The Digestive Process

The digestive process really begins when you simply think about eating, or even when you smell the aroma of something you want. A drop in blood sugar, the time of day, and the nose also may combine to signal the body that it's time to eat.

These signals awaken the sleeping organs that act upon the food you eat in hundreds of different ways! Digestion is only simple at the general level.

As food enters the mouth, salivary glands mix special chemicals with each bite to make further digestion easier. Chewing your food well also gives the stomach and related organs time to generate particular kinds of chemicals adapted to what the tongue is tasting. That's because the tongue has nerves that relay to the rest of the digestive system what's on the way down. For a normal person, what tastes or smells particularly good may be what the body has a strong need for at that time-fruits for quick energy, vegetables for calming endurance, and grains for protein to replace tissue or for more growth.

As the body ages, the digestive system tires and slows down, especially under stress. This usually begins between the ages of 35-45, and stomach levels of hydrochloric acid (HCl) are too low for almost everyone older than 55. Hydrochloric acid is needed to digest proteins, and is the only desirable inorganic acid found in the body. (All other acids, such as lactic and uric, are waste products from normal body functions, and these are eliminated as quickly as possible.)

Emotional overstimulation tends to increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach, causing heartburn-acid indigestion-in some people. However, with time, this important acid may be depleted, especially in those taking antacids, and the whole body begins to suffer from malnutrition, even with a good diet! This acid not only digests proteins, but helps dissolve needed minerals like calcium.

HCI is produced by special glands in the stomach. The proteins of the stomach wall are protected from being digested themselves by a tough coat of healthy mucus exuded from stomach tissue. Powerful drug antihistamines or nutritional insufficiencies may cause this and other mucus tissue to recede or disappear, exposing the stomach lining to self-digestion, the ultimate ulcer! (HpFighter)

After food has been preprocessed in the stomach, depending on what and how much is eaten, it is gradually passed through a sphincter valve, at the bottom of the stomach, into the small intestine for finishing and absorption. It is here that the pancreas and liver add their own digestive fluids to the mix, along with those of the gall bladder, which only processes fats and oils. Just inside the small intestine, the strong acid of the stomach is neutralized so that enzymes requiring an alkaline environment can take over. Finally, absorption takes place and the nutrients are ready for checking by the liver before they are allowed to enter the general bloodstream for transport throughout the body.

Absorbing Nutrients

The small intestine completes digestion begun in the mouth and stomach. Powerful muscular contractions mix the food with digestive juices and push it along the intestinal wall. Thousands of absorptive structures lining these walls (called villi) contain a dense capillary network that transports the processed food to large blood vessels. As a finished product, each nutrient can now pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream to be transported first to the liver for final inspection.

Back in the small intestine, millions of friendly bacteria have the capacity of taking food that you either cannot absorb or that escapes absorption, and manufactures new or modified nutrients that are later taken up by the blood. These include certain vitamins and minerals that have been either changed so that they are more readily available to your body, or newly manufactured outright.

Different bacteria live in different portions of both the large and small intestine. They perform specific, healthful functions. In the wrong place, however, they can become your enemy and cause inflammation and infections that attack bowel tissue and poison the bloodstream.Bifidophilus, as one example, keeps harmful bacteria and fungus at bay. Maintaining a healthy bacteria population, therefore, requires a healthful lifestyle.

After most of the nutrients have been absorbed, the residue bulks up in the large intestine. Here, water is reclaimed before the stool is expelled from the body.

About Your Liver

Weighing in at three pounds, the liver appears rather plain, but it is incredibly complex. It even has a double circulation system, meaning that it receives blood from both the veins and the arteries. It has to. First of all, the main hepatic (liver) artery carries in plenty of oxygen from the lungs. This fuels the liver's power station. The portal vein comes right from the small intestine loaded with nutrients.

The liver performs its role as food inspector, detoxifier, and has the wherewithal to be its own metabolic chemical plant to make new compounds you must have to live. That includes a capacity to manufacture cholesterol! Without that, the glands couldn't make hormones. It's too much of the wrong kinds of fatty acids, or fats that have turned rancid, that give individuals reason to worry.

After the absorbed nutrients have been processed by the liver (if the liver is not overburdened or diseased), they are allowed to flow into the body for general circulation.

The liver also is a storage warehouse, collecting fats and storing glucose fuel in the form of glycogen. Between meals an intricate feedback system tells the liver to release more sugar to maintain the body's energy level. The liver does so by converting either glycogen or fat into glucose, a simple sugar the body burns for energy. All of these processes require plenty of good nutrition-vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes.

So when you eat, remember your liver. Eat moderate amounts, a good selection of wholesome foods - and eat in peace.


Enzymes act upon nutrients, and speed up chemical reactions in cells without destroying themselves. Chemists practically hold enzymes in awe because of the difficulty of duplicating such feats in the laboratory.

Without enzymes, body functions would be too slow to sustain life. Enzymes are essential, and as the body ages its ability to produce enzymes declines.

Enzymes are specialized proteins that are part of all living things. They help perform thousands of chemical reactions, like making seeds sprout and leaves change colors in the fall. There are three types of enzymes important to man: metabolic enzymes that help regulate body functions; digestive enzymes to break down food molecules; and plant enzymes in raw food that assist human enzymes to digest each meal.

There are many kinds of enzymes in the human body, each one designed to do only one particular job. In other words, taking lots of one type of enzyme doesn't make up for the lack of another type. These work together with body fluids to break down large chains of unusable molecules, changing them into manageable particles for intercellular use, or in the case of digestion, to prepare nutrients for absorption.

Metabolic enzymes perform many necessary tasks in the body other than digestion. For example, the enzyme rennin helps to regulate blood pressure, and a different set of enzymes helps eliminate toxins from the body. Enzymes are also needed to form hormones. These metabolic enzymes exist throughout the body, performing functions vital to all other organs and tissues.

When useful food enzymes produced by fresh plants are destroyed by cooking, additives or other processes, the body must draw on energy reserves to create new enzymes that will more efficiently digest a meal.

Most naturally occurring chemicals in food have molecules or molecular chains that are too large and complex for absorption into the bloodstream. Enzymes rearrange or divide these chemicals within the food, helping to release minerals, vitamins, proteins and other vital nutrients.

Protein-digesting enzymes are called proteases, carbohydrate-digesting enzymes are amylases, and fat-digesting enzymes are lipases. Each enzyme acts on a specific portion of the food only; they are not interchangeable. Enzymes are often named for the food they work on. For example, the enzyme sucrase breaks down a type of sugar called sucrose, and lactase breaks down lactose or milk sugar.

When food enters the mouth, enzymes from the salivary glands immediately begin the digestion process. For example, ptyalin begins to break down starchy foods in the sugar maltose. Good chewing also helps good enzyme action. Not only does chewing prepare starches for digestion in the stomach, but it also causes involuntary secretion of digestive fluids from the pancreas, liver, gall bladder and intestines.

Often, one enzyme does not perform the entire process of breaking down a food,- instead, several enzymes work together to produce the finished product. For example, pepsin from the gastric juice in the stomach splits protein into polypeptides. This process is continued by trypsin, manufactured in the pancreas and added to the partially digested food after it reaches the intestines.

Given all the powers of the human body to digest food plants, it doesn't produce enzymes to digest all organic food substances. One example is a lack of the enzyme cellulase, needed to digest the cellulose found in plants. Since the body does not produce cellulase, that makes cellulose indigestible by humans.

In some cases people lack a normal enzyme because of their genetic makeup at birth. For example, many people lack the enzyme lactase. This causes them to be intolerant to milk sugar (lactose). This simply means that they can't break down this kind of sugar-complex into simple sugars. Drinking milk can therefore result in mild to severe indigestion or other side-effects like respiratory and sinus problems. Milk intolerance has been connected to recurring ear infections. The milk sold today is not even close to what we think milk is.

One of the best ways to maintain a healthy supply of enzymes is to eat raw foods as much as possible. High-calorie raw foods contain the most enzymes.

Another excellent way is to ensure an adequate intake of certain minerals, especially zinc, iron, copper and chromium, which form part of the structure and function of enzymes.

Along with production of too much stomach acid, emotional or mental strain can also adversely influence enzymatic production and action. Besides emotional peace, proper enzyme function also requires coenzymes such as vitamins, and also a well-balanced diet of minerals and proteins. With all of these factors to consider, many people supplement their diet with enzymes. Two popular choices are:

Food Enzymes - aids digestion of protein, carbohydrates, and fat; useful for belching, bloating and gas.

Proactazyme - This enzyme formula acts in the digestion of all types of foods. It is a general purpose enzyme supplement containing protease, amylase, glucoamylase, lipase, pectinase and cellulase. Proactazyme helps break down difficult-to-digest foods; it contains no hydrochloric acid.