How You Digest Your Food – The Human Digestion Process and
Benefits of Enzyme Supplements
By Dr. Leia Melead
Digestion and Your Health – Learn about the human digestion process as a vital function to sustain life.
The digestive system or gastro-intestinal system is a complex and intricate system which plays a major role
in our health and well being.
Old time Naturopathic doctors stated that all disease begins in the gut or digestive system. If one or all
parts of the digestive system is not working properly, then the whole body’s well being is affected. Let
us take a look at the gastrointestinal system and see how it works to keep the body strong and healthy.
The major functions of the digestive system are:
1. To break down and digest the nutrients which we ingest and to transfer these nutrients into the rest of
the body at the cellular level. There are many chemical and physical reactions which take place in the gut
or gastro-intestinal system in order to break down the large particles of food which are ingested into smaller,
more useable molecules which can be used by the cells at a cellular level.
2. To protect the body from various bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins which may be inadvertently ingested
along with the nourishing food. Unless these toxins are inactivated or detoxified, then they potentially
could cause great harm to the body.
Digestive System Diagram
digestive system consists of the mouth, the pharynx or throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and the
large intestine which is also called the colon.
The complete digestive system is lined with a mucosa or wall of cells which is sturdy, resistant, and secretes
mucous which has a function that lubricates, produces enzymes which digest or break down the food into smaller
useable molecules, and which produces antibodies which help to fight off infections.
This lining or mucosa is self repairing and is able to repair itself from abrasions or scratches or ulcers
in a matter of days or weeks, thus keeping it healthy and able to function properly. The cells along this
tract which secrete substances are called secretory cells, and together these groups of cells form individual
glands which are called secretory glands, which include the liver and the pancreas. These major secretory
glands are responsible for producing substances which are important for healthy digestive function or digestive
The breakdown or digestion of food begins in the mouth, where the salivary glands produce a substance called
ptyalin, which jumpstarts the digestion process by lubricating the mass of ingested food. Therefore, it is
important to masticate or to thoroughly chew each mouthful of food which one ingests.
The salivary glands also secret an enzyme called amylase which helps to break down the starch in the food.
Further down in the stomach, hydrochloric acid is released which helps to lower the pH of the stomach contents
so that it can disable any pathogenic bacteria or viruses and further breakdown the cell wall of the food
ingested so that the molecules can be more utilized by the body.
Also, pepsin is released which helps to digest protein. The pancreas assists in digestion by producing amylase,
peptidase, and trypsin. These enzymes are responsible for further digesting starchy and protein foods.
The liver produces bile salts which help to break down fats which is also the responsibility of the enzyme
lipase. Together, there is a symphony of enzymatic releases and interactions between all of these important
substances to provide for the breakdown of large molecules of food particles into utilizable smaller molecules
which can be absorbed into the cells and provide the nutrients for cell growth, processing, and function
for the entire body and all of its organs.
As the body ages, in times of stress or illness, and with other inherited or acquired disease deficiencies,
there can be a decrease in the production of these important enzymes and therefore it may be important to
provide supplementation in the form of certain digestive enzyme supplements.
Naturopathic doctors have different ways of evaluating digestive wellness through various tests and biochemical
markers. They can test and evaluate which of these enzymes are most needed or are out of balance in the body.
Often times, symptoms of gas, bloating, abdominal pain related to eating or not eating, eructations or reflux
of digestive contents from the stomach, gnawing, burning pain, abnormal distention of the stomach or abdomen,
constipation or diarrhea, constant hunger, or decreased appetite can be symptoms which should require further
testing to check for digestive problems or disease.
Ways to keep the digestive system functioning properly and in good working order would include a healthy diet,
with low healthy fats, low sugar, high in live plant or vegetable sources, high in fiber, using whole grains
instead of overly processed foods, a regular daily schedule of three balanced meals per day, or five to six
small meals per day, no skipped meals, no late night heavy meals, avoid allergy foods, get regular exercise,
and keep your stress levels low.
Also, try to avoid unhealthy snacks and empty calorie foods such as chips and sugar laden foods such as those
with refined corn syrup, deep fried foods, and overeating. Your stomach and whole digestive system will thank
you and provide you with many years of healthy, strong digestion. You may also want to read my answer to the question: how do enzymes function in our body.
To learn more about how to keep your system healthy, click > Excellent Digestive Enzymes Supplements