more waste, the more compromised our immune systems can be allowing our bodies to be more susceptible to illness and disease.  The more efficient and clean our digestive systems are, the more energy our bodies have to clean out toxic material and perform other functions.  When we don’t digest our food properly, that toxic sludge can amass at a much faster pace.

You’d be surprised to know how much impacted waste is in our bodies at any given time.  It’s pretty disgusting to see some of the pictures that are online of waste that has been extricated from bodies in different ways.  Feel free to have a look.  It will make you want to eat some raw vegetables or high fiber foods immediately.  Now, just to preface, I love meat and this is not a post on being vegan or vegetarian.  I am an omnivore and am not recommending anyone give up meat.  However, many studies have shown that meat is much harder to digest than plant food and continues to putrefy in the digestive system, taking about 4 to 4.5 hours to be absorbed in the intestines versus 2 to 2.5 hours for grains and vegetables.   The digestion of meat produces toxins which can accumulate in the liver, kidneys, and large intestines, destroying beneficial bacterial cultures, and degeneration of the villi in the small intestines where food is absorbed into the blood.   Furthermore, the saturated fatty acids from meat and other animal products accumulate in and around vital organs and blood vessels which can lead to cysts, tumors, and hardening of the arteries.   Casein, which is the protein in milk, cheese, and dairy products cannot be assimilated easily by the digestive system either and begins to accumulate in an undigested state in the upper intestine, putrefying, producing toxins and excess mucus, and leading to weakening of the gastric, intestinal, and pancreatic systems.  Cutting out or decreasing the amount of meat and dairy products can be hugely beneficial in starting to clean up the problem.

Colon cancer and digestive issues are on the rise due to our standard American diet that is so laden with meat, dairy, and heavily processed foods.  The processing of foods usually strips foods of many of their essential nutrients, but also strips them of crucial digestive enzymes such as lipase, amylase, and protease that naturally help the body break down fat, carbohydrates and protein.  As we age, our bodies begin to produce less and less digestive enzymes.  Combine the lower amount of digestive enzymes and eating food that has been stripped of enzymes and you have a lot of people who have compromised digestive systems which leads to constipation, bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea, nausea, acne, iron deficiency, parasites, candida, eczema, psoriasis, and worse, colon cancer.  So, how do we know if our digestive systems are not running at 100%?  If you have any of the symptoms above, that is a sign.  Also, bad breath, heartburn, acid reflux, hard stool, light color stool, excessive weight, inability to lose weight, fatigue, chronic headaches can also be signs of poor digestive health.  Another way to tell?  How often do you have a bowel movement?  If you have one to three per day, then your digestive health is likely pretty good.  Less than once a day and combined with the symptoms listed above and you may want to think about doing something different in your daily diet.  Many people often just reach for a pill to help them cure their symptoms, as seems to be the typical American way.  We live in a society where there are a plethora of antacids and laxatives to treat whatever ailment you might have.  However, to fully clean up your system, you have to clean up your eating.   More on this in my post tomorrow.

Do you want a test of your own digestion?  If you’ve had a baby or a pet, you’ve likely noticed that they have a bowel movement shortly after each meal.  That’s called healthy “transit time” which is the time it takes for food to be consumed, digested, and then eliminated.  Transit time depends on what you eat.  But, on average, normal human transit time should be less than 24 hours, but due to poor diets with low fiber content and years of eating poorly, many people have transit times of 2-3 days or more.  If you want to conduct your own experiment at home, eat a large portion of corn on the cob or beets.  Then pay attention to your bowel movements for the next 24-48 hours.  If it takes you longer than 24 hours to see this evidence, you may want to make some changes in your diet.

Do you have some of the symptoms above?  Are you frustrated with not being able to lose weight?  Do you want to make it easier to lose that excess weight and feel better?  Do you want to know more about how to clean up your digestive system?  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.  I’ll give you a number of ways to clean up your digestive system…and none of them require laxatives or other medication.

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