By Rhonda Sutton, RN, MSN
Before tackling the issue of digestive problems, it is helpful to understand how the digestive system works normally. God used the Five Master Patterns in designing that part of our body. When we respect those patterns, everything works as God intended.
A. Concentric Pattern in Digestion
Digestion follows a Concentric Pattern. There are three segments in the pattern: the core or source, a process that the source goes through, and a final result. In the case of digestion,
- the source of our health is food
- the means or process by which the food is broken down and absorbed is digestion
- the outward expression or the final effect of digestion is energy for living and good health
The term “concentric” indicates that one section follows the other. You must begin with the core and work your way outward. Understanding the important relationship between the food we eat, the digestion process and how we feel can motivate us to make the necessary changes.
Let’s think about a car. It requires fuel to run effectively. When fuel is low grade, if water gets in the fuel line, or the engine isn’t working properly, the car won’t run smoothly. After being stranded, we would make sure the car gets good fuel and proper maintenance. We are worth much more than the most expensive car. We need to be willing to do what it takes and not neglect or take our body for granted so that it can go the distance in the race of life victoriously.
B. Spectrum of Food
A second pattern we need to respect in digestion is the spectrum. Food groups provide us a spectrum of food for our nourishment. Healthful foods belong on the spectrum, but some things we eat do not belong.
Food that was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was plant based. Later the Lord included animal based products. Much later man introduced altered foods that have been processed; many of the essential nutrients have been stripped away or additives, coloring and chemicals have been inserted that cause unwanted side effects and illnesses.
We need to know what foods belong on the spectrum of foods God has provided. It is time to shift our thoughts from convenience to health and adopt new habits. The point of decision needs to be based on this question: “Is this food I am choosing healthy and nutritious?” Before we can feel better, we must change our way of eating and way of life. We may not fully realize and understand the long range consequences of our poor eating habits. We are at a crossroads; if we respect the spectrum of nutritious food, we will promote health, but if we ignore the spectrum, we may greatly suffer.
C. Cycle of Digestion
The third design for our digestive system is a cycle. The term “cycle”, in the case of digestion, refers to intake and output. When the cycle occurs repeatedly, it results in a habit.
When we take in good, nourishing food, the result is an abundant life and the energy we need to serve the Lord. The more we do this, the better the results. The same is true for unhealthy food choices. The more we sacrifice nutrition for convenience, the more consequences we pay in our health. It’s important, therefore, that we break destructive cycles and replace them with healthy habits.
D. Fulcrum Pattern
The fulcrum is another uncomplicated pattern. We know it best as a see-saw. The fulcrum is a pivot point that allows for a transfer of energy. On one side of the see-saw we have food, on the other side we have the consequences that come from what we eat; the pivot point that allows for the transfer of energy is the process of digestion. This is the “ah ha moment” when we realize that the digestion process is a center of life and vitality. God made the body to thrive on nutritious food and water. When the food lacks nutrition, the body suffers serious consequences. Sometimes we forget that popular foods are not really nutritious. We’re not perfect, and celebrations and moods may lead us to pizza and ice cream. But if we want to enjoy the benefits of good health, we have to start on the other side of the fulcrum and get back to healthy choices in our food selections.
E. Flow Pattern
The fifth and final pattern is Flow. Flow is simply a state of staying fluid, as opposed to either blocked flow or lack of flow. In the digestive tract, flow is essential, and having a healthy system is crucial to enjoying good health. If the flow through our system is blocked or restricted, we’ll notice the results in our health.
We are going to look at what happens when we interrupt this flow, as well as the other design patterns. But first we need to understand normal digestion. What does a healthy digestive function look like, when these five patterns are followed? We’ll see that there’s a direct correlation between what we eat and how our body digests food. We’ll also see that God created the foods we need to stay healthy. If we are careful with what we allow to cycle into our body, we can control the end result, which is good health. For each food we choose to eat, there is a corresponding result, either good or bad.
Digestion is the process of breaking down food into nutrients that can be absorbed and used by the body. On average, food travels through the stomach in 1/2 to two hours, continues through the small intestine over the next two to six hours, and spends six to seventy-two hours in your large intestine before going to the bathroom. This is called transit time. The digestive tract is populated by about 10,000 different kinds of microbes, which manufacture enzymes, vitamins and other substances that aid the digestive process. There are even more nerve cells in the digestive system than in the peripheral nervous system.
To review what happens in the digestive processes, we are going to follow the voyage of a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat, sesame seed bread, through the process of digestion, as described by a nutritionist:
1. MOUTH: CHEWING AND SWALLOWING, WITH LITTLE DIGESTION
Carbohydrate digestion begins as the salivary enzyme starts to break down the starch from bread and peanut butter. As starch, such as bread, breaks down, it becomes sweet.
Fiber covering on the sesame seeds is crushed by the teeth, which exposes the vital nutrients inside the seeds and makes them ready for the digestive enzymes. The esophagus delivers the saliva-mixed food from the mouth to the stomach.
2. STOMACH: COLLECTION AND CHURNING, WITH SOME DIGESTION
The stomach is the body’s mixer. The stomach’s acid environment provides the body with a defense system against harmful substances. The stomach contains our second line of defense: hydrochloric acid.
This acid is very powerful and important, but as we age, we have less ability to produce this acid. Hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach is extremely corrosive, yet it does not harm the lining of the stomach. Anyone can have a lack of hydrochloric acid. The symptoms associated with this would be bloating, feeling like food sits there without moving, acne, chronic Candida, passing gas, belching, and undigested food in the stool.
Carbohydrate digestion continues until the mashed sandwich has mixed with the gastric juices; the stomach acid of the gastric juices inactivates the salivary enzyme, and carbohydrate digestion ceases.
Proteins from the bread, seeds, and peanut butter begin to break down when they mix with the gastric acid, making them available to the gastric enzymes that begin to digest proteins.
Fat from the peanut butter forms a separate layer on top of the watery mixture.
3. SMALL INTESTINE: DIGESTING AND ABSORBING
As food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine, several digestive fluids are added. These fluids contain enzymes, which aid in the digestive process.
However, modern cooking practices and food processing kills many of these enzymes before we ingest them. This lowers the amount of enzymes in our digestive system and slows the digestive process.
The small intestine is lined with a heavily folded inner mucosa and small fingerlike projections called villi. The villi enable digested food to enter the bloodstream. It is here, in the small intestine, where all nutrients and vitamins are absorbed.
The surface area of the small intestine, with its thousands of villi and microvilli projections, is approximately 300 square yards, larger than a tennis court. The contents of the stomach enter the small intestine at different rates–carbohydrates first, then proteins and then fats.
Sugars from the banana require so little digestion that they begin to travel through the intestinal cells immediately on contact.
Starch digestion picks up when the pancreas sends enzymes to the small intestine. Enzymes on the surfaces of the small intestinal cells complete the process of breaking down starch into small particles that can be absorbed through the intestinal cell walls and into the blood.
Fat from the peanut butter and seeds is mixed with the watery digestive fluids by bile. Now the pancreatic and intestinal enzymes can begin to break down the fat to smaller molecules that can be absorbed through the cells of the small intestinal wall and into the lymphatic system.
Protein digestion depends on the pancreatic and intestinal enzymes. Small nutrients of protein are freed and absorbed through the cells of the small intestinal wall and into the blood.
Vitamins and minerals are absorbed in the small intestine for important body functions.
4. LARGE INTESTINE: REABSORBING AND ELIMINATING
The mass of food, called chyme, can travel through up to 20 feet of small intestine before it passes through the large intestine.
Fluids and some minerals are now absorbed from the sandwich.
Some fibers from the seeds, whole-wheat bread, peanut butter, and banana are partly digested by the bacteria living there, and some of these products are absorbed.
Most fibers pass through the large intestine and are excreted in the stool; some fat, cholesterol, and minerals attach to fiber and are also excreted.
Very little digestion occurs in the large intestine. Undigested chyme that enters the large intestine is considered waste. The waste becomes more and more solid as it passes through the large intestine because water is continuously being reabsorbed from the waste. The large intestine is about five feet long, including its final segments, the colon and the rectum.
The lining of the large intestine is as smooth as the inside of the mouth. Contrary to widely held belief, only in cases of severe illness, such as cancer, does fecal matter remain stuck to the wall of the bowel. Even in the elderly, the feces pass through the smooth wall of the bowel without sticking. Except in very high fiber diets, the bulk of the feces is made up not of fiber but dead bacteria.
One reason food stays longer in the large intestine may be that the large intestine is capable of generating nutrients from food. The food that makes it into the large intestine is primarily fiber, and the large intestine contains bacteria that can ferment much of this fiber, producing many nutrients necessary for the health of the colon cells and many other health promoting functions in your body.
It is interesting, given that most digestion and absorption occurs prior to the large intestine that food, which at this point is primarily fiber, may spend more time in your large intestine than anywhere else during digestion. The performance evaluation of our food choices comes from the outcome of the digestive system: the bowel movement. Normal digestive function includes 1-3 soft movements each day with the stool being about the size of a banana. Elimination should be effortless not a struggle throughout the life span.
Producing rabbit pellets with great effort is a sign of concern, as well as indicating a toxic lifestyle.
II. Divine Design in Digestion: What Disturbs Normal Function
The song for today’s problems is from the Pepto-Bismol commercial: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!” Here are some of the symptoms:
- Upset stomach
All of the above problems come from four major sources: food choices, lack of fiber, stress and toxicity. We can change the direction of this downward spiral.
Leaky gut syndrome, or intestinal permeability, is a condition in which the intestinal lining is more permeable than normal, which means there are unusually large pores or spaces between the cells that make up the intestinal wall. This additional space allows toxic substances such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other harmful factors to enter the bloodstream and reach every part of the body.
Leaky Gut Syndrome includes a large variety of illnesses and symptoms. It is not a disease in itself. All of the symptoms can arise from a variety of causes but leaky gut may be the underlying problem.
If you have common complaints such as arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disease, digestive problems, fatigue, food allergies or sensitivities you may have Leaky Gut Syndrome. The list of conditions associated with leaky gut seems to grow each year.
- Chronic Allergies
- Blinding headaches
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Multiple Joint Pain Syndrome
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Candida albicans
Leaky Gut Syndrome is the leading cause to most of the other digestion problems. It has a more scientific name: Increased Intestinal Permeability.
The intestine is constantly being exposed to toxins, irritants, foods and microbes. The intestinal tract provides a barrier between the outside world and what actually gets absorbed into our bodies. The function of this lining is to allow nutrients into our blood stream while blocking the absorption of large molecules and toxins. This barrier consists of a single layer about the thickness of your eyelid.
Common causes for leaky gut include: pain medications, antibiotics, Candida (yeast infection), steroid medications, cancer therapy, chronic stress, environmental toxins (including personal care, cleaners and air), poor food choices, food sensitivities, and alcohol.
These substances irritate and inflame the intestinal lining causing tiny tears. At this point the intestinal lining loses its ability to act properly as a filter and it leaks. The good bacteria have insufficient fiber to feed on resulting in disruption of vitamin formation. Antibiotics have killed the good bacteria and this comes down to the fact that we no longer eat cultured dairy products regularly.
Therefore, with leaky gut, the things that shouldn’t get in do, and those that should can’t get where they need to be for adequate transport through the body. The result is the body doesn’t get the nutrition it needs.
Our body will try to solve this problem and increase the peristaltic motion, or wavelike contractions. This is called compensation. It will draw massive amounts of water in to get this stuff cleaned out. Have you heard of spastic colon or irritable bowel disease that is plaguing most of America?
Diverticulitis can be caused by this pressure, along with appendicitis, and gall bladder disease. Other diseases caused by lack of fiber in our diet include Crohns Disease, ulcerative colitis, rectal polyps, colon cancer, IBS, parasites, and hemorrhoids. The intestinal walls contain long muscles whose job it is to keep things moving along. These muscles gradually become overstretched and weakened by the pressure of too much waste pushing against them, expanding outward, like blowing up a long thin balloon.
Hormones that have been broken down by the body are also excreted. If the stools sit in the colon too long these hormones are reabsorbed into the bloodstream increasing the risk for estrogen-dependent cancers!
The opposite problem is loose watery bowels and the urge to eliminate 5-10-15 times a day. Some people must know where all of the bathrooms are located before they can go anywhere. It is great to be free from this stress!
But the miracle is that fiber will correct both of these problems associated with flow!
There are testimonies of people reversing distressing digestive symptoms in just 2 weeks by adding the whole grains and fiber to their diet.
III. Divine Design in Digestion: What Restores Normal Function
1. Don’t eat late at night.
A healthy detoxification program is something that happens every night. Your liver cleans the blood between 12:00 midnight and 2:00 am.
The reason not to eat late in the evening is that you want to have your food fully digested so that your liver can clean the blood and you can have a detoxification session while you sleep. That’s what sleep is for — your body is cleaning the blood. This is your internal spa time.
So if a person has eaten late and had a lot of alcohol, sugar, and things which hinder the liver from cleaning the blood, the person will wake up in the morning tired and the skin won’t look healthy. If this happens on an ongoing basis, the person is setting the scene for chronic degenerative disease.
You fast overnight so your liver can clean the blood, and then you can eat in the morning, delivering healthy, clean food and sending out clean, nourished blood to all the vital organs of the body. Bile, stored in the gallbladder, not only serves to break down fats but also carries a lot of waste products away from the liver and into the intestine so that they can be eliminated.
Anything that has to do with immune function, cognitive function, digestive function — all these systems which are interdependent in the body will operate on a more effective level.
Soon people notice they have more energy. If they had chronic headaches, the headaches start to go away. Their immune system is strengthened. Their arthritis gets better. Their irritable bowel syndrome or their digestion improves. Their skin looks better. Their eyes are brighter. There is a smile on the outside and on the inside.
2. Eat foods that are high in fiber.
High-fiber foods have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and to help keep your digestive system healthy. Insoluble fiber is the type of dietary fiber found in high-fiber foods like whole grains, nuts, wheat bran and vegetables. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water so it helps to move material through the colon faster by increasing the bulk of the stool. This can be very helpful to people who suffer from constipation or irregularity. Diets high in insoluble fiber may also decrease the risk of diabetes.
Soluble fiber is also found in many high-fiber foods like oats, citrus fruits, apples, barley, flax seeds and beans. Soluble fiber absorbs water, which helps to soften stools, making them easier to eliminate from the body. Some soluble fibers, like the ones found in oats, help to lower cholesterol levels. Research shows high-fiber diets with this type of soluble fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol closer to healthy levels.
Your gastrointestinal system, including your stomach and intestines, is filled with many tiny microorganisms. Bacteria are the janitors of the world, disposing of decaying and diseased cells. Some of these microorganisms are “good” bacteria that help your body digest and absorb food and protect against disease. These “friendly” bacteria help keep bad bacteria and yeast from growing in your intestinal tract. Bacteria also help make vitamin K and keep your immune system functioning properly.
How do the friendly bacteria, called probiotics, keep the bad bacteria in check? Well, think of a parking lot. You drive in, and there’s no place to park; all the spaces are taken. So you can’t stay. This same thing happens with bacteria. There’s only a certain number of “parking places” in the colon. If they’re all taken by friendly bacteria, then there’s no chance for the bad bacteria to set up shop and start multiplying themselves. These “bad” bacteria can cause intestinal distress and negatively affect digestion.
Unfortunately, times of stress or illness or use of certain medications may decrease the numbers of good bacteria within your body. As these populations diminish they are no longer able to control the growth of the bad bacteria that are already in your digestive system or enter your body when you eat. As these organisms grow in number, they may cause bloating, gas, cramps, and diarrhea. This will affect your ability to absorb nutrients, thus increasing your risk of illness.
3. Incorporate probiotics.
However, there are products on the market today that contain various types of “good bacteria”, or Probiotics. A probiotic is an organism that helps to balance the intestinal tract. Probiotics are also frequently referred to as “friendly” bacteria. Taking these supplements may help you maintain a healthy balance of intestinal microorganisms that promote digestion and prevent the discomfort of intestinal distress.
Many people are familiar with acidophilus, one of the most well-known probiotics, and the “good bacteria” or “live bacteria” found in most yogurts. When you eat foods containing probiotics, or take probiotic supplements, the probiotics help to maintain a healthy intestinal tract, and can actually help prevent some illness, or fight off other illness and disease.
Here’s why probiotics are so important. Normal people generally have some cancer cells, Candida yeast, E. coli, staphylococcus, strep, and any number of other potentially bad organisms you can think of in their tract most of the time. But they don’t get any disease.
These probiotic bacteria are those that, when present in sufficient quantities in your intestines, will kill off and prevent overgrowth of harmful bacteria — pathogenic bacteria — that can lead to digestive problems and disease. More and more, it’s thought that regular use of probiotics may be an important way to strengthen the immune system, and help deal with autoimmune conditions.
What kinds of things are causing bacterial imbalance? Normally you have an abundance of friendly bacteria. However, antibiotic therapy, stress and poor dietary choices may all cause a bacterial imbalance that results in overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeast.
Most researchers indicate that the list of causes for bacterial imbalance includes chemicals, oral contraceptives, steroids, sugar, and the most common cause – antibiotics. Antibiotics kill not only their intended “victim” but also the “good” bacteria in the digestive tract, leaving the territory wide open to the growth of the “not so good” bacteria, yeast, viruses and parasites that were resistant to the antibiotic.
Without friendly probiotics, the final stage of digestion can’t take place in the colon. The final food particles rot in there. Overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast infections start taking charge. The problem is, most foods in the Standard American Diet – hamburgers, French fries, coke, and pizza are acid-forming. The balance is disrupted: many enzymes can’t operate. Digestion is inhibited: food sits there and decays.
4. Learn how to deal with stress.
We live in a high stress world, and it’s impossible to avoid much of it. Given this, an important thing to address is your reaction to stress. As previously specified, our bodies can have a tough time adapting to the rapid pace of living. If you are chronically stressed, it appears that blood flow to your intestinal tract may not be sufficient to maintain a healthy digestive system, a major factor in our overall health. Learn how to deal with stress effectively. Foods with a calming effect include herb teas, like chamomile. Alcohol, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates, like table sugar, should be avoided. Eating meals at regular times and in a relaxed environment can also help decrease stress.
Identify and eliminate food allergens. The absorptive surface of the small intestine can be negatively affected by food allergies, which cause inflammation along the intestinal tract wall. When a food allergic reaction occurs, the immune system perceives specific food molecules as hostile invaders, and forms antibodies, which latch on to these allergens to assist in their removal. This interrupts the absorption process and causes damage to the lining. Most common food allergens include milk proteins, wheat, soy, some shellfish, and peanuts.
Divine Design in Digestion: Conclusion
Many years before most illnesses occur; people have a steady decline of body functions. I want to say this again. Even if you do have not have any health problems, the way you treat your body today will impact your health in years to come. The more I know about how God designed my body, the more I can make changes to keep the energy I need to be about God’s plans for my life. I can allow healthy patterns to be a reality in my life.
Elizabeth Lipski, in her book titled Digestive Wellness, said “The way we treat our own bodies mirrors our own world view”. How do you view yourself and your place in this world? A biblical world view is the belief that the Bible is man’s only source of divine truth and that the Bible addresses our quality of life. For example,
- Do you believe you’re just a complex animal who blindly obeys fleshly appetites? Or do you realize that we are spiritual beings – created in the image of God?
- Do you belong only to yourself or do you view your body as a vessel to be used by God? If you belong to God, you’ll want to keep your body as healthy as possible for Him, taking the necessary steps to be fit and functioning according to design.
- Do you see yourself as just passing through, living for the moment? Do you only focus on each day and all decisions are based on your personal pleasure? We’re here on the earth to bring God glory, even through our body. God designed us to function in a healthy way. It’s our responsibility to respect those designs and cooperate with God. The choice of what we take into our bodies isn’t just a physical matter. It’s also spiritual. We need to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.