Chemical Digestion: Nature’s Decomposer
The human body is a fascinating and complex organism made up of diverse parts. Designed as a well built machine; organs, tissues, bones, joints, cells, and systems create the most advanced beings on the planet. One of the most amazing processes made possible by the body is that of chemical digestion. In combination with mechanics, our internal functions make eating whole foods such as meat, vegetables, and fruits possible. Without chemical digestion, our bodies could not break down foods and we would not receive the vital nutrition we need.
How does chemical digestion work?
Chemical breakdown of foods begins before we ever take a bite. By this, it is meant that before consuming a food, our bodies begin to produce saliva or spit which contains essential enzymes. These enzymes, once in contact with food begin to break down each bite into simpler forms. As food begins to disintegrate, it is then swallowed and travels down the esophagus.
At the end of the esophagus lies the stomach. Filled with gastric juices, the stomach acts as a food processor to further break down chewed foods and ultimately expel them into the intestines. Foods that exit the stomach through the duodenum are renamed and called chyme.
Once in the duodenum or beginning of the small intestines, chyme is deactivated or neutralized of stomach acids and is separated for proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These nutrients are then dispersed into the blood stream and used by the body for muscles, organ function, and weight maintenance.
Traveling further into the small intestine, remaining remnants of food are further decomposed and existing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are extracted and absorbed into the intestinal wall. Whatever is left then goes to the large intestines.
The final steps of chemical digestion take place in the large intestines. Made up of six parts, the large intestines are responsible for processing undigested food in preparation for elimination. This is done as the large intestines re-absorb water, salt, and minerals to make waste or feces.
What happens when chemical digestion doesn’t work?
As the digestive system works in combination with other enzyme secreting organs such as the pancreas, gall bladder, kidneys, and liver, there are multiple health concerns that arise when one or more of the parts are not functioning properly. Below is a list of parts and common conditions associated with each:
Salivary Glands: Dry mouth or foul taste, cancer, gland stones or infection
Esophagus: Spasms, peptic ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease, esophagitis
Small Intestines: Celiac disease, diarrhea, diverticular disease
Large Intestines: Irritable bowel syndrome, colon polyps, ulcerative colitis
Stomach: Gastritis, stomach polyps, dyspepsia, peptic ulcers
Gall Bladder: Cancer, gall stones, cholecystitis,
Liver: Cirrhosis, abscess, hepatitis, jaundice
Kidneys: Uremia, kidney stones, polycystic kidney disease
Pancreas: Pancreatic cancer, cysts, pancreatitis
Although this list is certainly not exhaustive and there are a myriad of other conditions associated with every part of the digestive system, the importance of a properly functioning system is crucial for living. Even minor issues such as salivary problems can create havoc for chemical digestion and any problems should be addressed by a physician as quickly as possible. In some cases, disorders listed above are life threatening if not discovered.
The human body is a masterful creation, but one that must be monitored and maintained for maximum use. It is good to see your doctor at least once a year for a regular check-up and to present him or her with any questions or concerns you may have. Taking care of your digestive system will help you feel better, live healthier, and have a better overall lifestyle.