Digestive Health Symphony

By Russell Jaffe, MD, Ph.D., CCN and Liz Friedman, MS

Nature’s Alkaline Way and Nature’s pHarmacy provide practical insights into healthier digestion. Let’s take a tour of what your food encounters as it undergoes digestion.

A magnificent symphony of organs and secretions and bacteria work in concert to take those delicious morsels you’ve eaten and digest them into the nutrients and energy needed for you to thrive. If any instrument in the symphony is out of tune, the whole system suffers.

First, digestion begins with the eyes. Seeing food in anticipation of eating send signals from the brain to the gut about what to expect. Then as the food enters your mouth, it encounters your teeth and saliva. The act of chewing is important to mechanically break down the food into smaller pieces. Saliva contains digestive enzymes such as salivary amylase, that begins to break down complex carbohydrates into smaller starches and sugars, and lingual lipase that begins to break down dietary fats.

Your tongue then guides the mixture of chewed food and saliva into the esophagus (with the epiglottis folding over your windpipe to prevent choking), where involuntary wave-like muscle contractions (called “peristalsis”) take over, guiding balls of swallowed food into the stomach.

As the food reaches the end of the esophagus, the ring-like muscle leading to the stomach relaxes and lets the food pass through into the muscular reservoir of strong acid known as the stomach, before squeezing shut to prevent backflow.

In the stomach, the food gets churned about and mixed with acidic digestive juices and digestive enzymes such as pepsin which helps break proteins down into small fragments. The resultant acidic mix, called “chyme,” slowly is emptied into the small intestine where the bulk of digestion occurs.

Once in the small intestine, the chyme evokes alkaline digestive juices and enzymes from the pancreas and liver into the first part of the small intestine that break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins into their smallest components, and is pushed further forward by peristalsis. The walls of the small intestine absorb the digested nutrients and water into the bloodstream for distribution and use, while the intestinal smooth muscles continue to move the mixture along.

With digestion of usable nutrients now almost complete, the remaining mixture passes through the ileocecal valve into the large intestine, where water is extracted and the remaining residue (containing undigestible food, fluid, and older cells from the lining of the GI tract) is moved forward into the rectum for storage and elimination as stool. It is here in the large intestine that the largest bacterial ecosystem of the human body resides. These helpful bacteria have a number of important functions, including further breaking down food and harmful toxins, making vitamins and neurochemicals, supplying energy to the gut, protecting against pathogens, and “training” our immune system. Much is still being learned about the full functionality of the gut microbiome, but suffice it to say that a healthy population of gut bacteria is necessary for optimum health.

Fine-Tuning the Instruments

Things can get out of whack. There are a number of actions we can undertake keep all parts of the system in “tune,” and operating to help us digest properly. Here are a few:

  • Starting in the mouth, ingestion of digestive herbal bitters can stimulate saliva production and jump-start the whole digestive system to begin digestion of starches and fats. The herbs that make up digestive bitters also aid in stimulating secretion of gastric juices, hormones, and enzymes, which enhance efficient breakdown of food. PERQUE DigestivAide™ Herbal Bitters is now available and can be taken before meals in tea or as an aperitif.
  • The foods you choose can also have an impact on your digestive health. Choose a wide variety of predominantly whole foods, preferably organically or biodynamically grown. Your focus should be on eating plant-based, what we call “life-ly” foods—including fresh vegetables and fruits, lightly toasted nuts and seeds, lightly steamed vegetables, sprouts of grains and beans, fermented foods, sea vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and vegetable juices. These foods retain active enzymes that enhance digestion.
  • Nurture your digestion. We recommend that you chew your food 15-20 times until liquid, and eat half of what you feel you need, then stop and take a few deep breaths to give your body a chance to register what it has eaten and whether you are full. The maxim is ‘drink your solids and sip your liquids’.
  • Your lower esophageal sphincter — the muscle between the esophagus and stomach — benefits from vitamins B6, B12 and folate. A good way to get these B vitamins is through a lozenge dissolved under the tongue before swallowing. GERD and gastroesophageal reflux are typically reversed by this simple, natural approach.
  • Sometimes you may be allergic, reactive or intolerant to the foods and other chemicals to which you are exposed. LRA by ELISA/ACT® tests can help you identify hidden sensitivities to a variety of foods and environmental chemicals. Or choose a smaller food-specific panel to test up to 238 possible dietary culprits.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Aperitifs like Campari, organic or biodynamic beer, cider, and wine may be permissible in moderation, but be sure to drink ample amounts of water, vegetable broth, and other wet foods.Our bodies are 50-75% water, with every biological system dependent upon it. Water flushes toxins from vital organs, transports vital nutrients to cells, regulates body temperature, and keeps tissues moist. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day; or more if you live in a dry environment, exercise or are ill. We must be active to move the fluids where they need to go. Trager Mentastics, Feldenkrais Method, Alexander technique, and Anat Baniel System are each recommended to relieve gravity and encourage somatic healing.
  • Remember those bacteria we mentioned in your gut? Taking antibiotics can kill off helpful bacteria, allowing the harmful bacteria to overgrow, causing diarrhea and a host of other gastrointestinal issues. PERQUE Digesta Guard Forté 10™ is a probiotic supplement that actually replaces the “bad” bugs with ten beneficial bacteria, thereby improving digestion. It also clears out dietary toxins such as pesticide residues, hormones in foods, and toxic metals like lead and mercury.*
  • And those healthy bacteria need to eat! PERQUE Regularity Guard™ is a unique combination of health-promoting prebiotic fibers that nourish the rapid growth of healthy, digestion-promoting bugs. Ample healthy bugs crowd out and prevent the growth of pathogenic “bad” bugs. The prebiotic fibers also bind toxins and accelerate their safer removal from the body.
  • A helpful product for intestinal irritation from mechanical action, toxins, and the products of abnormal bacteria is PERQUE Endura/PAK Guard™ The l-glutamine and PAK this supplement help energize the intestine’s surface cells without raising glutamate.*

Healthy digestion today requires regular, preferably daily, Stomach digestive aide (3 drops / meal), prebiotic fiber (40-100 g/day), probiotic organisms (40-100 Bn/day), symbiotic recycled glutamine (1.5 gm on rising and before bed). The amino acid l-histidine is the source of the stomach acidic protons. This amino acid is often deficient in people with acute or delayed allergies and can be helpfully supplemented, typically 600 mg, 30 minutes before each meal.

A healthy digestive system truly is a symphony of organs and systems and enzymes and bacteria all working together in concert so you can thrive in the 21st Century. Please do your part to help the symphony play in tune!

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease