After we have eaten our four-color meal--often we do this in a hurry, without much chewing, under a lot of stress, or in the presence of negative emotions--we give no thought to what becomes of our food once it has been swallowed. We have been led to assume that anything put in the mouth automatically gets digested flawlessly, is efficiently absorbed into the body where it nourishes our cells, with the waste products being eliminated completely by the large intestine. This vision of efficiency may exist in the best cases but for most there is many a slip between the table and the toilet. Most bodies are not optimally efficient at performing all the required functions, especially after years of poor living habits, stress, fatigue, and aging. To the Natural Hygienist, most disease begins and ends with our food; most of our healing efforts are focused on improving the process of digestion.

Digestion means chemically changing the foods we eat into substances that can pass into the blood stream and circulate through the body where nutrition is used for bodily functions. Our bodies use nutritional substances for fuel, for repair and rebuilding, and to conduct an incredibly complex biochemistry. Scientists are still busily engaged in trying to understand the chemical mysteries of our bodies. But as bewildering as the chemistry of life is, the chemistry of digestion itself is actually a relatively simple process, and one doctors have had a fairly good understanding of for many decades.

Though relatively straightforward, a lot can and does go wrong with digestion. The body breaks down foods with a series of different enzymes that are mixed with food at various points as it passes from mouth to stomach to small intestine. An enzyme is a large, complex molecule that has the ability to chemically change other large, complex molecules without being changed itself. Digestive enzymes perform relatively simple functions--breaking large molecules into smaller parts that can dissolve in water.

Digestion starts in the mouth when food is mixed with ptyalin, an enzyme secreted by the salivary glands. Pylatin converts insoluble starches into simple sugars. If the digestion of starchy foods is impaired, the body is less able to extract the energy contained in our foods, while far worse from the point of view of the genesis of diseases, undigested starches pass through the stomach and into the gut where they ferment and thereby create an additional toxic burden for the liver to process. And fermenting starches also create gas.

As we chew our food it gets mixed with saliva; as we continue to chew the starches in the food are converted into sugar. There is a very simple experiment you can conduct to prove to yourself how this works. Get a plain piece of bread, no jam, no butter, plain, and without swallowing it or allowing much of it to pass down the throat, begin to chew it until it seems to literally dissolve. Pylatin works fast in our mouths so you may be surprised at how sweet the taste gets. As important as chewing is, I have only run into about one client in a hundred that actually makes an effort to consciously chew their food.

Horace Fletcher, whose name has become synonymous with the importance of chewing food well (Fletcherizing), ran an experiment on a military population in Canada. He required half his experimental group to chew thoroughly, and the other half to gulp things down as usual,. His study reports significant improvement in the overall health and performance of the group that persistently chewed. Fletcher's report recommended that every mouthful be chewed 50 times for half a minute before being swallowed. Try it, you might be very surprised at what a beneficial effect such a simple change in your approach to eating can make. Not only will you have less intestinal gas, if overweight you will probably find yourself getting smaller because your blood sugar will elevate quicker as you are eating and thus your sense of hunger will go away sooner. If you are very thin and have difficulty gaining weight you may find that the pounds go on easier because chewing well makes your body more capable of actually assimilating the calories you are consuming.

A logical conclusion from this data is that anything that would prevent or reduce chewing would be unhealthful. For example, food eaten when too hot tends to be gulped down. The same tends to happen when food is seasoned with fresh Jalapeño or habaneo peppers. People with poor teeth should blend or mash starchy foods and then gum them thoroughly to mix them with saliva. Keep in mind that even so-called protein foods such as beans often contain large quantities of starches and the starch portion of protein foods is also digested in the mouth.

Once the food is in the stomach, it is mixed with hydrochloric acid, secreted by the stomach itself, and pepsin, an enzyme. Together these break proteins down into water-soluble amino acids. To accomplish this the stomach muscles agitate the food continuously, somewhat like a washing machine. This extended churning forms a kind of ball in the stomach called a bolis.

Many things can and frequently do go wrong at this stage of the digestive process. First, the stomach's very acid environment inactivates pylatin, so any starch not converted to sugar in the mouth does not get properly processed thereafter. And the most dangerous misdigetion comes from the sad fact that cooked proteins are relatively indigestible no matter how strong the constitution, no matter how concentrated the stomach acid or how many enzymes present. It is quite understandable to me that people do not wish to accept this fact. After all, cooked proteins are so delicious, especially cooked red meats and the harder, more flavorful fishes.

To appreciate this, consider how those enzymes that digest proteins work. A protein molecule is a large, complex string of amino acids, each linked to the next in a specific order. Suppose there are only six amino acids: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. So a particular (imaginary) protein could be structured: 1, 4, 4, 6, 2, 3, 5, 4, 2, 3, 6, 1, 1, 2, 3, etc. Thus you should see that by combining a limited number of amino acids there can be a virtually infinite number of proteins.

But proteins are rarely water soluble. As I said a few paragraphs back, digestion consists of rendering insoluble foods into water-soluble substances so they can pass into the blood stream and be used by the body's chemistry. To make them soluble, enzymes break down the proteins, separating the individual amino acids one from the other, because amino acids are soluble. Enzymes that digest proteins work as though they are mirror images of a particular amino acid. They fit against a particular amino acid like a key fits into a lock. Then they break the bonds holding that amino acid to others in the protein chain, and then, what I find so miraculous about this process, the enzyme is capable of finding yet another amino acid to free, and then yet another.

So with sufficient churning in an acid environment, with enough time (a few hours), and enough enzymes, all the recently eaten proteins are decomposed into amino acids and these amino acids pass into the blood where the body recombines them into structures it wants to make. And we have health. But when protein chains are heated, the protein structures are altered into physical shapes that the enzymes can't "latch" on to. The perfect example of this is when an egg is fried. The eggwhite is albumen, a kind of protein. When it is heated, it shrivels up and gets hard. While raw and liquid, it is easily digestable. When cooked, largely indigestable.

Stress also inhibits the churning action in the stomach so that otherwise digestible foods may not be mixed efficiently with digestive enzymes. For all these reasons, undigested proteins may pass into the gut.

Along with undigested starches. When starches convert best to sugars under the alkaline conditions found in the mouth. Once they pass into the acid stomach starch digestion is not as efficient. If starches reach the small intestine they are fermented by yeasts. The products of starch fermentation are only mildly toxic. The gases produced by yeast fermentations usually don't smell particularly bad; bodies that regularly contain starch fermentation usually don't smell particularly bad either. In otherwise healthy people it can take many years of exposure to starch fermentation toxins to produce a life-threatening disease.

But undigested proteins aren't fermented by yeasts, they putrefy in the gut (are attacked by anaerobic bacteria). Many of the waste products of anaerobic putrefaction are highly toxic and evil smelling; when these toxins are absorbed through the small or large intestines they are very irritating to the mucous membranes, frequently contributing to or causing cancer of the colon. Protein putrefaction may even cause psychotic symptoms in some individuals. Meat eaters often have a very unpleasant body odor even when they are not releasing intestinal gasses.

Adding a heavy toxic burden from misdigested foods to the normal toxic load a body already has to handle creates a myriad of unpleasant symptoms, and greatly shortens life. But misdigestion also carries with it a double whammy; fermenting and/or putrefying foods immediately interfere with the functioning of another vital organ--the large intestine--and cause constipation.

Most people don't know what the word constipation really means. Not being able to move one's bowels is only the most elementary type of constipation. A more accurate definition of constipation is "the retention of waste products in the large intestine beyond the time that is conducive to health." Properly digested food is not sticky and exits the large intestine quickly. But improperly digested food (or indigestible food) gradually coats the large intestine, making an ever-thicker lining that interferes with the intestine's functioning. Far worse, this coating steadily putrefies, creating additional highly-potent toxins. Lining the colon with undigested food can be compared to the mineral deposits filling in the inside of an old water pipe, gradually choking off the flow. In the colon, this deposit can become rock-hard, just like water pipe scale.

Since the large intestine is also an organ that removes moisture and water-soluble minerals from the food and moves them into the blood stream, when the large intestine is lined with putrefying undigested food waste, the toxins of this putrefaction are also steadily moved into the bloodstream and place an even greater burden on the liver and kidneys, accelerating their breakdown, accelerating the aging process and contributing to a lot of interesting and unpleasant symptoms that keep doctors busy and financially solvent. I'll have quite a bit more to say about colon cleansing later.