The next few posts will explore the role and important relationships of fat and oils  (together called lipids) in our bodies and our metabolism; what they are, where they’re located, what are “good” fats and what are “bad” fats, and some of the myths and misinformation relating to fats.  I’ll try and give you at least a short version of the skinny on fats.

There’s a story out there that fat is bad. It’s ugly, it’s nasty, it maims and kills, and nutritionally, we should stay as far away from it as we can. Well, guess what? All that’s not true. Fat is our friend  and we can’t live without it.  In fact, we’re “meant” to eat fat.

While water may be the most underutilized nutrient, fat is probably the most neglected, rejected and least understood.  So, why all the fuss about fat?  Because it’s involved in so many (dare I say most?) metabolic processes in some way, shape or form (and fat takes on all kinds of shapes and forms for being such a simple molecule).

For starters, most of our brain is fat (more than 50%), and our neurons could not function or fire without it.  About 75-80% of the myelin sheath that surrounds all of our nerve cells is made up of fatty acids.  Being a fat head is really a complement (to good health).

Fats are highly protective of our organs, giving cushioning and shock absorption to vulnerable tissues and cells.  With all of the jarring and jostling that our bodies take each day, fat softens the blows, making for happier, healthier organs.

Fats are the precursors and building blocks of many of our hormones, that complex chemical web of communication that tirelessly gives and receives messages for our myriad metabolic processes, like growth, reproduction, energy production and storage, construction and destruction of building blocks, fight and flight responses, pleasure, pain and on and on.  What would puberty be like without fat to get things stirring?

Fats are necessary for healthy liver function.  Both healthy cholesterol and bile are made from fat (cholesterol is found in nearly every cell of our body and is the main building block of most hormones).  Bile, which is made from fat, is also responsible for breaking down fats in our digestive processes, so that fats can be easily absorbed into our blood stream.  Bile is part of the great fat recycling system.

Fat is needed for the absorption of all of the “fat soluble” vitamins — A, E, D, and K.  These vitamins are instrumental in supporting healthy hair, teeth, bones, immune system function, calcium balance, cell growth, blood balance and clotting, antioxidant support and anti-aging qualities, amongst other things.

Fats are also imperative for managing anti-inflammatory responses.  The biochemical pathways for both inflammation and anti-inflammation start with good, healthy, and specific fatty acids.  Many practitioners see systemic and specific inflammation as the leading cause of many degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Fats supply a slow and steady source of energy.  While carbohydrates burn quickly (like the kindling on a fire), fats burn at a more even pace (like a log on the fire), which gives a much more sustained form of energy (and therefore is more satiating).  Fats actually keep you from eating too much (unlike carbs).

Maybe the most important single characteristic of good fats is their role in the structure of every cell in our bodies.  Each of our 40-50 trillion cells has a membrane which serves as the brain and communication hub of the cell (much more important in many ways than the cell’s nucleus).  This cell membrane is made up of a phospholipid, or fat layer, that helps to protect and define the cell.  When we consume “bad” fats, such as hydrogenated oils, this membrane becomes compromised and the cell does not function effectively.

And, finally, fats  just plain taste good.  Humans have a natural attraction to fats (even though we’ve been told to avoid them like the plague, for the past 30 to 40 years).  Our hunting and gathering ancestors often went for the organ meats and fatty tissues first, and ate the lean meats as “leftovers” after making a kill.  Traditional societies still relish fats as the major nutrient in their diets.

Next time we’ll look at the many different types of fats, how they differ, and what makes a “good” fat and a “bad” fat.

For this and the next few blog posts, I’m going to be exploring some of the stories and “tall-tales” that have crept up, been created (oftentimes intentionally) and/or have been rammed down the throats of nutritional consumers (yes, you and me).  I’ll be shining a bit of a light (sometimes a spotlight, sometimes a floodlight) on some of the biggest food (and phood) myths out there, with the idea of bringing some knowledge, balance and, perhaps, just a little bit of controversy to the table.

The number seven seems to be common when making lists in books, blogs, newsletters and other informational sources; so here goes: The Seven Myths and Stories about Food and Good Nutrition.  (However, note that when I get through these seven, there will certainly be more bits of misinformation that surface, and I hope that some of you send me some of your “favorite” myths that can be discussed in future posts).

1.  Fat is bad

This is a bad  myth because believing it deprives people of one of the most important sources of good nutrition and health and has created a “low fat” craze that has put millions at health risk and made millions for the food industry.  I’ll discuss what fats are and why they are so critical and why going “low-fat” can be so dangerous.

2. Saturated fats are even worse

This, in a way, is a corollary to number one, that has demonized and vilified saturated fats as “the really bad guys”, when, in fact, they are critical to so much of our natural, healthy functioning,  including good heart health.

3. Cholesterol is bad and causes heart attacks

This is one of the most insidious of medical/nutritional myths and lies, that is deeply ingrained in almost every part of our nutritional/health world these days.  Created, propagated and institutionalized by Big Food, Big Pharma and Big Government to the point where most people take it as “gospel.”  I’ll dig into the history and politics behind this one, and give you lots of sources to explore in great detail.

4. Soy is Good and Good for You 

This one goes right to the heart of the health food “industry” and health foodists and many folks who embrace an “alternative”, seemingly healthy lifestyle, and has been created, nurtured and promoted by Big Agriculture, to the point of being a multi-billion dollar industry.  We’ll look at the major downsides of a soy based diet.

5. Pasteurizing and homogenizing milk makes it healthier 

We’ll look at how Big Money, Big Brother and Big Agriculture have taken an extremely whole, vital, and balanced natural source of nutrition, and cooked, stirred and degraded it into an empty (and harmful) source of calories.

6. Vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy (sorry!)

This may be the hardest, and most controversial, of all the myths and stories for many to embrace.  I’ll talk about these relatively “new” nutritional lifestyles that leave many people deprived of the needed nutritional combinations for healthy funtioning.

7. You need to take antacids for high stomach acid

This one relates to one of the most common dysfunctional problems that I see in my practice.  Another example of how Big Corporations and Big Medicine reap the financial benefits of bad science, bad biology and greed.


So, here are seven big ideas that will be developed and expanded over the next several posts.  I’ll include links to articles and books and authors so that you can dig more deeply into each of these.

The Art of Gentle Detoxing

As we’ve seen, toxins build up in our bodies over many years and come from many and varied sources.  Our abilities to handle toxic loads are also quite varied (bio-individuality) and have varying effects in different parts of our body.  There are times when it’s critical to try and detox specific substances quickly, and I leave that to the experts (I don’t recommend intense and quick detoxes on your own).  However, for most people, most of the time, I suggest more gentle detox methods, a couple of which I’ll go over at the end of this post.  For now, a little bit on how toxins interact with our  5 major foundational systems.

Toxins and the Foundations

The Foundations to good health underlie almost all physiological function and dysfunction in our bodies.  They include the primary processes and systems of Digestion, Sugar Handling, Fatty Acid Metabolism, Mineral Balance and Hydration.  Underlying all of these is the most important Foundation of all, a good, healthy, Nutrient Dense diet.  Toxins and our ability to effectively detox play a huge role in the functioning and balance of each of these Foundations.  The following information is mostly excerpted from The Nutritional Therapy Association class binder on detoxification.


Diet is the main foundation that underlies all other foundations of good nutrition.  Eating processed, lifeless food (or as I call it, phood) is seen by the body as a toxic activity.  Also, any diet or eating plan that takes in too much food (volume) uses too much energy, and doesn’t leave enough for “house cleaning”, also puts a toxic burden on the body.  Finally, it’s important to take in the proper balance of Macro and Micro nutrients because they play such an important role in the body’s ability to detoxify.


If a person isn’t digesting well, even a “perfect” diet can clog the body’s detoxification pathways.  Many people eat excellent foods (organic, whole, live) and still have major nutritional deficiencies because the nutrient intake isn’t properly balanced.  Specific amino acids in our diet play critical roles in the proper functioning of specific detoxification pathways in the liver. (for example, Methionine is necessary to run the liver’s Sulfation pathway ).  Poor fat digestion clogs the lymph system, and therefore the liver.

Blood Sugar Regulation

Elevated Cortisol and general blood sugar imbalance stress the Liver and other organs of the body.  This is often a result of way too many carbohydrates in the diet, especially simple sugars and starches.  The western SAD (Standard American) diet and even many so-called healthy diets are highly overloaded in terms of carbohydrate intake.  Blood sugar imbalances deplete many, if not all of the B vitamins.  B6 is especially needed for all liver enzyme functions and neurotransmitter synthesis (epinephrine, serotonin).  B2 is needed to make phase II detox enzymes  required by the liver.

Chronically high blood sugars create a buildup of free radicals and a general catabolic state, which robs the nutrients needed by the body to detoxify properly.

Fatty Acids

Fat tissues are one of the body’s major mechanisms used to store difficult to remove toxic waste (heavy metals, petroleum, other chemicals).  The liver metabolizes fats into their usable forms.  Improper ingestion and digestion of fats can cause liver stress.

Bile is made from healthy fat.  The bile is the “river” by which many toxins are removed from the body via the intestinal tract, so bad or sluggish bile also bio-accumulates toxins.  Healthy detoxing almost always includes creating healthy bile.

The proper balance of dietary fat helps to create a properly permeable cell membrane for all of our trillions of cells, allowing wastes to be removed from the inside of the cell in a timely manner.  Rancid fats create unhealthy cells which help to create toxic overload.

Mineral Balance

Detoxification processes can create acidic blood.  Minerals help to buffer this condition.  Toxins deplete minerals like magnesium, which can lead to deficiencies of enzymes that are necessary in healthy Phase I liver detoxification.

Certain minerals help keep heavy metals from collecting in the tissue. (heavy metals are minerals and therefore are kept in balance by other minerals).


We must keep properly hydrated to keep the body flushing appropriately, moving bowels and urine regularly.  Perspiring (another form of natural detoxification)  requires proper hydration.

Proper hydration helps to keep our lung tissue moist so that we can respire healthfully and proper hydration keeps the blood fluid so that toxic material may be delivered more efficiently to the lymph and liver.

A Couple of Gentle Detox Techniques

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of varying kinds of detoxification methods and techniques, and the internet is replete with them.  Be careful and do your research.  I suggest starting with gentle detoxing unless you’re under the care of a competent practitioner (and even then, gentle is usually best).  A couple of my favorites follow:

Oil Pulling – Step by Step

Step1: First thing in the morning on an empty stomach and before drinking any liquids (including water), put exactly about 1 tablespoon of sunflower or sesame oil , or my favorite, coconut oil, into your mouth.

Step 2:

Swish the oil around in your mouth without swallowing it. Move it around in your mouth and through your teeth, as if it was mouthwash (don’t tilt your head back to gargle though). You’ll find that the oil will start to get watery as your saliva mixes with it. Keep swishing.  If your jaw muscles get sore while swishing, you’re putting too much into it. Relax your jaw muscles and use your tongue to help move the liquid around the inside of your mouth. When you do this correctly, you’ll feel very comfortable. Pretty soon, it will become second nature.

Step 3:

As the end of the oil pulling session approaches, you may notice the oil/saliva mixture in your mouth has become thicker. This is quite normal, since it is pulling out toxins from your body.When 20 minutes is up, spit out the oil into the toilet (outside or in a container if it is coconut oil).  Don’t be alarmed if it looks yellowish–this is also normal.

Step 4:

Rinse out your mouth a couple of times with warm sea salt water and spit into the toilet. Rinse with a good completelely natural mouthwash.   Some people prefer to dilute with water (or use full strength), regular hydrogen peroxide and rinse and spit with that. The hydrogen peroxide is very effective at rinsing out any toxins which may be left in the mouth.

Using Clay Baths and Cleanses to Detoxify

The following comes from Michael King at Vitality Herbs and Clay.  I highly recommend the pyrophyllitic clays from Michael’s business in southern Oregon (obtained from the environs of Crater Lake), because of their extreme gentle yet powerful actions.

External Detoxification Methods

Who would have guessed that Nature has had a simple remedy available to us from the beginning of mankind’s walk upon the earth, for just such a day as the one we now live in? Who would have thought that the answer would be as simple and enjoyable as a soothing clay bath?

There is nothing more gentle in the realm of detoxification than a clay bath or shower slurry (for those who do not like baths). A shower slurry is accomplished by simply spreading a thin layer of a moist clay paste all over the body and hanging out in the shower for awhile. A clay bath is accomplished by adding a half cup or more (even several pounds) to your bath water and basking in the warmth for 30 minutes to an hour or more, as desired. The addition of sea salt and/or humic substances to your clay bath increases its detoxification potency.

A clay bath is a gentle, yet powerful detoxification method due to one simple fact – toxins are able to leave the body through every skin cell from head to toe at once.

More effective than foot baths, more effective than Epsom Salt baths, and more effective than isolated poultices, clay baths draw toxins out of the body simultaneously from every square inch of the skin surface exposed to the clay.

Internal Detoxification Methods

Now, let’s discuss internal detoxification. There are a few natural substances when taken internally, that work powerfully well in combination with clay baths. The reason the two are recommended together is to reduce, as much as possible, detoxification reactions caused by doing too much, too fast.

Detox reactions are common early on in a good healing program, yet eventually the body processes them out and the detox symptoms go away. A clay bath will usually reduce or eliminate any detox reactions within minutes.

A detox reaction can show up in several ways: a sluggish feeling, a fuzzy head, a headache, a rash, a breakout, dry skin, aches and pains, flu-like symptoms, etc.

At the very beginning of an internal detox program it is best to be more cautious due to the possibility of unexpected heavy detoxing precipitated by something as simple as a teaspoon of chlorella, or a quarter cup of cilantro, or a teaspoon of clay, or a pinch of humic substances, or a few ounces of an extremely hydrating water source. From just these small amounts, surprisingly intense detox reactions have been experienced by some with a history of exposure to toxic substances.

By being sure to combine frequent baths with your internal detox program you provide yourself with the best chance of minimizing detox reactions and their potential duration. At the first sign of a detox reaction from an internal detox program, take a clay bath or a shower slurry, drink lots of pure water, and if you have the opportunity, do some sweating in a sauna.

Toxicity—we’re surrounded by it, infused with it, breathe it, drink it and live with it on a daily basis.  This has been the way it’s always been (pretty much from the beginning of “life on earth”).  42-15534096It’s part and parcel of  balance and homeostasis: there are the creating or nutritive elements of life, and then there are the destroying or toxic elements.  All part of the ebb and flow of the cyles of life.

However, in recent years, starting about 200 years ago with industrialization and intensifying greatly about 60-70 years ago, toxins have played an increasingly important role in the “cost-benefit” analysis of life on earth, including our own health.


A toxin is basically any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects in the body.  Toxins come from external sources (like air pollution) and internal sources (like cellular wastes).

Toxicity can occur from the side effects of drugs or from patterns of physiology that are different from our usual functioning.

Most drugs, food additives, and allergens can create toxic elements in the body.  In fact, any substance can create toxic elements in the body if overindulged or used in an unbalanced manner: even basic substances such as water, sodium, and almost all nutrients under certain circumstances.

Traditions of Detoxification

Purification/cleansing processes have been around for thousands of years.  Techniques include fasting, saunas and sweat lodges, herbs, water, rest and meditation, enemas, exercise, and a variety of bodywork techniques.

Detoxification occurs on many levels:

  • Physically: Assists the body in clearing congestion, illnesses and disease potential.  It can also improve energy
  • Emotionally: Helps uncover and express feelings, especially hidden frustrations, anger, resentments, or fear, and replace them with forgiveness, love, joy and hope.
  • –Spiritually:  Many people experience new clarity and/or an enhancement of their purpose in life.

Ayurveda (India) Perhaps the oldest organized health system around, the word means “wisdom” or “science” of health and teaches that the fundamental cause of disease is toxins in the system and has two types of treatment for eliminating toxins:


  • Pancha karma: Physical elimination processes such as purgatives and medicated enemas
  • Palliation:  Therapies that neutralize toxins such as fasting, herbs, exercise or sunbathing

Hippocratic Medicine (Greece) started about 500 BC with the beginnings of western philosophy and ideas, and grew into the first principles of western scientific medicine.

  • The Hippocratic Greeks  believed health depended on an equilibrium between the four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.
  • Early treatments (such as bloodletting, massage, and fasting) focused on cleansing and balancing techniques to reestablish humoral equilibrium.

Purification Rituals (Native America)

  • Sweatlodge: An enclosure physically similar to a steam sauna that induces sweating and therefore the release of toxins.
  • Smudging: Smoke from burning sage is waved around a person to eliminate negative energy.
  • Fasting: Used to purify oneself before ritual ceremonies .

Where toxins go in the body

While toxins can be, and are, stored in every one of our 10 to 40 trillion body cells, some parts of the body are especially problematic.  These include our fat cells (where many types of toxins are put in storage), liver cells (which has so much to do with detoxifying processes), our skin (the largest organ of our body and where many toxins migrate), our brain (so important for all nervous system processes and made up mostly of toxin attracting fats), and the cell membranes of all of those trillions of cells (cell membranes are also predominantly made up of fatty acids).

Organs and systems of detoxification

Because of the natural balance between nourishing/metabolic support and cleansing/catabolic processes, many of the body’s organs and organ systems are involved with detoxification.

These include the organs of elimination such as the lungs, the digestive system (especially the stomach and colon), the urinary system (comprised of the kidneys and bladder and very importantly, the skin).

It also includes the internal “freeway” systems of the body, made up of the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system, liver, gallbladder, and the multifaceted immune system.

So, what is detoxification, anyway?

Right out of my classes in Nutritional Therapy come the Big Ideas of Detoxification:

        1.  Detoxification is a parasympathetic process

–this means it works most effectively while we’re sleeping at night and when we’re in a calm and relaxed state

        2. Detoxification frees vital cellular and organ activities to function productively and efficiently

–this is kind of like clearing out your closet to make way for new clothes; as long as physiological “clutter” clogs up our cells and cellular processes, our systems can’t function in an optimal way

        3. NEVER, ever, ever, detoxify without addressing The Foundations first (digestion, sugar handling, hydration, mineral needs and fatty acid balance)….ALL elimination pathways must be open –Otherwise systems will back up and create even more problems (don’t attempt a major detox if you’re constipated, your bile is not moving, you have serious bladder infections, etc.).  Moving into gentle detoxing, as I’ll explain later, though, can be extremely helpful.

Next time we’ll look at the effect of toxins on the main foundations and discuss some gentle, yet powerful, detoxing regimins that I think you’ll all find very helpful in reducing toxic build-up and keeping the toxins in us to a minimum.

The Magical Elixir

Do you know what the second most  common nutritional deficiency is in America?  Lack of vitamins?  Lack of minerals?  Poor digestion?  Well, these are all extremely important, and deficiencies in these areas cause untold suffering and lead to many diseases and ill health, but are not on the very top of the list in terms of nutritional deficiency.  The second most common deficiency is an essential fatty acid deficiency (and this will be the topic of a later blog entry).  The most common nutritional deficiency, however,  is water – good, wholesome, pure, given-from-nature, natural water.  You can last many days without food, but only about three days without water.  Water makes up between 55 to 65% of our total body mass (the actual amount varies with the size of the person, their age, their gender, etc.).  This means that a 140 pound person has about 84 pounds of water weight.

We live on a water planet, where 71% of the surface of the earth is made up of this special and unusual liquid. waterplanet2When I look at the human body, I see that we are really a quite accurate reflection of planet earth.  We are, as is the earth, made up of fully functioning ecosystems within ecosystems within ecosystems.  Our organs, our tissues, our cells are energetic, vibratory, interactive systems that function on many micro, macro and meta levels of relationship between themselves and the greater “outside.”  It is no accident that our bodies reflect a similar percentage of water and that the water in our bodies is nearly identical in many ways to the chemical make-up of most of the water on the planet – salty seawater.

Water plays a vital role, in some way, shape or form, in nearly every chemical interaction in the body.  We truly are an electrical (or vibrational) being – our cells and processes communicate via electrical impulses and water acts as the “battery” medium for this transference of energy.

Functions of Water

Water has an amazingly long list of important functions, each of which is critical to healthy biological processes.  Some of the important ones listed in Water: The Ultimate Cure by Steve Meyerowitz, include:

  • Improves oxygen delivery to the cells
  • Transports nutrients
  • Enables cellular hydration
  • Moistens oxygen for easier breathing
  • Cushions bones and joints
  • Absorbs shocks to joints and organs
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Removes wastes
  • Flushes toxins
  • Lubricates joints
  • Improves cell to cell communication
  • Maintains normal electrical properties of cells
  • Empowers the body’s natural healing process

Water Loss

In humans, the body can make about 8% of its water needs through metabolic processes, using hydrolysis and hydration (chemical processes of breaking off water molecules and recombining them).  Other animals, such as desert Kangaroo rats and camels can make and/or store much high quantities of water for long term use.  We are not camels.

Because our water needs are so high, we have a constant need to replenish.  This, coupled with the choices that many people make regarding their beverages, is what leads to chronic (and sometimes acute) dehydration issues for so many.

Humans lose about a liter of water a day just through breathing (although I don’t suggest you stop breathing just to conserve water).  About 24% of our water loss is through the skin and about 60% is excreted through the kidneys.  The GI system moves nearly 10 liters of water per day, mostly through the process of creating water through hydrolysis (the breaking apart of water from other constituents) in the gut through digestive processes (much of this is reabsorbed later in the small intestine and colon).


As in any other healthy functioning system of the body, there is a natural balance that is in effect, in this case between water in and water out.  And, as is often the case with so many people, this balance has been changed significantly in modern life. 

The majority of Americans today live with chronic (or worse) dehydration.  A rule of thumb to tell if you’re getting enough water to be adequatley hydrated is to take your weight and divide it by two to get the number of ounces of water you should be drinking (a 150 pound person should take in about 75 ounces of water per day).  Of course on hotter days, or with more physical exertion, this number would be higher. dehydration-parched-soil

Most people don’t drink nearly that much water.  To make matters much worse for many people, what they do drink actually takes water from the body.  Drinking fluids that contain diuretics, taking many medications that are diruretic and eating certain foods, all remove water from the body’s needed stores instead of adding to it.  Commonly consumed diuretics include all caffeinated beverages, beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks and many types of fruit juices. 

To get a more accurate sense of how much fluids one should be taking in, you need to take your body weight, divide it by two (to get the starting point for water intake), and then add 1 1/2 ounces of water for each ounce of diuretic you are taking in.  For every 8 ounce can of Coke or other soft drink you’re drinking, you’d need to drink an additional 12 ounces of water to just break even (which doesn’t include the many other nutritional problems involved with drinking soft drinks).

If water content drops by as much as 2%,  people become fatigued (what is the main complaint of many people? – they’re too tired all the time).  A 10% drop will cause severe health problems (digestive, immune, musculo-skeletal issues) and a drop of more than 10% can cause death.  There are early signs and more mature or later signs of problems related to dehydration, as follows:


  • Fatigue                                                                                                                  
  • Heartburn
  • Joint Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Migraines
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Constipation
  • Colitis


  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Cramps
  • Headaches

If you experience several of the above (especially on a regular basis), you might want to look closely at your quality and quantity water intake. 

There are many other issues related to water and health that will be covered in later posts, including sources of good water, containers that should be and shouldn’t be used, filtering systems and so on.

So, let’s drink a toast to your good health, with lots of pure, clean and healthful water.

As we’ve seen, taking acid blockers can actually be quite harmful, in the long run, to the upper GI system, especially to the stomach and lower esophagus.  As we’ll now see, the lower GI also takes a hit when things farther “north” aren’t working properly.

Most people (and this would include most doctors and other medical practitioners) just don’t recognize the serious ramifications to much of the rest of the body, from a digestive system that is out of balance.  Digestive dysfunction can lead to issues relating to allergies, arthritis, rashes, acne, chronic fatigue, cardiovascular issues, mood disorders (including ADD and ADHD), autism, dementia, cancer, autoimmune diseases and a lot more. 

In the words of Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, “having a healthy gut means more than simply being free of annoyances like bloating or heartburn! It is absolutely central to your health. It is connected to EVERYTHING that happens in your body.”

This is why, as Nutritional Therapists, we almost always start from “north” to “south”, beginning with the digestive system.

Intestinal Fortitude

In a proper functioning GI tract, chyme enters the duodenum and its acidic pH triggers the release of pancreatic juice.

 Under conditions when the chyme pH is not correct (as described in last month’s blog), the hormone secretin is not excreted adequately to trigger the release of pancreatic juice.

 Then, sodium bicarbonate is not released to raise the pH of the chyme, and it burns the mucosal lining of the upper small intestine, which may lead  to duodenal ulcers.

 As you’ll recall, the inside of the small intestine (or gut) is covered with small, finger-like projections called villi and micro-villi, much like a Terry-cloth towel.  villiAny undigested food in the small intestine will wear away at the villi, eventually allowing large molecules of proteins and fats to pass through the gut, which will overwhelm the immune system.  What should have been nourishing food now becomes a major assault on immunity and systemic inflammation.

This wearing away of the thin (one cell layer) inner lining of the intestine is called “leaky gut”, and if that barrier is damaged, you can become allergic to foods you otherwise would be able to digest perfectly well, your immune system will become overactive, and it will begin producing inflammation throughout your body.

Not A Lot of Gall?

Dysfunction of the gallbladder is related to poor quality fats or low-fat diets in conjunction with too little stomach acid.

Fats are primarily digested by bile salts and pancreatic lipase in the duodenum.

 Fat in the chyme stimulates the release of CCK (cholecystokinin), which stimulates the gallbladder to release bile.

 Low fat diets do not stimulate the release of bile, causing the bile to get old and viscous.   In this situation the gallbladder tries to contract, but is unable to release the sticky bile.  Many people experience severe gall-bladder pain when this occurs.

No bile leads to no absorption of fats, and this has a cascading effect throughout many other systems of your body, including cholesterol imbalances, effects on the immune system and many hormones.  Fats help build cell walls, control the inflammatory process and much, much more.

 This is not a “No Brainer”

There is also the situation of your second brain – an entirely different nervous system that resides in your gut (it’s true, we really do have “gut feelings”). Your gut actually contains MORE neurotransmitters than your brain. In fact, the gut has a brain of its own. enteric nervous systemIt is called the “enteric nervous system”, which initially developed alongside your “main” brain; it is a highly sophisticated part of your overall biology and is wired to your brain in intricate ways.

Messages are constantly traveling back and forth between your gut-brain and your head-brain, and when those messages are interfered with in any way your health will suffer.


The End of the Line

Finally, and once again, the large intestine deals with the leftovers from all of the rest of Digestion.

Mal-digested foods are often full of parasites, microorganisms, and undigested fats.  As this mal-digested debris tries to pass into the colon, the ileocecal valve (between the small and large intestines) can get clogged or jammed open. 

Poorly digested foods degenerate the colon, disrupting the healthy flora (called dysbiosis).  As the colon weakens, inflammation, and loss of tone occurs leading to many forms of bowel disorder along with poor nutrient absorption.

Without healthy flora, butyric acid is not produced, which weakens the cells of the colon.  This leaves the colon subject to inflammation, diverticulitis, and loss of tone. This in turn, can lead to issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, crone’s disease, colitis, celiac disease.

Each has its own unique causal mechanisms, but all are exacerbated by poor digestive process.

Now, the main foundation has been set.  As you will see in future posts, many other dysfunctional issues will come right back to problems and connections with digestion.  Truly, the way to a person’s heart (and kidneys, cardiovascular health, immune system, hormones, moods, brain function and on and on) is through their stomach (and related organs of digestion).

Now that we’ve looked at how a digestive system should work, let’s  look at what is all-too-much the reality for most people in our culture today.  Some 60-70 million people in the US are affected by digestive diseases, (this does not count the millions of other digestive ailments that are not classified as disease).  14 million people are hospitalized each year for digestive problems (9% of all hospitilizations) and 6 million people go through digestive hospital diagnostic and therapeutic procedures (14 percent of all hospital procedures).  This is clearly no small or laughing matter (not even a belly laugh).     

antacids Perhaps the largest class of over-the-counter and prescriptions medications taken today are for digestive related ailments.  Just think of the tons of antacids, acid blockers, gas relievers, bloat relievers, anti-flatulance medications, etc. that are consumed each year (each day??).  And think of the millions of gastric and gut procedures that are done each year from endoscopies to colonoscopies to by-passes (see above).   Many(most??) of these should not be needed if we just knew how to care for our gut by choosing and properly preparing healthful nutrient dense foods that support good digestive functioning.

 So, what happens that creates such dismal digestive health for so many, and what can be done to improve matters – actually to improve things very significantly?  Most digestive problems start from years of abusing our “inner” tube with poor diet, poor eating habits, unconsciousness and stresses of all kinds.

 Remember that digestion starts in the mind/brain, even before we start to eat.  That means that a good place to start to heal digestive disorders is through our thoughts and actions, before a meal.  We have two parts to our autonomic, or “automatic” nervous system.  The first is our fight-or-flight, get ready for action system, called the sympathetic nervous system.  This one is related to stress, which amongst other things, greatly slows down our digestive processes.  The second is the parasympathetic system, which is activated when we are calm, relaxed, meditating, in prayer, etc.  When we get ready to eat, we want to be in parasympathetic mode – this is why so many pre-industrial cultures had customs and traditions that include prayer, slowing down, connecting with family and friends, etc.  It leads to good and healthy digestion.  As a culture, we are sympathetically stressed, eating quickly, swallowing without chewing, eating on the run, being unconscious about eating, and, of course, eating fast food. 

 If you don’t take the time to properly chew your food (about 30 seconds), the brain doesn’t get the message to trigger the proper digestive processes.   Adequate saliva production is not triggered, which affects enzyme production in the mouth affecting the initial breakdown of carbohydrates.  This really is the start of a chain reaction that goes all the way through the digestive system.  Lack of salivary enzymes can reduce the pancreatic enzyme amylase, so that starches are not completely broken down in the small intestine, leaving undigested starches that enter the colon, that can feed candida and other dysbiotic organisms farther down the digestive tract.  Sounds like a mess, doesn’t it?  Well…things can get even worse.

So, what about stomach acid?

 If you watch TV commercials, it would seems as if everyone in America has way too much stomach acid and we all need to do everything we can to bring it down to a reasonable level (and of course, so we can eat anything and everything we want to without ill effects).  In fact, as mentioned above, acid blockers and antacids are amongst the top prescription and over-the-counter medications taken today.

 But, in reality, the stomach is really all about acid; it should be highly acidic to function optimally, and there are all kinds of problems that are created if it isn’t acid enough.  The normal pH of a healthy stomach is between 1.5 and 3.0 (battery acid has a pH of about 0.8) and acid blockers and antacids will almost always bring that up to a higher or more alkaline level.   The problem with most Americans in this regard is not too much stomach acid, but rather, not enough.  Studies have shown that approximately 90 percent of Americans produce too little stomach acid, or HCl.  Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD, came to this conclusion using a small telemetric device dropped into the stomach of thousands of patients.  Dr. George Goodheart, DC, came to essentially the same conclusion using kinesiology and functional assessments.  Factors such as stress, excess carbohydrate consumption, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and excess alcohol can inhibit HCl production.

 So, what happens if you do not produce enough HCl?

The gut, and particularly the stomach with a very high acid level, is our first line of physical defense against entering pathogenic microorganisms.  Lowering of HCl reduces or eliminates much of that defense.  Yeast, prions, viruses, parasites, etc., are all little proteins, and when the pH is correct in the stomach, pepsin (an enzyme) digests these little microorganisms and they become food.  When the pH is not correct, an environment is created in which these organisms thrive and raise havoc, not only in the stomach, but throughout the digestive system, and ultimately, throughout the body.

 If there is not enough acid in the stomach, foods do not get broken down (carbohydrates will ferment, fats rancidify and proteins will putrefy).  These maldigested foods cause a reflux, or backward flow, into the esophagus.  This is not caused from too much acid, as is commonly thought, and rammed down our throats (literally) by the pharmaceutical and much of the medical industry, but by not being acid enough.  Acid blockers and antacids just exacerbate the problem.  If the stomach acid were strong enough, the digestion would take place normally, and pass on into the small intestine without that constant feeling of indigestion, bloating, gas and nausea.  The reason the esophagus experiences the burning is because the partially digested foods do not transit properly, and then move back up toward the esophagus.  They are acid (maybe pH 4-5), but not acid enough for good digestion.

 Next time, we’ll look at the effect of maldigestion on the rest of the gut, from the small intestine to the colon, and discuss what can be done to bring the entire system back into balance.

So,  we’ve covered the movement of food/nutrients from the “brain” (as we initially think and perceive the meal we’re about to ingest), into the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach, where the first major digestive processes take place.  If our digestive system is healthy, and our liver, gallbladder, pancreas and other supporting organs are functioning optimally, the Chyme, created in the stomach, is now ready to move into the part of the body specifically designed to transfer the nutrients through the blood stream into every cell in our body.   The next part of the journey reminds me a bit of the old 1930’s jazz song by Louis Armstrong, and others: 

The music goes ’round and around
And it comes out here

Are you ready for some intestines? 

The small intestines are about 25 feet in length and if spread out, would cover an entire tennis court.  They are made up of the duodenum, the jejunem and the ileum, each having important and distinctive functions. intestine


 The duodenum is largely responsible for the breakdown of food in the small intestine, using enzymes from the pancreas.   As the Chyme enters the duodenum, it is also responsible for regulating the rate of emptying the stomach with the help of two major digestive hormones. Secretin and cholecystokinin (or CCK) are released from cells in the duodenal lining as a result of the high acidity and the fats present when the pyloric sphincter or valve (between the stomach and duodenum) opens and releases gastric Chyme for further digestion. These cause the liver and gall bladder to release bile, and the pancreas to release bicarbonate and digestive enzymes such as trypsin, lipase and amylase into the duodenum as they are needed.

The first two parts of the small intestine, the duodenum and jejunum are responsible for most digestion and assimilation, with continued assimilation in the ileum.  These first two sections of the small intestine are completely lined with small finger like projections called villi , where most absorption takes place. If you looked inside the upper intestines, the surface area would look much like a terry-cloth towel, which greatly increases the surface area for optimal absorption (yeh, just like a towel).  Each villus contains a network of capillaries in which the broken-down food particles are absorbed and carried into the blood stream.

Once again, muscular contractions move the Chyme along. Whenever a section of the small intestine becomes stretched, peristalsis (waves of contractions) occurs at spaced intervals. This not only moves the Chyme along but also mixes it with digestive secretions. At the end of the small intestine is the ileocecal valve (another valve separating parts of the digestive system so that material doesn’t easily move the wrong way).   As with the connection between the stomach and the small intestine, various hormones and feedback mechanisms regulate the passage of Chyme through the ileocecal valve into the large intestine. When the ileum becomes stretched and full, the valve opens to allow the passage of Chyme and if the large intestine is too full, the valve remains closed until the bowel empties.

The small intestine meets the large intestine at a sharp right angle bend. To the left is the cecum, a kind of holding tank, and to the right the bowel. Attached to the cecum is the appendix, once considered a non-functioning or “vestigial” organ but now recognized as serving an important immunological function. The appendix contains a high concentration of lymphoid follicles that produce antibodies to help keep the bacteria of the colon from infecting other areas of the body, such as the small intestine and the bloodstream, particularly in early life.

The large intestine or colon is five to six feet long with a diameter of about two inches and is divided by sharp turns into three major parts–the ascending colon on the right hand side of the body, the transverse colon which runs from right to left across the upper abdomen, and the descending colon which carries the mass of digested food downward to the rectum. The purpose of the large intestine is threefold: storage of waste materials and undigested food from the small intestine–not just the breakdown products of what we take in but the residue of secretions, sloughed-off cells and dead bacteria that accumulate during the digestive process; the absorption of water and electrolytes from the food residue; and the further decomposition of solid materials by the action of millions of bacteria. Combined contractions of circular and lengthwise muscles surrounding the colon roll over the fecal materials to ensure that all of it is exposed to the intestinal wall, so that all the fluid can be absorbed. Special cells, called goblet cells lining the large intestine, secrete mucus that protects the walls of the intestine, help maintain alkalinity and provide a medium to hold the fecal matter together.

The final stage of this incredible journey is the movement of the now solid fecal matter from the transverse colon via strong contractions down the descending colon and into the rectum, a process that occurs only a few times each day–usually upon arising in the morning or immediately after breakfast. When these movements force a mass of fecal matter into the rectum, the desire to evacuate is felt.

So, why so much time and space on digestion?  Because it is so critical to almost everything else that goes on in the body.  I’ll be referring back to this information to describe various healthy and dysfunctional conditions, and how they can be supported for continued or improved health and well-being.  Next time, we’ll look at some of the problems that occur with the digestive system that plague millions of people throughout the world, especially in westernized countries,  that can be helped with improved nutrition.

Thanks to Sally Fallon and the Weston A. Price Foundation for parts of the above description

It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul.  Well, in the same vein, I see that on the physical level, the mouth can be seen as the doorway to good health.  Almost everything that gets into our body, other than what we breathe, to nourish us — or that creates problems and dysfunctions — comes in through the mouth and digestive system.   It is said that we are what we eat, but it is much more accurate to say that we are what we assimilate.  What passes from our digestion into our blood stream and then into our cells is key to almost everything there is about good health. 

 It is estimated that we have somewhere between 40 and 75 trillion (that’s with a T) cells in our body; every one of them is dependent on good raw materials in the form of nutrients that we eat.  Simply put, if we don’t eat well and/or our digestive system is not functioning properly, our cells, and therefore our organs, and therefore we, can’t function as efficiently, as effectively and as healthfully as we are meant to.

Digestion is so important to good health  that I want to spend a little time going over what a properly functioning digestive system would look like and how it would function (even if you have a really good diet, if you aren’t digesting properly, you will still be malnourished).

 So, what is the pathway to good health?  Well, let’s start top-side, with the brain and mouth, and move south.

 Digestion doesn’t technically begin in the mouth, as most people would think – it actually begins in the brain when food is seen, smelled or even imagined.  A whole series of neural signals are sent out when food is even “on the menu”, so to speak.  Saliva creation is one of the first digestive processes that occur when we think about or imagine food – even if the food isn’t physically present.  Saliva contains enzymes that start the breakdown of simple carbohydrates and some fats while the food is still in the mouth. Mucous in the mouth helps to create a bolus, or “food packet” that makes it easier to swallow. 

Other neural signals are sent to the stomach, pancreas and small intestine to alert them that “food is on the way” and to prepare for the upcoming digestive processes. 

Chewing well is important – maybe even critical – to overall digestive health.  This is because chewing our food completely takes a big burden off of other parts of the digestive system (particularly the stomach and small intestine), allows time for proper mixing with the salivary enzymes and helps allow the body to go into a “parasympathetic” or relaxed state, which also greatly aids in good digestion and assimilation.  If your mom ever chided you for not chewing your food completely before you swallowed, this was yet again another time when she was right.

After the food is chewed well and swallowed, it passes from the mouth into the esophagus and then into the stomach.  It does so in a compact ball-like lump or packet called a bolus.  It enters the stomach through the upper valve, or sphincter into the cardiac chamber.  The stomach will swell in size according to the size of the meal and will knead or mechanically massage the bolus as secretions of enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCl) begin in earnest to break down the nutrients into ever smaller fragments so that they can eventually be assimilated. 

The stomach has two main jobs – to store the food in a “holding area” until it is ready to pass into the small intestines, and to chemically mix the food with digestive enzymes and HCl, forming a thick fluid slurry called chyme.  Most of the digestion that occurs in the stomach works on proteins, which are the most complex and, in many ways, most difficult of all of the macro-nutrients to break down.  If we don’t produce enough HCl, then we can’t properly digest proteins while they are still in the stomach.  Too little HCl also effects the assimilation of other important nutrients, which I’ll discuss in future postings.

We’ve covered a lot of “territory” so far on our digestive journey, with still much more to go.  In the next posting we’ll follow the chyme through the intestinal pathway to see how food gets translated into nutrition.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get started with this blog.  There are so many topics and ideas relating to good and healthy nutrition that the subject itself can (and does) feel very overwhelming at times.  One of the “Big Ideas” I keep coming back to, over and over, in terms of a “big-picture” look at the complexities of food, health, nutrition and the human condition, is the relationship between what we eat and our basic, genetic, anatomical and physiological make-up.  We actually are “designed” to run most effectively and efficiently on a very specific subset of nutrients that are in tune with the four million year old genetic template of our ancestors; nutrients that for most people in most cultures today are not fully present (and often-times almost non-existent) in the typical daily diet. 


There have been three major periods or “epochs” of human diet over the millennia, with as many combinations and permutations and cross-fertilizations as there are human cultures and groupings.  The first (and by far the longest and most influential in terms of our genetic connections with nutrition) is the time of the hunter-gatherer, roughly from about 4 million years ago to about 10 – 12,000 years ago.  This time period set the foundation for who we are as a nutritional species; what the needs are at the system, tissue and cellular level.  Nora Gedgaudas, in her recently published book, Primal Body—Primal Mind goes into great detail describing the nutritional-physiological relationship of our paleo ancestors.  Some 95+% of our genetic patterns are still based on this time period, and for the most part, they are extremely different from what most modern humans eat today.  By far and away the majority of foods and nutrient types that most people take in today were not available to our paleo ancestors, which means they were not available for the largest part of our genetic history.  This includes all dairy products, all cereal grains, all processed foods, most fruits and vegetables, most vegetable oils and almost all sugars and other sweeteners.  Essentially, what we’re eating today is alien to our systems.


The second dietary epoch started about 10,000 years ago with the agriculture revolution.  By domesticating animals and plants (especially dairy animals and cereal grains) our dietary input shifted markedly — and our physiology is still trying to catch up.  This was the first step in a long road to chronic disease and dysfunction.  Paleontologists and anthropologists have discovered that there was a significant decline in stature and bone structure of humans during the first part of the agricultural revolution, that parallels an increase in grain-based diets (see Cordain and others: Origin and Evolution of the Western Diet. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 2005).  Many people today suffer from conditions that result from allergies and reactions to various proteins and other substances in grains and dairy products that our paleo ancestors never experienced.  Ten thousand years seems like a long time, but in evolutionary terms, based on our four-plus million year old ancestry, it isn’t long enough for significant genetic change at the dietary level (Cordain et. al., 2005). Our digestive systems, our sugar-handling relationships, our immune responses, our hormones and our circulatory and nervous systems are all still trying to make sense (and not too successfully) of the major changes in diet experienced over the past 10 millenia. 


The last major dietary change (and by far, probably the most drastic) is extremely recent (mostly during the past 200 or fewer years) and has had the most telling and most deleterious impact on our physiology and our health.  This is the age of industrialized, processed, manipulated, adulterated ingredients that most people in the westernized world consume today.  Many, perhaps most, of these “food” items probably should not even be technically called foods – and the relative proportion of these altered nutrients is increasing in our diets at an exponential rate.  Dr. Weston Price, a dentist who witnessed first-hand the effects of modernizing diets on the tooth and jaw structure of his patients, ventured throughout the world in the 1930s comparing indigenous people eating their native and “primitive diets” with their neighbors, cousins, brothers and offspring who were assimilating western diets of processed and canned foods.  His studies and observations are some of the most powerful examples of the effects of diet and nutrition on the human body, mind and spirit.  See Dr. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration for a clear, enlightening (and yes, sad and sometimes frightening)  description of a major transition in our dietary history. 


I will go into much detail about this last dietary milestone, describing how what we eat (and sometimes how we eat) has led to the health and nutritional disasters of our time – and also, more importantly, how we can move back into balance with ancestral diets that are more in-tune with our genetics and biology.