Digestion, an intimate process – Part 1

Who here has good digestion? I’m pretty sure very few do. Or many are not aware of what good or bad digestion is. We don’t even realize when our body is pleading for help or begging you to stop loading it with toxins. Chronic digestive complaints are one of the leading reasons people visit their doctor and are prescribed antacids or acid blockers, masking the symptoms but exacerbating the underlying problem! There are many digestive complaints, including constipation, diphtheria, IBS, heart burn, acid reflux, ulcers, bloating, gas, and others such as body aches and fatigue. Most times you are simply told you have irritable bowel syndrome and prescribed some sort of prescription to offer relief while pushing the problem even deeper.

We have become so out of tune with our bodies and with nature, We are unaware that digestion is an intimate, transformative process. We take in raw materials from the outside world and transform them into substances our bodies need to survive and thrive. Our ancestors, who foraged and hunted, were close to their food and transformative processes on a daily basis.

There is a plethora of information about digestion and our microbiome. We now understand that the gut is our second brain and nearly all issues, physical, mental, and emotional, stem from the gut. Most often this is from an imbalance of bacteria (dysbiosis), overgrowth of pathogenic yeasts (candida), deterioration of the intestinal wall (leaky gut) and improper digestion and assimilation (digestion by fermentation and putrefaction). Ever wonder why your friend can eat pizza without any worries yet you are left with a headache, bloated and gassy? It’s not only that you may be sensitive to the wheat or dairy, but you each have different enzymes and bacteria present that leads to a differentiation in digestion.

Rudolf Steiner is the father of Anthroposophical medicine, an extension of orthodox medicine that sees illness as intimately connected to the whole person. The treatment and choice of medicinal products and other therapies is highly individualized to the patient and aimed at bringing about a process of development and self-healing. Steiner explains digestion as the annihilation or breaking down of the outer world, food, into nothingness or chaos. When food enters our mouth, digestion begins as enzyme rich saliva mixes with the food as we chew (most people do not chew well enough for this to take place and food leaves our mouth without being partially digested, as it should). This well-chewed food leaves the mouth, partially digested, and goes to the stomach, where the breakdown of proteins into amino acids begins. The mass then moves onto the duodenum, where it is mixed with bile from the liver and food-specific digestive enzymes from the pancreas. The goal of the digestive system, using enzymes and precise pH regulation, is the complete breakdown of food into nothingness or chaos.

This process of annihilation, in a biological view, is the breakdown of proteins into amino acids, fats into fatty acids and carbohydrates into glucose. Anthroposophy goes beyond this to say that each food (amino acids, fatty acids, glucose) must also have any trace of their origin to be annihilated and every trace of the outer world removed so that each person can use it effectively in their own unique body. Not only does good digestion breakdown proteins, fats and carbs into their constituents, but it transforms our foods into highly organized chaos. This chaos is then ripe with opportunity for our body to use it appropriately.

So, from an anthroposophical perspective, the problem underlying all digestive disturbances, including food allergies, is a weak and incomplete process of annihilation. Food is not completely annihilated, made into chaos, and our body cannot use it appropriately. The result is undigested components being absorbed that leads to sickness, intolerance, and allergies. This digestive weakness is commonly known as “leaky gut”. Leaky gut happens when the small intestine becomes more permeable that it is supposed to be and abnormally large protein molecules enter the blood stream. These proteins may stimulate allergic/immune responses in the gut and elsewhere in the body (skin as hives or eczema, joints as arthritis, lungs as asthma). A healthy intestinal lining should absorb only single amino acids and tiny protein molecules. A leaky gut is unable absorb what it should and absorbs what it should not. Essential fatty acids and other vitamins (A, D, E, B12, folic acid) and minerals (copper, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc) absorption is impaired and can lead to many deficiencies.

Not only does digestive weakness lead to many negative symptoms, it does not allow for healhthy intestinal flora. The stomach and digestive secretions also protect against foreign invaders. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach destroy foreign organisms and inhibits the multiplication of pathogenic bacteria. These actions provide protetion against forms of food posioning and help control intestinal flora. Our intestinal flora provide us with important immune protection, helps with digestion and elimination, and supplies us with vitamins K, B12, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, and biotin.

Nearly everything stems from our gut. This is why gut health is such a hot topic today and there are a number of different dietary protocols to help heal the gut. I will leave you with this and my next posts will discuss the issues leading to poor gut health and how to heal yours.

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