Understanding Digestion

Let’s spend a little time visiting the topic of digestion.

It is easy to think that medical science by now has a thorough understanding of the way the human systems function. As much as “we” know, there is always room to learn more. An example is ulcers in the stomach. For many, many years, medical doctors treated the stomach pain of ulcers with drugs that attempted to reduce the stomach’s acidity.

A veterinarian, an animal doctor, in Australia, discovered that a majority of ulcers were caused by a bacteria (subsequently named h. pylori). Do you think this veterinarian could get anyone in the medical world to pay attention to him? It took him years before his hypothesis was taken seriously.

Nowadays, the first thing your doctor will rule out when you complain of stomach pain is ulcers caused by this bacteria. (Which, by the way, can be treated simply with a very specific antibiotic.)

Back to digestion. Its central process is the action of specific enzymes which reduce the food to microscopic size so it can pass into our blood stream for further assimilation. The first action of digestion occurs in the mouth when the teeth chew up solid food, breaking it down into smaller size. The saliva secretes ptyalin which is an enzyme dedicated to carbohydrate digestion. Thus we see the importance chewing our food. When my children were little I would tell them to chew their food well because their stomachs had no teeth!

So now our food is chewed up and swallowed down the food pipe (esophagus). At its bottom, the cardiac sphincter opens to transfer the food into the stomach. It’s called the cardiac sphincter because its is located directly behind the heart.

Because of this location, when this sphincter malfunctions, the resulting discomfort and pain is often mistaken for heart problems. Now the food enters the stomach where the gastric juices are secreted. This is primarily hydrochloric acid. Its purpose is to kill any bacteria that can harm us. The effect is to further digest (breakdown) the food, especially proteins found in the flesh from animals, fish and birds.

Afterwards, the food moves on into the first section of the small intestine into which is secreted the bile from the gall bladder. As far as digestion is concerned, the purpose of the bile is to digest fats in the food. More enzymes are added now to complete the digestion of carbohydrates, finally reducing the food to a small enough size to pass through the intestinal barrier into the bloodstream where it is immediately taken to the liver to clean out any impurities.