All animals digest other organisms (plant, animal, or microorganisms) to convert them into the nutrients needed for life. Digestion usually begins with some kind of physical breakdown of the food. Humans, for example, chew food as the first stage of digestion. The food is then broken down further through chemical processes in the stomach and intestines.
The entire multi phase process takes about 24 hours for humans, which puts us in the category of herbivores, animals that eat only plants and that have slow digestive systems. Carnivores, by contrast, usually process their food quickly—from twenty minutes to a few hours—and have short digestive tracts to help expel waste quickly. Carnivores rarely chew their food. In this way, nature does not let meat sit around in the digestive tracts of animals. Humans are the only exceptions to this natural law, as we are the only herbivores that also eat meat on a regular basis.
Poor digestion plays a role in a number of disorders. These include acne, oily skin, and other skin problems; chronic fatigue; and breathing difficulty.
What Causes Digestive Problems?
Good digestion is the first step to good nutrition. For many, however, digestion is compromised along with other health problems. Digestion can be compromised from chemical imbalances, accumulated toxins and waste, and from physical damage to the stomach or intestines. Here are some possibilities:
- Too much fat: The digestive system can process only so much fat. Excess fat that is not secreted out through the bowels is stored and can interfere with the proper functioning of the liver and gallbladder.
- Too much meat: The human body does not metabolize red meat well, and eating too much of it can cause blocks in the intestines and bowels, triggering all kinds of illness.
- Too much sugar: Sugar that is not metabolized into blood glucose and used by the cells may be stored as fat and clog up the digestive system. This may also cause an imbalance in the thyroid, which slows metabolism and digestion.
- Too much protein: Protein from red meat and dairy products is not well metabolized by the human digestive system, so it can sit in the digestive tract, blocking the metabolism of other nutrients.
- Too much caffeine: Excess caffeine causes an adrenal secretion, which shuts down the digestive system.
- Food toxins: Preservatives and other food toxins can damage the liver, which directly undermines the digestive system.
- Food Reactions: Your body may react to certain foods with cramping, nausea, or indigestion. Foods known to be hard on the stomach and intestines include broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Other foods, such as oily, acidic, or highly processed foods may cause nausea or cramps.
- Environmental toxins: Heavy metals and other environmental toxins can damage cells, resulting in poor metabolism of blood glucose, which then causes a slowing of the digestive system.
Treatments to Aid Digestion
As you might imagine, diet plays a large role in digestion. A healthy diet equals healthy digestion, while an unhealthy diet equals poor digestion. For good digestion, avoid eating fatty foods such as butter, fried food, and cheese. Instead, choose high fiber foods such as whole grains, rice, and raw or lightly cooked vegetables. Excellent foods for digestion include apples, avocados, and oranges. Here are some other ideas:
- Don’t drink water with your meals, as this dilutes your stomach acids right when you need them most. Also, chew your food thoroughly to help your digestion.
- Avoid greasy, oily foods.
- Don’t mix coffee or alcohol with food. Wait at least 30 minutes after eating before drinking these things.
- Be careful with food combinations. Avoid eating fruit with carbohydrates or animal proteins. Also avoid mixing hot and cold foods.
- Avoid foods or drinks containing chocolate, soft drinks and tomato sauces.
Aloe vera juice aids digestion. Chewing licorice or fennel seeds after a meal is an East Indian tradition that freshens garlic and onion breath and lowers the incidence of flatulence. Fennel, ginger, and catnip all contain oils that absorb intestinal gas, calm your stomach, stop diarrhea, prevent constipation, aid digestion, and stop heartburn. One of the best cures for these maladies (especially heartburn, acid indigestion, and nausea) is carbon in the form of activated carbon supplements. You can also try a cup of hot green tea or yerba mate to help digestion after eating greasy food.
There are a host of digestive enzymes. Look for papain, bromelain, and protease. Pepsin is also helpful. These will help improve your digestion while eradicating your pain. Take a double dose of enzymes for a week if you want an easy way to cleanse five to ten pounds away quickly. Probiotics work well, too. They contain Bifidobacteria longum, Bifidobacteria bifidum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Stomach acid destroys acidophilus taken alone, so take this combination.
Ginger enhances digestion and circulation as well as promotes healthy lungs. A glass of pure apple juice during your evening meal will often prevent the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).