Digestion Starts In the Brain

The digestive system is one of the major interfaces between our inner and outer worlds. Digestion if
often a process that we take for granted and presume that it will ‘segregate itself out’. It is sometime not
something that we reflect on nor may much attention to unless something goes wrong. The gastrointestinal
tract is essentially a tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus, you can think of it as being a bit like
a tunnel that passes through the body. Although it is important to acknowledge that this is a superficial way
of looking at the digestive system. Basically what happens in the digestive system is that food and drink go in
one end of this tube at the mouth and as they move along some substances get absorbed into the body,
anything that is not digested and absorbed just comes out the other end of the hose at the anus. There are
obviously many chemical and physical reactions that take place to digest your food however to put it simply
this is pretty much all that happens.

We are what we digest

As our health and vitality depends to a large extent on how our digestive system functions in
providing the building blocks for our physical body. It is not a matter of what you put into your mouth but
also how it is processed, metabolised and utilised by the body. If there is a functional problem in digestion,
then regardless of how pure, clean and natural one’s diet is it will not be properly absorbed and deficiency
will be experienced. These faults may either lie in the eating habits, the content or amount of digestive juices
or in a abnormal function of the intestinal walls so that the food is not properly absorbed through the lining
of the gut.

Food and energy

It is always important to consider which foods ‘give’ you energy and which foods ‘take’ energy to
digest. By this I mean there are certain foods that your individual body will digest easily and certain foods
that take more of your energy reserves to process and assimilate. Consider for a moment how you feel when
you drink your morning cup of coffee with a biscuit. You might receive an immediate rush of energy and
feel good chemicals making the experience a positive one. As this boost of energy wears off, one is often
left feeling flat and sluggish. This is often due to the extra burden that has been placed on one’s digestive
system. In contrast consider how you feel when you have a glass of fresh vegetable juice bursting with
flavour and vitality.

Timing of digestion

The length of time digestive processes take to occur, from food entering the mouth and the stool
leaving the body, is known as the ‘transit time’ and will vary from one individual to another. In an
individual with a 24 hour transit time food is estimated to spend up to 3-4 hours in the stomach, up to 7-8
hours in the small intestine, and up to 12-14 hours in the large intestine.

Stool health

The health and function of the digestive system is one of the first factors that is evaluated during a
consultation with a naturopath or natural therapist. Not only is the digestive system important for nutrient
absorption, but it also appears to have many other roles in supporting the health of other body systems,
including the immune system. It is important to ensure that an individual’s digestive system is functioning
adequately. If it is not then it is unlikely that many of the treatments used or recommended will be
successful. How can we expect a person to be optimally healthy if they cannot digest and absorb the
nutrients from their food? If the food was not digested and therefore, the nutrients were not absorbed. As
changes in the stool can indicate changes in our health.
➢ If the stool is ‘loose’ it could indicate incorrect or imbalanced gut bacteria, infections, or food
allergies or intolerances.
➢ If the stool is ‘hard’ or ‘difficult to pass’ it could also indicate imbalanced gut bacteria, or
conditions such as dehydration.
➢ If particles of food are found in the stool it could indicate that food has not been chewed correctly.
➢ The colour of the stool can also be used as an indicator of health.

Body Builders of Pre-Independence India. Source: Barbell and Muscle Control Exercises, Keshab Sen Gupta and Bishnu Charan Ghosh.
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