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The Power of Optimal Digestion

by Dr. David Pollack

The digestive system is amazing. It breaks down our food, absorbs nutrients, segregates the parts, transports the vital components, and excretes the waste. It is also home to nondigestive functions that are potentially even more incredible. 

Digestion actually starts in the mouth. Our salivary glands release digestive enzymes to start the breakdown of food. These enzymes travel with the food to the stomach. Contrary to popular belief, stomach acid is not what digests food. Since it doesn’t contribute directly to digestion, what does acid do? We have enzymes that break down our food into microscopic parts. When our digestive hydrochloric acid reaches a pH of less than 2, it activates the protein-digesting enzyme pepsin. Without achieving this high of an acid level (low pH), this enzyme will not work. So, if you are using an acid-blocking therapy, perhaps your protein digestion is being compromised, and thus your metabolism. 

Where does this acid come from? We have proton pumps in our stomach that take the acid from our blood and concentrate it into our stomach. The excess acid from our metabolism in our blood is drained off and used to help aid in digestion. Acidification, some believe, is part of the disease process for most illnesses. What would happen if we constantly block that acid from leaving the bloodstream by using acid-blocking medications long term? There would be an increase in systemic acid levels. What would acid do to our bones, muscles, tissues, and organs over time? 

Back to digestion … The bolus of food moves from the stomach to the small intestine, where different organs secrete digestive juices to continue the breakdown of food. The gallbladder releases bile to aid fat digestion. The pancreas releases digestive enzymes in a now-alkaline environment to neutralize the stomach acid and continue to allow for the blood-buffering process. These enzymes combine with more digestive enzymes released from the walls of the small intestine to break down specific compounds. Here resides more than 70 percent of our immune system. But being that it is 70 percent, perhaps this affects our immune system in general. Poor digestion would constantly aggravate our immune system, and every time we eat it would cause an inflammatory reaction that could become chronic and systemic. Many believe that this is the link to all our chronic diseases. 

Another aspect of our small intestine is that almost 70 percent of our body's entire neurotransmitter production occurs here. Neurotransmitters control virtually everything that happens in our body. Could a digestive problem affecting the small intestine perhaps change the production or balance of our neurotransmitters? 

As the digested food traverses the small intestine, the nutrients begin to absorb only when completely digested across the gut barrier into the bloodstream and lymphatic system. What would happen if the lining of our small intestine was inflamed or damaged? Would larger compounds cross into the bloodstream? What happens when something is in our blood that isn't supposed to be? Does our immune system get involved and try to remove the offending compound, resulting in inflammation?

The large intestine continues the absorption of nutrients and performs most of the formation of feces. This is partially assisted by the ileocecal valve, which can sometimes get stuck—closed or open. This can cause constipation or loose stools, depending on which way it's stuck. 

The health of our digestive system is paramount to our health and level of function and vitality. Issues like heartburn, reflux, and bloating, to name a few, tell us clearly that there is a digestion problem; however, sometimes symptoms are not so clear. For example, a chronic cough, post-nasal drip, allergies, unexplained aches and pains, and inability to lose or gain weight could be signs of a digestive problem. I would even venture to say if you have any health issues, it might be a good idea to investigate if there is a digestive problem. 

If you know you have an unresolved digestive problem or are unsure about why your health is stuck or not improving, find a holistic digestive health specialist to uncover the source of your problem.

Source: Dr. David Pollack, of Pollack Wellness Institute, located at 66 Commack Rd., Ste. 204, in Commack. For more information, call 631-462-0801 or visit

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