Let’s Talk About Digestion

by THOMAS on Feb 26, 2012 • 2:47 am

Digestion takes place from north to south. In other words, food enters the mouth, and ultimately ends up as waste, leaving the body via the external anal sphincter.


Food entering the mouth comes in contact with the first digestive enzymes in the saliva. Partially digested food, then enters the stomach, where it is further broken down by the stomach acid intoa substance called chyme. Ideally, this chyme should not be recognizeable as food. Upon leaving the stomach, the chyme enters the small intestine, where secretion of enzymes and absorption of nutrients takes place. It is here that fat is emulsified (broken down) by the additions of bile from the gall bladder, and carbohydrates and vegetable material are further broken down by the addition of enzymes from the pancreas. Once absorption of nutrients takes place, the remaining waste is passed to the large intestine (or colon) via the ileocecal valve, where water is removed and waste are solidified. The solid waste is then moved through the colon to the external anal sphincter, where it is eliminated from the body.


It is important to look at proper digestion as being the basis and foundation of a healthy functioning body. Virtually all health-related problems stem either directly, or indirectly, from an improperly functioning digestive system. Problems that affect the digestive system include heartburn, gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, colitis, constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer, and leaky gut syndrome. Treatment should always be focused on the underlying case of the particular disorder, and not the symptoms, keeping in mind that digestion takes place from north to south. In other words, if you are having a problem in your colon, you should first begin with the stomach, as that is the first portal of entry in the digestive system. In most cases, we find that if we treat the stomach first, that virtually all problems downstream will clear up, as well. A classic example of this is the irritable bowel syndrome, or alternating diarrhea and constipation. If food entering the stomach is not properly broken down, then undigested food particles enter the small intestine, causing opportunistic bacteria to over-populate. This causes irritation to the lining of the intestine, and compromises its normal function, thus resulting in either constipation or diarrhea.


So, what is the underlying problem here, and how best to treat it? Well, first of all, we need to figure out why undigested food is leaving the stomach.


The stomach environment should be very acidic, with a pH level somewhere between 1.5 and 3. If the pH rises above 3, the acid level begins to drop, and a weakened stomach acid will not allow for the proper breakdown of food. Another factor at work here, is the effect of weak stomach acid on the sphincter valves. The sphincter valves control the contents of the stomach. One is located in the esophagus, and the other in the duodenum. These are muscular valves, whose function depends upon a very acidic environment. If the acid environment of the stomach weakens, these valves will lose their muscle tone, and thus allow contents of the stomach to either move into the esophagus, or into the small intestine prematurely. The result is either an inflamed esophagus (heartburn or reflux), or any one of a number of inflammatory bowel conditions.


So, what causes a weakening of the stomach acid? Where does the acid come from?


The acid in the stomach is secreted by glands that are located in the stomach lining. These glands are stimulated by certain kinds of foods, and whenever there is a decrease in the strength of the stomach acid. Proper nutrition is vitally important in maintaining the proper pH, or acidic environment in the stomach. Lack of stimulation of the glands, due to poor nutrition (i.e., excess carbohydrates, processed foods, and poor quality fats), can cause these glands to atrophy. The addition of Betaine hydrochloride, a hydrochloric acid supplement, will strengthen the stomach acid, and in many cases, jump-start the glands into producing more acid. In most cases, this is sufficient to clear the problem, but in some cases, additional supplementation is needed, to address erosion of the esophagus and damage to the lining of the intestine. It is interesting to note here, that the traditional approach to heartburn and reflux is to give the patient acid suppressors, such as Pepcid AC, Protonics, Zantac, and Nexium. While these products do give symptomatic relief, they can cause further complications, by interfering with calcium metabolism, Vitamin B-12 absorption, nutrient absorption, and can cause an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria.


It is important to remember that the stomach is one of your first lines of defense, and it relies on powerful acid for protection.


Please contact the clinic for more information,  or to schedule a consultation.