You Are What You Eat
The Digestive Process
We may have forgotten the details we learned years ago back in Biology class, so I thought it would be a great idea to quickly review our physiology and the digestive process!
The digestive system is uniquely constructed to perform its specialized function of turning food into the energy and nutrients you need to survive – and allows the body to grow, heal and cleanse itself – while packaging the residue for waste disposal. It is crucial to our existence.
To help you understand how the parts of the digestive system work together, here is a brief overview of the structure and function of this complex system:
Muscle that allows us to swallow
Muscular tube connecting pharynx to stomach
Accepts food and releases hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes
Its size is your 2 fists put together
Digests food and absorbs nutrients
Produces bile and sends to Small Intestine
Stores, cleanses and recycles bile for later use
Secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestine to complete the chemical process
Large Intestine (Colon)
Absorbs water and contains bacteria that aid in the
breakdown of wastes to extract small amounts of nutrients
The Importance of Absorption
Once food has been reduced to its building blocks, it is ready for the body to absorb. Absorption begins in the stomach with simple molecules like water and alcohol being absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Most absorption takes place in the walls of the small intestine. Small blood and lymphatic vessels in the intestinal wall pick up the molecules and carry them to the rest of the body.
The importance of Excretion
The final function of the digestive system is the excretion of waste in a process known as defecation. Defecation removes indigestible substances from the body so that they do not accumulate inside the gut. The timing of defecation is controlled voluntarily by the conscious part of the brain, but must be accomplished on a regular basis to prevent a backup of indigestible materials.
Low Digestive Capacity or Digestive Issues:
Congested Intestinal Tract
The body’s health and vitality largely depend on complete elimination of waste products from the intestinal tract. Most physical problems are caused by a build-up of waste material that may at first accumulate in the large intestine and then spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs.
When you eat highly processed foods that have been stripped of most nutrients, natural fiber and life force, the muscles wrapped around the colon have great difficulty moving along the partially digested food mass. When this substance remains in the colon for too long, it becomes progressively harder and drier. Accumulated or trapped waste material in the colon may consist of impacted feces, hardened mucus, dead cellular tissue, bacteria, parasites and various other toxic substances. Such toxins can find their way into the blood stream and lymph system, causing one to feel tired, sluggish or ill. From an Ayurvedic perspective, this is the buildup of Ama.
Other common colon-related complaints include constipation, diarrhea, bloating, headaches, dizziness, nausea, sinusitis, eye and ear disorders, backaches, bad breath, acidic body odor and disorders of the nervous system like anxiety and irritability. You may even experience a thick coating on the tongue.
A healthy colon absorbs water, minerals and other nutrients. However, if the membrane of the colon is impacted with plaque, it cannot properly assimilate and absorb these minerals and nutrients. Accordingly, the body will begin to suffer from nutrient deficiencies. The most common cause of malnourishment is intestinal congestion. Stated simply, a clean colon is a prerequisite for a healthy body.
Bloating, Belching and Intestinal Gas:
Intestinal gas is typically caused by the fermentation of undigested food in the colon.
Gas can also form when your digestive system doesn't completely break down certain components in foods, such as gluten, sugars, dairy products and fruit.
Other sources of intestinal gas may include:
Food residue in your colon
Changes in intestinal bacteria due to antibiotics or other medications
Poor absorption of carbohydrates, which can upset the balance of helpful bacteria in your digestive system
Swallowed air that moves to your colon
Constipation - the longer food waste remains, the more time it has to ferment.
Other illnesses or symptoms that may arise due to poor digestive capacity:
High Blood Pressure
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Karla A. Cain
Ayurvedic Health Counselor