What Happens to What You Eat?
The sight and smell of food stimulates saliva in the mouth. Saliva contains an enzyme, called Alpha-Amylase, necessary for breaking down carbohydrates (starch). The body is unable to make use of unconverted starch, but it can use certain simple sugars, even though both of these are carbohydrates. Oral amylase breaks down the starches into simple sugars that the body can use. Pancreatic – amylase, a slow acting enzyme, is also provided by the pancreas. Food is propelled in the esophagus by swallowing. The esophagus is a tube approximately nine inches long, that empties into the stomach. The stomach is a hollow, pouch-like structure that lies beneath the diaphragm, just under the ribs on the left side of the abdomen. The average stomach measures approximately six to eight inches in length by three to four inches in width.
Many people think that most foods are digested in the stomach. This is not true, but digestion does begin here. There is very little absorption in the stomach, with the exception of certain fluids, one being alcohol. The stomach’s function is to churn food and break it into smaller particles.
The normal gastric fluid contains hydrochloric acid, Pepsin, mucin and the intrinsic factor, which is necessary to absorb vitamin B-12. The acid and pepsin initiate digestion and the mucin coats the wall of the stomach. Mucin and other factors protect the stomach wall from digestive action. Stomach acid has effects on meats, cheese, fish and other foods. It is also required to allow pepsin to change proteins into peptones, which are the building blocks for the amino acids. Very little of what is eaten is absorbed directly through the stomach wall – only certain minerals, water and alcohol. The stomach empties directly into the small intestine through the duodenum.
The duodenum is a segment of the small intestine, which extends several inches immediately beyond the stomach. Bile from the liver and enzymes from the pancreas, along with a physiologic buffer (neutralizer), are secreted as needed into the duodenum, to mix with foods passing through the small intestine. These enzymes hydrolyze fats, pepsin converts proteins into peptones and slow acting beta-amylase converts carbohydrates. Peptones are changed into amino acids, fats and fatty acids are broken down into glycerin and starches now become glucose.
The small intestine of an adult is a muscular tube, which is approximately one-half an inch in diameter, but it is 20 to 22 feet long! It is lined with tiny, finger-like projections, called villi. The normal pH of the small intestine is pH 7.0 (neutral) to pH 9.0 (alkaline). Liver bile and pancreatin from the Pancreas need this neutral-to-alkaline condition, in order for your digestive system to the breakdown fats and the converted proteins to amino acids.
We do not absorb proteins in the form that we have eaten them. They have to be converted by enzymatic action of the peptic enzymes into amino acids. In healthy patients, amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream through the wall of the small intestine. There, they are transported to cells in every part of our bodies. The amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of life; therefore, it is equally as important for your Doctor to know the pH of your small intestine as well as the pH of your stomach. Mal-absorption, stomach gas, belching, bloating, flatulence and Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be dealt with much easier by your Doctor when they can monitor and record the pH levels of both your stomach and small intestine. This is why it is so important to have a Heidelberg pH diagnostic test. The most important activity in the first stage of digestion happens in the stomach.
A large numbers of people (more than 70%) over the age of 60 suffer from weak hydrochloric acid production in their stomachs (Hypochlorhydria). The presence of sufficiently strong hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach is essential to initiate digestion of foods that we eat. Stomach hyper acidity (Hyperchlorhydria), delayed emptying time, with subsequent highly acid small intestines, is common to all age groups, but at a much lower percentage than expected.
When the strength of the stomach acid decreases, because of age, the use of certain medication, or bacterial infection, there is reduced sterilization and conversion of the nutrients consumed. When this occurs, raw unconverted proteins will enter the digestive tract. Many proteins are allergens and will cause allergic reaction and many symptoms not normally considered as allergies. Reduced acid strength will allow the proliferation of bacteria, parasites, and pathogens in the digestive tract.