The Digestive System

The digestive system is self-running and self-healing. Because this beautiful, intricate system works automatically, the average person knows very little about it. Let’s take a trip through the digestive system to see what miraculous events occur inside us every moment of our lives.

Think of the digestive tract as a twenty-five-to thirty-fivefoot hose that runs from the mouth to the anus. Its function is to turn the foods we eat into microscopic particles that the cells can use for energy, maintenance, growth, and repair. The old saying “You are what you eat” is primarily true.

From birth to death, we continually create and re-create ourselves from the nourishment we put inside the body. Whatever we eat is squeezed through the digestive system by a rhythmic muscular contraction called peristalsis. Sets of smooth muscles contract, alternately pushing food through the esophagus to the stomach and through the intestines.

There it is acidified, liquefied, neutralized, and homogenized until it’s broken down into usable particles. From the time you swallow, this process is involuntary and can occur even if you stand on your head. When my son, Arthur, was seven years old, he demonstrated this by eating upside-down.

Yes, the food went down—or rather up—as usual. The digestive system is like an irrigation system. A large source of water gets narrower and narrower, finally getting water to each tiny portion of a field. If the water becomes blocked upstream, the plants wither and die.

In the body, the unblocked flow of nutrients is critical for optimal health and function. Along the way, the body breaks down food protein into amino acids, starches into glucose, and fats into fatty acids and glycerol. Enzymes, vitamins, and minerals are also absorbed. The cells use these raw materials for energy, growth, and repair.

When digestion is compromised, our cells lose their capacity to function fully. Unlike a field, the body is innovative and will try to find ways to make things work. Eventually, however, its ability to seek new pathways fails, and we feel unwell.

This is especially apparent in the lining of the digestive tract, which repairs and replaces itself every three to five days. On the path to digestive wellness, start with nutritious foods. But, remember that many people eat all the “right” foods and still have digestive problems. The best diet in the world won’t help when you aren’t digesting properly.

You must be able to digest foods; break them down into tiny particles; absorb the food mash; take that through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream; assimilate nutrients and calories into the cells where they can be used; and eliminate waste products through the kidneys, bowels, lymph system, and skin.

Health can and does break down at any of these phases. For example, people with lots of intestinal gas are fermenting their food. Difficulty with absorption can cause people to have food sensitivities, fatigue, skin rashes, and migraine headaches. Diabetics have a problem with assimilation of glucose into the cells. Constipation and diarrhea are problems of elimination.