Digestion: A Primer


This is a simple system which everyone seems to make more complicated than it really is. If you look at it closely, you will realize that there are only a certain number of problems that can occur in this system, even though there are literally hundreds of diseases and conditions of the digestive system. Also, there may be things that you are not even considering when it comes to your digestion, like your emotions. So to figure out why your digestion is on the fritz, simply break it down! First, forget the name of your disease or condition, and think just about your digestive system. Now, let’s understand a little bit about the digestive system. Essentially we are talking about a flexible, muscular tube which extends from the back of your mouth to your anus. In between, the entire purpose is to break down the food that you eat into the tiniest pieces imaginable, make a decision about their usefulness and purpose, and then wiggle them through millions of tiny pores into your blood so that every cell in your body can have access to them.

The structure of this tube, is very much like the skin on the outside of your body. In fact, during fetal development that is very much what happens. The skin folds inward through the mouth and anus to form your digestive system. Many of your digestive organs grow outward from that and become specialized. So not only do we care about the tube, we also care about all the machines that work with the tube, such as the pancreas, liver, gall bladder, appendix and even millions of tiny glands that secrete digestive enzymes, acids and buffering agents along the way. The stomach is more an enlarged pouch section of the tube with its own set of glands and functions.

The tube has a number of valves that open and close, allowing food to move from one section to another, when the body has determined that it has completed the digestive round for that particular area. For instance, in the stomach, most of your foods, particularly proteins, are being exposed to acids that your body produces, in order to break apart their chemical bonds, making the amino acids more available. Without enough acid, you have less protein absorption. With too much acid, you have damage. So we also have a delicate balance going on throughout the tube between chemicals that can break apart and break down your food, and protective agents for the lining of the tube at the same time. These protective agents don’t just protect you from the necessary acids your system uses in the digestive process, it also protects you from bacteria that is in the food, chemicals in the food that could damage your body and too much of any one food, like Dunkin’ Donuts.

This is a simple system which appears complicated. If you really look at it closely, you will realize that there are only a certain number of problems that can occur in this system, even though there are literally hundreds of diseases and conditions of the digestive system. So, every digestive problem is actually one of the following:

Inflammation — inflammation is actually the body’s natural reaction to any irritation or injury and is the first step towards healing. Without inflammation, you can’t have healing.

Constipation — this is a condition where the natural rhythmic movement of food through the digestive tract is too slow. Check out your flora...

Diarrhea — this is the opposite of constipation, where food is moving too quickly. But it also is the body’s only way to get rid of something it deems dangerous, irritating or contaminated.

Cysts and Tumors — excess tissue can form for many different reasons. Cysts and tumors form throughout the body as reactions to changes at a cellular level as well as weaknesses in the immune system.

Acid Issues — too much acid can be just that, too much acid or it can be acid at inappropriate times, such as when there isn’t any food present. It can also be that the modulators of the acid are problematic.

Bloating and Gas — the presence of too much gas in the system is generally a by-product of digesting certain foods, as part of the chemical reaction process. It can also be an indication of gall bladder insufficiency or lack of proper digestive enzymes to do the job. Sometimes, it is simply that you are drinking too many carbonated beverages and the gas has to go somewhere!

Pain — pain in the digestive tract is a signal that is sent chemically when cells release trigger chemicals. We are coming to realize that this can be an emotional reaction just as often as it is indicating some kind of damage, like scraping your knee.

So I’m trying to get you to concentrate simply on which of these symptoms you have. Now realize that the only thing that goes through this digestive process is food, so anything that affects the system has to do with food. There are digestive side effects from pharmaceuticals and from exposure to bacteria and pollutants, but these tend to all be short-term issues. Once you have symptoms that plague you over time, you are dealing with a problem in the digestive process.

Emotions can play a very strong role, but they are still food-triggered. Now think about your history and try to place the beginning of your symptoms in the context of any illnesses you had, any unusual stresses you were experiencing, and the types of food you were eating at that time. Once you have all this information, you’re ready to figure out what to do. (Please see individual articles based on symptoms)