What you learned in 5th Grade about Digestion – Week 20 of 52 Weeks of Wellness

So, you may have learned how the body digests food in 5th grade but did anyone listen or care back then? I certainly did not! Luckily, most children properly digest their food until their bodies are corrupted with excess sugar, fats, additives and preservatives. However, I’m seeing more and more digestive issues in young people that is frankly a bit disturbing!

By the time we reach the age of 30-40, our bodies are really struggling to break down food. Then we start to experience gas, bloating, heartburn etc. that tells us something is not working. However, instead of looking at our diet for clues, we take antacids or the magic purple pills that further breakdown the immune and digestive system and only mask the symptoms instead of resolving the issues.

Here is a reminder of how complex the body is and how important it is to feed your body, whole clean food.

Five steps of digestion and absorption

1. Sight and smell—these sensations stimulate the flow of saliva to prepare for
incoming food.

2. Mouth—teeth chew the food into semi-liquid texture to expose more of the food
surface to the enzyme activity in saliva. Saliva contains the digestive enzyme amylase, which begins the breakdown of carbohydrates only, therefore, the more you chew and mix the food with these enzymes the better you breakdown of carbohydrates. Starches will begin to taste sweet if they are chewed long enough to begin their breakdown into simple glucose/sugar molecules.

3. Stomach—(holds approximately 1 gallon of food)

a. Depending on the food it can take between 15-minutes or 5 hours.

i. Liquids take minutes
ii. Fruits: 15-30 minutes if eaten alone
iii. Veggies: 30-50 minutes depending on preparation and type
iv.Grains/starches: 90-120 minutes
v. Animal proteins: 4-6 hours
vi. Fats: slowest of all foods

b. Stomach produces HCl and enzymes (pepsin), which break down proteins. Overall levels of HCl can decrease if a diet high in red meat; dairy and processed food is consumed. Protein, calcium and iron require a good acid/HCl soak to break down properly.

c. HCl levels decrease with age

i. Over 40 yrs. old, levels can be half of an 18 yr. old
ii. Over 60-65, dramatic decrease so it is important to use digestive
enzymes. Carbohydrates are not digested in the stomach. No food is absorbed into the body
from this organ.

4. Small intestine (the body’s major digestive organ).

a. 3 sections include duodenum (10 in), jejunum (8 ft.) and ileum (12 ft.)
b. Depending on the meal it takes between 2-6 hr. journey
c. Tiny fingerlike projections (villi) line the inside of the small intestine increasing the absorption area. The villi can be damaged or flattened by constipation, highly processed food, alcohol, drugs, lack of good bacteria. This can contribute to malabsorption (IBS, Chron’s, colitis) and other disease.
d. The small intestine can only process small amounts of food at a time. The
small intestine is where chemical digestion of food really begins. When
the acidic chime enters the duodenum (1st section of small intestine) its
acidity triggers the release of two extremely important digestive juices.

i. Pancreatic juice (from pancreas) is very alkaline and contains
amylase for carbohydrate digestion, lipase for fat and proteases for
ii. Bile (from liver and stored in gallbladder is an emulsifier and
acts as a detergent to break down large fat globules and expose
them to lipase. Bile is necessary for the absorption of the fat-
soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K).

5. Large intestine (colon or bowel)

a. Larger than small intestine, no villi and about 5 ft. in length
b. Journey thru colon take 8-12 hours
c. Produces no enzymes and contains 500 bacteria which involve:

i. Production of vitamins K, B12
ii. Control the colon’s microflora (balance of good/bad bacteria)
iii. Metabolize remaining nutrients (releasing gases, esp. if
microflora imbalance)

d. Feces contain undigested food residues, mucous, millions of bacteria and
enough water to allow smooth passage. The longer feces remain in the
colon, the more water the colon absorbs from the stool and the harder
it becomes. This may result in constipation. If passage is too quick, not
enough water, results in diarrhea.

Week 20 Action Step:

Take a close look at the your digestion this week. My favorite saying is we need to “get the colon rollin”. Examine your bowel movements (and yes, I mean that literally) to determine your frequency and consistency. If you eat three meals, you should have three bowel movements.

The feces should be brown, well-formed and about the size of a banana. If you feel, you need to get your colon rollin, consider Hair Mineral or 24 Urinanalyis Testing and stay tuned for next week where we will learn solutions to digestive issues.

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