What Goes in Must Come Out
It all starts when you first smell that delicious roast chicken your mum is cooking for dinner. As the aroma wafts up the stairs and into your room and your nostrils, powerful chemical messages are set in motion to get us ready to digest and assimilate food. Chewing food is particularly important in getting enzymes, which break down food, ready for work as the food is passed into the stomach, which acts like a soft-walled concrete mixer. Except, of course, that you're actually churning food in a man-made soup of hydrochloric acid. Far from being a bad thing, this stomach acid is crucial, and poor digestion may be down to not having enough of this acid. If you're worried about not having enough, try relaxing at meal times (stress shuts down your digestive system) or get a qualified nutritionist to test your stomach acidity and recommend how to improve your digestive health. There's some controversy about drinking with meals and some experts are actually convinced that liquid waters down your digestive fire, making it less effective. If, like most people, you're worried about having too much stomach acid (reflux, acid bum), check out your lifestyle and diet (drinking too much?) or think about being tested for food intolerances.
Once your stomach has finished all that churning, your food is passed to the next bit of the processing machine, your small intestine, which is anything but small. Your food is digested and absorbed here so that you can function. One of the most important organs that helps do all this clever stuff is the pancreas, which neutralises the acid mixture that leaves the stomach and then secretes specific chemicals or enzymes to break down the food into smaller particles.
If you feel that your digestion isn't quite what it should be, why not try food combining? There are massive tomes on this, such as The Food Combining Bible by Jan Dries and Inge Dries, but put at its simplest it means eating carbohydrates and proteins at separate meals but never together. You must also eat fruit away from other food. Sir John Mills has been a huge fan of this way of eating for much of his long life. Food combiners say that it does wonders for the digestion, as all the different enzymes aren't competing against each other.
Liver Little Longer
It's your liver - a wonder of engineering - that gets the hardest time of all. It helps to emulsify fats and it breaks down hormones, including cholesterol. Your liver manufactures 13,000 chemicals and has 2,000 enzyme systems! You've got to keep it in top nick or you'll start to feel a bit off-colour. I hate to spoil your fun, but drinking is obviously the big baddy in terms of making the liver work harder than it should.
The liver produces fluid called bile, which is stored in the gall bladder. when we eat, the gall bladder and liver release bile into the duct that connects the liver, gall bladder and pancreas to the small intestine. Bile helps emulsify fats, making it easier for them to be digested. An easy supplement to add into your diet is lecithin, which helps your body to emulsify fat. You can even get it from some supermarkets, and your local healthfood store should also oblige.
Nearly There ...
The last bit of digestion is when what's left of your grub - by this time mainly water, bacteria and fibre - enters the large intestine. About 12 litres (2.5 gallons) of water pass through the large intestine daily, two-thirds from body fluids alone. The large intestine is where your friendly bacteria live. It's quite a teaming life centre in there! Friendly bacteria are sensitive little souls, so look after them well by not getting too stressed and by eating foods that nurture them, like vegetables. They love fibre. You have a responsibility now! Trillions of little lives are depending on you. Apparently, they're so sensitive that they can even be killed off by loud rock music. No wonder poor old Ozzie Osborne is suffering! So, take care of your mini ecopark. In fact, why not increase the friendly bacteria in your gut by getting a good acidophilus supplement? You could try www.biocare.co.uk. which manufactures a range of good products.
We all know what happens next. The large intestine is connected to the anus, where the end product of digestion is excreted. This gives rise to all sorts of jokes and is a particular obsession with the British. In other parts of Europe, examining this end product is seen as a good way to diagnose your internal health. Those German toilet bowls with the handy internal shelf are built like that for a reason. For example, a pale, floating stool could mean you're not digesting fat properly anc you could amend your diet to take this into consideration. One way to improve this process is to increase the fibre in your diet by upping the amount of vegetables an fruit that you consume. And don't forget to increase the amount of water you're drinking too. If absolutely nothing is happening in this department or your bowels are very slow, consider supplementing fibre in the diet. Phyllium husk is a good to do this and is available from health shops.
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