The digestive system has to break down the food that we eat, absorb the nutrients, and get rid of the waste products for which there are no need. The diverse functions are managed by several different digestive organs: The mouth, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, duodenum, liver, gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum.
Altogether, digestion is such a complicated process that the intestines are surrounded by approximately 100 million nerve cells which certainly are connected to the brain, but under normal circumstances, they control the intestinal function autonomously. These intestinal nerves use the same neurotransmitters for communication as does the brain.
The food is comminuted in the mouth by the teeth and is mixed with saliva in order to make the food more liquid, dissolve different chemical substances, and turn the food into a soft mass. Lips and jaw muscles participate in this process where the tongue also kneads the food and keeps it in place. In this way, the food is chewed uniformly and starts the swallowing.
After this, the food is led through the oesophagus by the muscle contractions and further down to the stomach where it is mixed with gastric juice that break down the nutrients. Here, large pieces of protein are broken down into smaller chains of amino acids (peptides and polypeptides). This breakdown process continues in the duodenum.
Also the pancreas, gall bladder, and liver have important digestive functions. The pancreas excretes an enzyme into the duodenum which - in combination with bile - breaks down the fats, sugars, and proteins. The pancreatic juice is alkaline. The pancreas produces several hormones: e.g. insulin which increases the cells’ absorption of the sugar present in the blood, and glucagon which has the opposite effect of insulin; i.e. it elevates the blood sugar level.
The liver is the body’s most important metabolic organ. Here, new carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins are made out of the nutrients absorbed by the intestinal canal. The liver also makes enzymes which partake in promoting metabolic processes. Furthermore, the liver is a store of vitamins and other important substances, e.g. the carbohydrate of glycogen which the body produces and which is liberated as needed. The muscles need glycogen for their energy metabolism. When glycogen is broken down, glucose appears and is liberated to the blood and is then transported around the body. The glycogen store in the liver, therefore, is important in the blood sugar regulation.
The liver secretes bile consisting of bile salts and lecithin, which break down fat by accumulating the lipids in the food into very small lipid balls which can be absorbed through the intestinal mucosa. Bile is accumulated in the gall bladder and is then emptied into the duodenum. A supplement of lecithin can be beneficial to people with a poor tolerance towards fats. The liver is also a detoxifying central: In the liver, waste substances, toxins, and medicine are attached to substances in order to prepare them to be broken down. Alcohol, for example, is broken down only in the liver.
Bile acids, cholesterol, and quite a few sex hormones are secreted to the intestine via the bile and some of it leaves the body with the stools. In case of imbalances in the intestinal system an excessive loss may take place in which e.g. the sex hormones like oestrogen are reduced to too low a level. This presents a risk of infections and other serious diseases.
A lot of water and quite a few nutrient salts from the food can be absorbed by the small intestine right away, but a large part of the food’s molecules are too big and chemical breakdown is necessary. Adults produce 8 – 10 litres of digestive fluid – saliva, pancreatic juice, bile, hydrochloric acid, and intestinal juice – a day which break down the food and make it able to be absorbed through the intestinal mucosa.
The enzymes of the digestive glands participate in breaking down the food into chemical components making them able to be absorbed in the wall of the small intestine and from there be transported to the blood. Approximately 5 million tiny glands cover the gastric mucosa. Through these fine valves, the digestive enzyme pepsin is excreted in finely adjusted amounts according to the demands of the situation.
The gastro-intestinal mucosa which covers the digestive canal has a length of 9 - 10 metres and replaces itself every 4th day. The wall of the intestinal canal has a "smooth" musculature, i.e. it is not under voluntary control in contrast to the "striated" skeletal musculature which is. By means of this smooth musculature, the food is forced further on, just as the smooth musculature participates in the mixing process taking place in the intestine.
In the small intestine, the crushing of the food in finished. The mucosa of the small intestine contains numerous small villi which absorb the nutrients to the walls of the small intestine. Most of the water in the now quite thin intestinal contents is absorbed in the large intestine after which only waste products are left, and the faeces is led through the rectum.
The desire to relieve yourself occurs when the rectum is full, and then the body excretes the faeces.
When we eat
The secretion of gastric juices is increased when we have an appetite or when we are hungry. If, instead, we force ourselves to eat without having an appetite, the food will be poorly digested. The appearance of the food and not least the taste of it is important to the saliva secretion which, in turn, is important to digestion.
Digestion and psyche
Our mental well-being is also of great significance to digestion; Stress, nervousness, and being in love can affect the appetite and thereby the digestion. Being in a bad mood generally reduces appetite because the secretion of gastric juices is reduced. The opposite phenomenon, compensatory eating, often contains a mixture of dependence, nutrition deficits, habit, and mental problems. (Also see "Anorexia" and "Bulimia".)
If - on account of busyness, stress, or just bad habit - you do not chew the food properly or you gobble up your food, the food will not be properly digested from the beginning. Digestive problems can also begin in the oral cavity where poorly working teeth, a poor occlusal function, or possibly lacking teeth will all cause the food not to be chewed properly. (Also see "Stress".)
Too hot or too cold food can result in catarrh of the gastric mucosa and, if it turns chronic, it can lead to the development of a gastric ulcer. Some researchers have pointed to the fact that people who tend to eat burning hot food and drink hot drinks often are at risk of developing oesophageal cancer. (Also see "Cancer in general" and "Gastric ulcer".)
So - the digestive juices contain organic substances - proteases - which promote the chemical digestion process and the break-down of proteins. In some cases a concurrent effect takes place in which the effect of an enzyme does not begin until another enzyme begins breaking down certain nutrients. The acidic gastric juice enhances the enzymatic effect just like certain mineral salts enhance the effect of certain enzymes. Certain vitamins also help the enzymes and this have given them the name of co-enzymes.
The enzyme in saliva breaks down starch (carbohydrate) and the gastric juice has a decomposing effect on proteins.
The enzymes of the pancreas - together with bile and intestinal juice - breaks down carbohydrates (e.g. sugar) for example by means of the enzyme amylase. Fats are broken down by the enzyme lipase. Proteins are broken down by e.g. trypsin.
The food is mixed all the time making the enzymes able to reach all the nutrients. The peptidase enzymes break down the hormone-like peptides which are built from amino acids. The digestive enzyme pepsin only works if there is enough hydrochloric acid (gastric juice). If the production of enzymes is compromised, the break-down and digestion of food will not be optimal and, in the long run, it can result in development of diseases. The enzyme production depends on many micro-nutrients, e.g. vitamin B6.
The gastric mucosa produces gastric juice consisting of strong hydrochloric acid which is produced from chlorine coming from the blood's content of salt. Under normal circumstances, gastric juice is not harmful to the gastric mucosa.
The gastric juice makes sure that the food is properly digested. The acidic content of the stomach can kill off bacteria, flagellates, and intestinal worms. The first stage of protein digestion is carried out by the gastric juice. This is a process depending on the presence of the mineral zinc.
When having an appetite and at the smell, taste, and sight of food, the production of gastric acid begins. The sensory impulses travel from the brain to the mucosal cells of the stomach via the vagal nerve. The stomach releases the substance histamine which is the most important initiator of the production of gastric juice.
When the food enters the stomach, it chemically and mechanically stimulates the gastric mucosa by expanding the stomach. The proteins in the food make gastrin - a hormone-like substance - become active and this also stimulates the gastric juice production. When the food enters the upper part of the small intestine, gastrin and other hormone-like substances (e.g. peptides) are stimulated which also stimulates gastric juice production.
The gastric juice breaks down the food together with the digestive enzyme pepsin. The food continues into the duodenum and further into the small intestine where bile acids and digestive enzymes from the pancreas and the small intestine take care of further break-down. Pepsin is produced when the gastric juice cleaves precursors - pepsinogens - into active pepsin.
However, if there are not sufficient amounts of mucus, gastric juice and pepsin can break down - i.e. cauterize - the mucosa making way for ulcers. The mucosal cells of the stomach are important to the defence mechanism of the mucosa. The production of mucus is stimulated by the vagal nerve and by mechanical and chemical actions. The gastric juice also contains mucus and the layer of mucus is constantly being re-formed and has the effect of a barrier against pepsin and gastric juice. The cells of the stomach produce the acid neutralizing bicarbonate which is being transported into the gastric mucus.
Under normal circumstances, gastric acid cannot penetrate this layer of mucus, but the barrier can be broken down by e.g. acetylsalicylic acid, alcohol, and bile acids making the acid capable of reaching the mucosa and cause damage. If the cells are injured, histamin - which increases the acid production and thereby even further damages the mucosa - is released. This can result in sores and bleeding from the damaged blood vessels. A poorly functioning circulation in the wall of the stomach also can lead to injuries.
A lack of or a deficit in gastric acid in the stomach results in the food not being transformed into substances which the intestine can absorb. Too little gastric acid results in too many microscopic fungi surviving the passage through the stomach. (Also see "Candidiasis", "Fungal infections", and "Parasite infection".)
The symptoms of too much and too little amounts of gastric juice are often mistaken for each other since the symptoms are largely the same: Heartburn, burning sensations in the chest, stomach pains, digestive problems, eructations of acid fluid, and intestinal gas. This phenomenon is the result of the body (in the case of too little gastric acid) trying to compensate for this deficit by mobilizing other organic acids to replace the gastric acid. This is often misread as too much gastric acid resulting in people taking acid neutralizing pharmaceuticals which make short work of the last bit of gastric juice. This, of course, only makes the digestive problems worse.
The hydrochloric acid production of the stomach often decreases with age. The level of zinc drops correspondingly resulting in a poorly functioning digestion. Many people, especially women over the age of 35, elderly people, and people suffering from articular symptoms and asthmatic eczema, smokers, and people with blood sugar problems produce too little gastric juice. Many cases of food intolerance and chronic diseases start off with digestive problems, the cause of which can be a too small production of gastric juice, enzymes, or lactic acid bacteria.
Alcohol, aspirin, coffee, and tea irritate the stomach wall and concentrated protein-rich things like meat, fish, and eggs increase the acid production and thereby can cause problems for people suffering from too much gastric acid. Alkaline minerals like calcium and magnesium can neutralize an excessive excretion of acid. (Also see "Gastric acid trouble".)
Gastro-intestinal bacteria are vital to the balance and health of the alimentary canal. 300 different strains of bacteria and other microorganisms individually compounded in every human being maintain the health of the intestine. Most bacterial cultures can be found in the large intestine. In the intestinal system, 10 times more bacterial cells than body cells can be found - this number indicates the very important role bacteria play in maintaing our health.
If you do not eat anything for several days - e.g. during a fast - only small amounts of microorganisms can be found in the stomach. This number increases in relation to eating.
Only few bacteria survive in the stomach on account of the gastric acid. In the small and large intestine the surviving bacteria propagate. The dominant bacterial cultures are the non-beneficial bacteroides and the beneficial bifidus. The most common bacteria originating from the food or the mouth are the bacteroides, bifidus bacteria, enterobacteria, and streptococci.
The bacterial content of the intestinal flora varies with age; the amount of bifidus bacteria is reduced towards the terminal phase of life.
The beneficial bacteria (bifidus)
Break down the food through fermentation while producing acetic acid, lactic acid, and butyric acid which make the intestinal environment become more acidic. Beneficial types of bacteria, like the acidophilus, bifidus, lactis, ramnosus, and thermophilus are important in order to maintain a well-functioning intestinal flora. They cover and protect the intestinal wall and reduce the occurence of toxins (i.e. endotoxins). Endotoxins can be found in harmful bacteria and they are released when the bacteria die.
The useful bifidus bacteria neutralize toxic waste products by increasing the acidity of the intestine, inhibiting putrefactive bacterial growth, reducing the production of waste products, and by reducing the intestine's absorption of waste products so that they are excreted with the faeces.
Putrefactive bacteria (bacteroides)
Are clostridia, coli bacteria, enterobacteria, and enterococci which break down the food by means of various putrefactive processes which produce nitrogenous waste products. These are harmful to people and can spread to other tissues after having been absorbed by the intestinal wall. The larger the amount, the more problematic they can be because they excrete digestive waste products and substances with hormone-like effects. Sluggish peristaltics can cause constipation and lead to rotting of the intestinal contents.
Various enzymes contribute to increasing the amount of toxic waste products. Putrefactive bacteria do not necessarily provoke disease in people with a healthy intestinal flora. This is partly due to the fact that fewer bacteria are produced and that they are being held in check by the natural intestinal bacterial flora.
Excessive consumption of "short" carbohydrates (sugar), animal protein (meat), coffee, and too little fibre in the diet can result in intestinal imbalances in which the harmful bacteria affect the immune system and become the cause of diseases in the skin, joints, glands, intestine, tissues, and eyes.
The growth of harmful putrefactive bacteria are promoted by:
- Too much animal protein, i.e. meat in your diet.
- Too much coffee which increases the bacterial population by 100%.
- Too little fibre (fruit and vegetables) in the diet.
- Too much sugar promotes the intestinal fermentation process.
- Too much fast food with preservatives/additives.
- Supplementation with inorganic iron preparations.
- Antibiotics kill the healthy intestinal bacterial flora.
- Chemo- and radiotherapy.
- Fluoride toothpaste (if swallowed).
- Mental stress conditions.
Is a designation of disturbances originating in the upper part of the digestive tract. Digestive disturbances occur in generally all people at some point in their lives. Some people experience problems after having eaten too much at a time or after having eaten too fast. Certain provisions and medications can cause digestive problems and too much intestinal flatulence.
Problems can arise if you eat provisions that you cannot tolerate, cannot digest, or have difficulties getting rid of. (Also see "Coeliac disease", "Constipation", "Food allergy", and "Food intolerance".)
Overweight-, run down-, and elderly people plus pregnant women can get digestive problems. People suffering from anxiety and depression, heavy smokers, drug addicts, people with an alcohol problem, and patients who take (cauterizing) medicine for a long period of time are at risk of developing digestive problems. (Also see "Alcoholism", "Overweight", "Pregnancy, problems of", "Smoking", and "Stress".)
Digestion and disease
Long-lasting digestive problems can develop diseases and vice versa. Some of the many symptoms are: accumulation of fluid, bleeding from the rectum, blood in the urine, burping, cramps, diarrhoea, dizziness, eructations, exhaustion, feeling of fullness, greasy faeces, hard faeces, headache, heartburn, insufficient digestion, intestinal flatulence, nausea, non-existing stools, pain attacks, pains when evacuating, puffiness, re-occuring bad breath, red hands, reduced appetite, sluggish digestion, stomach rumbling, stomach pain, thin stools, tiredness, trouble swallowing, vomiting, weightloss, and yellowish grey skin.
Many of the mentioned symptoms can be a sign of more "common" sufferings such as constipation, food intolerance, food poisoning, gallstones, gastric ulcer, haemorrhoids, hernia, nervous colon, stomach catarrh, wounds to the colon, or colitis and other inflammatory conditions e.g. in the oesophagus, gall bladder, biliary passages, and the small intestine.
Disease in which the immune system is not working properly such as food allergies and -intolerances might be a sign that the intestinal flora is out of balance. Also eczema, nettle rash, and migraine in which the food is the triggering factor often have the same cause. Moreover, joint trouble and other inflammatory conditions can be related to intestinal imbalances.
Symptoms such as constipation, bleeding, long-lasting diarrhoea, and pain should be taken seriously as they can be a sign of more serious diseases such as: Bleeding ulcers, blood clots in the intestinal blood vessels (mesenteric thrombosis), blood poisoning, coeliac disease, Crohn's disease, hepatitis, ileus, intestinal outpouching, intestinal stricture, liver cirrhosis, malabsorption, perforated intestine, peritonitis, tumours caused by cancer in e.g. the oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, and colon, plus undernourishment. (See the respective health problems.)
Diseases related to digestion
Can for example be caused by a reduced hepatic capacity to detoxify or a perforated intestine. The allergy can also be caused by harmful chemistry in everyday life. Especially if it is combined with bad food habits, a lack of nutrients, and lack of exercise. Both diarrhoea and constipation can be a symptom of allergy. (Also see "Allergy".)
The yeast fungus candida which can normally be found in the intestinal system as part of a correlation with beneficial intestinal bacteria is kept down by microorganisms. However, if the intestine contains the wrong types of bacteria, the fungus can grow uninhibitedly. A diet that is rich in yeast, sugar, and dairy products can further worsen the problem as the candida fungus thrives on this kind of diet. It damages the intestine and causes quite a number of symptoms and sequelae.
Excessive use of antibiotics, cortison treatments, too much sugar, wrong diet, contraceptive pills, or heavy metal strain can result in fungal growth which finally perforates the intestine. This can lead to particles from the intestine which would normally be led out with the faeces instead going into the blood. The immune defence is overwhelmed by foreign bodies and this results in the occurence of allergy etc. When the yeast fungus is growing, many people will experience a large craving for the things on which the fungus thrives, such as sweets, white bread, dairy products, and alcohol. (Also see "Candidiasis" and Fungi below.)
A hereditary metabolic disturbance in which the mucosa of the small intestine is irritated by the protein gliadin which is a constituent of the protein complex of gluten. In people suffering from gluten intolerance the intestinal mucosa is changed when it comes into contact with gliadin; the intestinal wall becomes smooth and the villi become flat and finally disappear. This reduces or destroys the ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients from the food. Coeliac disease can for example cause food allergies, vitamin- and mineral deficiency, infections, osteoporosis, liver disease, and a weak immune defence. Moreover, intestinal perforations can cause multi-allergy. (Also see "Coeliac disease".)
An irritation of the large intestinal mucosa which can lead to e.g. diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pain, puffiness, and intestinal flatulence. The irritation can also be caused by malnutrition, lack of fibres, food intolerance, and various infections. (Also see "Colitis".)
If the faeces stay too long in the intestinal system, the bacterial flora will change. Fermentation will occur and toxic gasses will develop and permeate into the blood and thereby intoxicate the body. Chronic constipation with detoxication symptoms is having bowel movements once a week, reduced appetite, bad breath, headache, irritability, stomach- and muscular pain, vomiting, and sometimes dizziness.
Coffee contains strong enzyme toxins which block the B vitamins which help keep the intestine in natural motion. Some people also point to the fact that the diuretic effect of coffee empties the intestine of water and thereby makes way for constipation. (Also see "Constipation".)
Alcohol abusers, people living on fast food or too a unbalanced diet, and people who often fast are at risk of developing deficiencies in important nutrients. In pregnant and nursing women, a deficiency in nutrients like vitamins and minerals can occur as they have an increased need for these substances during pregnancy and while nursing. (Also see "Alcoholism", "Anorexia", "Bulimia", and "Pregnancy, problems of".
Diarrhoea is not a disease in itself but more a sign of strains to the body such as different food, bacterial-, parasite-, fungal-, and viral infections, various poisonings, side effects of medicin, physical and mental stress, or a reaction to time zone differences resulting from long travels. In connection with travels, diarrhoea can be caused by food poisoning from bacteria or from vira which can spread epidemically. (Also see "Diarrhoea and increased peristaltics", "Bacterial infections in general", "Intestinal worms", "Parasite infection", "Fungal infections", and "Viral infection".)
Weak places in the intestinal wall can give into pressure from food and intestinal gas and form "pockets" in which the food can hide and therefore not move further on. Both food and faeces can lay and rot in these kinds of diverticula causing inflammation, diverticulitis, and stomach pains to arise. Putrefactive bacteria which thrive in these diverticula produce toxins which can result in a number of nuisances. Most intestinal diverticula are located in the colon. They also can occur in the oesophagus, stomach, and small intestine. The symptoms are e.g. bad breath. (Also see "Diverticulitis - Diverticulosis - Diverticula".)
Various forms of eating disorders will also be able of developing gastro-intestinal imbalances and sufferings such as gastric ulcer, intestinal catarrh, and even more serious conditions if the patient is not given the proper help. (Also see "Anorexia", and "Bulimia".)
Allergic reactions like allergic eczemas can be caused by hypersensitivity to for example additives in food. Quite a number of people suffering from allergic symptoms have problems with absorbing and transforming essential fatty acids - n3 and n6. (Also see "Eczema".)
Wheat, dairy products, solanaceae (aubergines, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and tobacco), soya, and eggs are the ingestants causing the most problems with hypersensitivity. (Also see "Food intolerance".)
Food poisoning/Stomach poisoning
Bacteria in the food can cause mild or severe cases of stomach trouble - and even death. They can be botulism, campylobacter, coli bacteria, listeria, and salmonella. Many people become very sick from stomach poisoning if their intestine is not working properly on account of already suffering from mild or more severe constipation. Serious consequences can arise if the intestine is sluggish or all together does not work and you cannot vomit so that the body has to keep all the toxins inside.
Food poisoning - lectins
Lectins are a special group of proteins which can be found in most food and on the surface of our cells. Some of them are beneficial to us while others can be more or less toxic according to their type and preparation. Our immune defence protects us from some of these harmful lectins. A part of the lectins we eat, however, go into the bloodstream where they react by damaging red and white blood cells. Lectins make the blood cells clog which can lead to fat depots, immune reactions, food intolerance, cancer, tissue damage, and other very serious diseases. A lectin poisoning, for example, can arise after having eaten raw or not sufficiently boiled beans. Bean lectins, however, are destroyed by soaking and boiling. The lectins of tomatoes are also known for being aggressive and this ability is enhanced by heat treatment.
You can be infected with a number of different fungi. Mould fungi are present everywhere in the natural environment and everyone has different fungi in their intestinal system. If the intestinal flora is in balance and there are many beneficial bifidus bacteria, it will be more difficult for the fungi to penetrate the intestinal wall.
The most important families of fungi are: Apergillus (and the toxin aflatoxin), candida, fusarium, and penicillium which are all known for being able to create or worsen allergies, cause cancer, and weaken the immune defence.
The digestive products of harmful fungi are called mycotoxins and they can be extremely toxic. They are being absorbed from the intestinal canal and transported into the blood where they circulate around to all cells of the body and are involved in many disease processes. (Also see "Candidiasis", and "Fungal infections".)
Gastric catarrh (gastritis)
Can be caused by an infection or by cauterization with alcohol, medicine containing acetylsalicylic acid or another kind of locally irritating medicine. The symptoms are nausea, vomiting, and pain in the upper part of the abdomen, but it is possible to be almost symptom free. Chronic gastritis increases the risk of stomach cancer.
Wounds in the stomach or in the duodenum is caused by a reduced resistance against gastric juice and the digestive enzyme pepsin in the mucosa of the stomach and/or an infection with the bacteria helicobacter pylori.
Normally, the gastric acid would not be able to penetrate the mucus layer, but by means of bile acids, acetylsalicylic acid, alcohol, and mild organic acids, the mucus layer is broken down making way for the gastric acid penetrating the mucosa and damaging it. If the cells are damaged, histamin is released and this, again, increases the acid production which can further damage the mucosa creating wounds and bleedings from damaged blood vessels. A poorly functioning blood circulation in the stomach wall also can contribute to damages. (Also see "Gastric ulcer" and "Bacterial infections in general".)
A quite common suffering caused by gastric juice entering the oesophagus on account of a poorly functioning sphincter between the oesophagus and the stomach - it can sometimes be worsened by an oesophageal hernia which creates diverticula on the oesophagus. (Also see "Heartburn".)
Inflammation in the oesophagus (oesophagitis) normally is harmless. Acute inflammation in the small intestine - which is also called acute enteritis - can be caused by bacteria and vira. The symptoms are diarrhoea, stomach pain coming in attacks, and increasing body temperature. Appendicitis causes pain and tenderness in the right side of the stomach, no stools, nausea, light fever, vomiting, and tenderness when letting go of pressure on the tender spot. If appendicitis is under suspicion, the appendix is quickly removed through surgery. (Also see "Inflammation in general".)
Acute irritation in the stomach (acute gastroenteritis) and in the colon (acute enterocolitis) will cause symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pain, increasing temperature, and vomiting. (Also see Colitis above and "Colitis".)
Reduced absorption of one or more of the constituents of the food which occurs in many intestinal diseases. It can be a specific malabsorption of only one of the substances of the food, e.g. a vitamin, or a so-called diffuse malabsorption in which several nutrients, proteins, salts, or vitamins are not properly absorbed from the intestine.
Digestive malabsorption is a result of the food not being properly broken down and thereby not being able to be absorbed by the intestinal mucosa cells because of a lack digestive juices like bile and pancreatic juice. Malabsorption can also be caused by a defect in the mucosa cells of the small intestine because they are not able to absorb nutrients. The symptoms are diarrhoea, tiredness, and various vitamin deficiency symptoms.
Some colouring agents and additives plus preservatives irritate the intestine which protects itself by producing mucus. If the intestine continues to produce mucus in order to protect itself and the mucus is mixed with flour, cheese, sugars, etc. a viscous coating can form on the intestinal wall making a tube inside the intestine. In the end, this can result in the food only moving inside this "intestinal tube" and not getting in contact with the intestinal wall. This will result in the food not being properly digested and the body not being supplied with nutrients from the food.
The symptoms are diarrhoea, stomach pain, and weightloss. Most exposed are people with long-lasting and chronic diseases, people confined to their bed, surgical patients, elderly people, and people who have long-lasting diarrhoea or vomit regularly.
- Violent diarrhoeas where the body loses large amounts of water and salts.
- Fat diarrhoea which is a sequela in some diseases of the small intestine.
- Food allergies.
- Coeliac disease where fat diarrhoea also occurs.
- Irritation of the stomach (acute gastroenteritis).
- Lactose malabsorption where the body lacks the enzyme lactase which cleaves lactose.
- Pernicious anaemia where there is a lack of vitamin B12.
- Having had a part of the small intestine removed after surgery and therefore not having enough small intestinal tissue.
- Tropical diseases in which fat diarrhoea occurs.
- Also see "Underweight".
Depression, mental unbalance, lack of concentration, etc. can in some cases be caused by allergies, malnutrition, and poisoning, the cause of which are gastro-intestinal imbalances or food poisoning. (Also see "Food poisoning", "Heavy metal poisoning", and "Mercury poisoning".)
Sluggish intestines and constipation can be contributing to migraine attacks. Moreover, food allergies and too low blood sugar can trigger a migraine attack. Various provisions are also known for being able to provoke the suffering: alcohol (red wine), citrus fruits, chocolate, yeast, coffee (on account of the content of tyramine), and cheese. (Also see "Migraine".)
Nettle rash (urticaria)
Some forms of nettle rash can be caused by imbalances and hypersensitivity towards certain foods, like shellfish and fruits and towards mildew and mould fungi. (Also see "Nettle rash".)
If you are overweight and have problems losing weight, you should pay attention to hidden allergies and food intolerance. If body fat is attacked by free radicals, it will go rancid. This will create damaging effects in the entire body. Regular diets can increase the risk of kidney stones and overweight increases the risk of gallstones, diabetes, and several other serious diseases. (Also see "Overweight".)
Are microscopically small and live in or on other organisms and are being nourished by them. The internal parasites (endoparasites) are amoeba, flagellates, worms, and protozoa. Parasite infections cause many different symptoms and sequela according to the parasite in question. General symptoms are diarrhoea, headache, stomach pain, and fever. (Also see "Parasite infection".)
Perforated intestine - Leaky gut syndrome (LGS)
A designation of seepage of the intestinal wall. Fungi that grow uncontrollably in the intestine can end up perforating the intestine with their rootstock making way for non-digested protein substances and the like entering the blood and straining the immune system. In this way, poor digestion can lead to immunologic sufferings. (Also see "Allergy", "Candidiasis", and"Fungal infections".)
Phenylketonuria - PKU
The disease is congenital and very rare. It is caused by an enzyme failure or a lack of the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase which transforms the amino acid phenylalanine into tyrosine. Nutritional therapeutical treatments while growing up - and a reduction in the intake of phenylalanine - save many children from mental and physical disease and premature death. (Also see "PKU - Phenylketonuria".)
Many elderly and young people suffer from malnutrition or even undernourishment. They will become too thin, tired or even exhausted. Mental problems and stress can reduce your appetite. (Also see "Anorexia", "Appetite, loss of", "Bulimia", "Stress", "Tiredness", and "Underweight".)
The general significance of your diet
All living creatures need energy. This energy originally comes from the heat emitted from the sun. Plants and bacteria are directly capable of absorbing sun energy and bind this energy in complex chemical substances. Animals and humans consume this energy through plant- and animal food in the form of chemical energy bound in the food. Energy produced from even the smallest amounts of food brings energy to many "invisible" processes that make us capable of performing activities and makes us able to stay warm. It is highly important to the production of energy and the overall healthiness what you eat.
Through millions of years, man has eaten a more or less vegetarian and varied diet consisting of greens, leguminous fruits, roots, seed, root vegetables, and sprouts combined with a little fish and meat from time to time. The human digestive system is quite sophisticated and quick in function. It produces various enzymes capable of preparing easily digestible food like fresh leaves, fruits, and many vegetables.
Fruits are an effective source of quick energy as they do not require much digestion. When eating fruits, however, you need hormones and enzymes to break down their simple carbohydrates. Fruits take about half an hour to pass through the stomcah whereas concentrated protein takes 2 - 3 hours. In order to digest concentrated protein like fish, meat, and eggs, the body must be capable of producing large amounts of protein cleaving enzymes and gastric juice.
Some fruits ferment quickly by ripening: Strawberries, cherries, and other berry, peaches, mangoes, melon, papaya, and pears. If you eat quickly fermenting fruits and then a piece of meat, the food will rot in your intestine. Some dieticians recommend that quickly fermenting fruits should be eaten between meals.
Acid and base
When food is digested in the digestive system, some substances which can influence the acid-base balance of the body are left. According to the chemical structure of these (waste) substances, foods are designated as either acidifying or basifying. The acid-base balance of the blood is affected by many factors. The food is part of the metabolism and acids are produced which, in turn, is neutralized by basic mineral salts.
More or less all fresh legumes, fruits, and vegetables contain large amounts of the basic mineral salts calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium which have a basifying effect. However, asparagus, cress, broad beans, olives, mustard, and wax beans have an acidifying effect.
Other kinds of food, especially animal provisions, often contain quite a lot of phosphorus, chlorine, nitrogen, and sulphur which have acidifying effects and therefore make the internal environment more acidic.
People who eat a lot of meat, cheese, olives, and eggs and people who smoke will be at risk of having an elevated level of acid in the blood. They will have a tendency towards being more irritable, sensitive, tired, and suffering from too much gastric juice, gastric catarrh, sleeping problems, pains, and tenderness in the body. (Also see "Gastric acid trouble".)
RecommendationsGeneral advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".
Drink plenty of pure water - preferably 1.5 - 2 litres a day which contribute to cleansing waste products and toxins from constipation, harmful bacteria and fungi, etc.
General advice on avoiding digestive problems:
- Chew food thoroughly before it is swallowed. By thoroughly we mean that it the food should be fluid when finished.
- Animal protein should be eaten separately or together with vegetables.
- Make sure to consume 80% basifying food and 20% acidifying food.
- Easily absorbable carbohydrates should be eaten together with slowly absorbable ones (e.g. fruits together with grains).
- Quickly fermenting fruits should be eaten between meals.
- It is a good idea to wait to have breakfast until at least 1 hour after getting up.
- It is recommended to avoid starting the day with a stimulative like coffee, tea, or tobacco.
- The best thing to do is exercise as the first thing in the morning and then have breakfast - not the other way around.
Consulting a dietician, phytotherapist (herbal specialist), immunotherapist, homeopath, or reflexologist can be of benefit in case of gastro-intestinal diseases.
Generally, it is a question of stimulating the gastro-intestinal bacteria who have health-promoting abilities. Make sure to get optimal nutrition, optimal physical and mental conditions, and as far as possible avoid harmful microorganisms - bacteria, parasites, and vira - plus harmful medicine and environmental poisons.
Often necessary in case of constipation and food- and stomach poisoning. Detoxification can be done by cleansing of intestines, kidneys, liver, and other digestive organs and by taking beneficial bifidus bacteria.
Completely avoid consuming sugar, sweets, food containing sugar, yeast bread, dairy products, fruit, and juice for a period of weeks to months.
When being on an exclusion diet, the suspected food is excluded from the diet for at least 2 days while noticing the body's reaction. Then the food is being re-included and any physical or emotional differences are noticed. (Also see "Allergy", and "Food intolerance".)
Cleansing of the liver, kidneys, and intestine is necessary. A glass of hot water (boiled - not from the hot-water tap) every morning on an empty stomach can be of great benefit. Nettle boiled in milk and taken on an empty stomach in the morning also can be beneficial. You can also try eating more fibres - fruits and vegetables - and make sure to chew the food thoroughly! Prunes and tea made from basil, fennel, chamomile, and thyme plus a coffee enema can be very beneficial. (See "Constipation".)
Exercise and motion
Daily - individually adjusted - exercise is recommended both prophylactically and curatively as exercise generally counteracts constipation by stimulating the rhythmic movements of the intestines.
Food- or stomach poisoning should be the occasion of having your body cleaned by cleansing blood, kidneys, and liver, plus the intestinal system. The intestine should be emptied properly in order to rid the body of various toxins.
Stress will significantly worsen the symptoms. (Also see "Gastric ulcer", and "Bacterial infections in general".)
The minerals calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium affect the acid-base balance in a basic direction. You can reduce food addiction by eating a more basic diet.
Food containing these minerals:
Calcium: Nettle, milk, carrots, rice polish, mackerel, yoghurt, kale, figs, sardines, and tofu.
Potassium: Avocado, bananas, citrus fruits, potatoes, beetroot tops, prunes, lima- and soya beans, and pumpkin seeds.
Magnesium: Vegetables, cereals, and fish.
Sodium: Vegetables - especially celeriac, aromatic salt, and sea salt.
The production of bicarbonate is (among other things) stimulated by calcium. The production of gastric acid is dependent on zinc.
Vitamin B5 which can be found in vegetables, cheese, brewer's yeast, and offal is beneficial when having digestive problems.
Folic acid (B9) which can be found in vegetables, yeast, wholemeal flour, and nuts are important to the metabolism.
Herbs (and other things) promoting digestion:
Green algae (e.g. Chlorella or Kelp) contain large amounts of chlorophyll which counteract enzymatic break-down of cells when they are attacked by bacteria and toxins.
Ginger, Zingiber officinale, drives out intestinal gas and is beneficial in case of gastro-intestinal catarrh and -colic.
St. John's wort, Hypericum perforatum, prevents gastritis. Take 1 tsp. in the morning and in the evening.
All bitter herbs stimulate the appetite: Anise, chamomile, hawthorn, lemon balm, yellow gentianand wormwood, plus artichoke juice, extract, and tincture.
- Angelica, Angelika archangelica.
- Cayenne, chilli.
- Chamomile, Chamomilla recutica.
- Cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum.
- Clove, Eugenia caryphyllata.
- Coriander, Coriandrum sativum.
- Garlic, Allium sativum. Can be lightly boiled in a little milk (if tolerated) to reduce smell and taste.
- Lavender, Lavandula officinalis, promotes digestion and has bacteriostatic effects. Can relieve digestive problems like colic, puffiness, and intestinal gas.
- Marjoram, Origanum onites.
- Onion, Allium.
- Papaya, Cairica papaya.
- Peppermint, Mentha piperita.
- More or less all spices plus apples, green tea, chives, and celeriac have a soothing effect on the digestive system.
Anise, basil, bergamot, chamomile, cinnamon, clove, coriander, fennel, garlic, ginger, hyssop, juniper berry, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme.
- Digestive enzymes: bromelain, papain, etc. at every meal for 1 - 3 months.
- Yoghurt contains beneficial lactic acid bacteria.
- Lactic acid bacteria: 1 capsule at every meal.
- Tablets against too much gastric acid. Should be taken during meals - neither before nor after!
- MSM: Take 500 mg. at every chief meal.
Molkosan which has a high content of orotic acid normalizes the gastric juice production. Take 1 - 2 tbsp. 3 times a day.
Raw potato salad is basifying (only for those who can tolerate solanaceae) and can relieve both acidic dominance and gastritis.
- Cystein, cystin, and n-acetyl cystein has a detoxifying and cleansing effect in relation to heavy metal strain (amalgam), smoking, and cancer.
- Glutamine and glutamic acid are beneficial in relation to allergies, Crohn's disease, immune system failure, gastric ulcer, enteritis, Leaky gut syndrome, diarrhoea, and liver problems.
- Glutathione (GSH) is an antioxidant which can stop severe and acute inflammatory conditions and bleedings like colitis or Crohn's disease. It has been successfully used for gastric ulcers and liver diseases caused by medicine poisoning.
- Histidine and Lysine increase the production of gastric juice.
- Methionine is a general detoxifier.
WarningsSeek medical help before starting self-treatment if you have blood in your urine or faeces, long-lasting diarrhoeas, constipation, or pains.
Fasts and enemas should only be started under the guidance of a skilled therapist who can observe any cleansing reactions.
Several acid neutralizing pharmaceuticals to be taken in case of too much gastric acid contain aluminium which can be damaging to the health. (Also see "Aluminium poisoning".)
The thickness of the mucus layer of the stomach is reduced when taking medicine containing acetylsalicylic acid - e.g. Aspirine - and NSAIDs , e.g. Ibuprofen.
The production of acid neutralizing bicarbonate in the stomach is reduced by alcohol, acetylsalicylic acid and NSAIDs.
Monoaminoxidase inhibiting medications - MAOIs - are a group of anti-depressive, synthetic pharmaceuticals with many side effects and as they drain the body of important nutrients, they can cause allergies and liver damage.