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Stomach

General characteristics

General characteristics

The stomach is the hollow muscular organ, the first in the digestive tract, that receives the food and drink that are ingested. The oesophagus or gullet allows the food to pass down it and into the stomach via the oesophageal sphincter (which then closes to keep the food in the stomach).

As food or drink enters the stomach certain enzymes and acids ('gastric juice') are secreted from the inner walls of the stomach, to continue the process of digestion that began in the mouth. The gastric juice includes a mix of hydrochloric acid (antibacterial, increases acidity), rennin (which clots milk), mucin (which protects the lining of the stomach from the corrosive nature of its own secretions), lipase (which begins to break down fats) and pepsinogen (which breaks down proteins into smaller peptides). The muscular nature of the stomach allows the food and gastric juice to be mixed thoroughly and exit through the pyloric sphincter (at the bottom of the stomach) into the small intestine for further digestion and later absorption into the blood. Notice that carbohydrates are not significantly broken down in the stomach (saliva has already begun this job by the act of chewing) and they pass through the stomach quicker (and are therefore digested much quicker) than proteins with fats being the last to exit the stomach.

Only a few substances are known to be absorbed directly by the stomach such as water, vitamin B12, certain medications (eg. aspirin and non-steroidal pain killers), a proportion of ingested alcohol, some minerals (eg. copper, iodine), glucose and other simple sugars.

The pH (acidity) of the stomach at rest is usually between 4.0 and 6.0 (weak acid) which drops to around 1.0 - 3.0 (strong acid) in the presence of food, after around 45 minutes. The strength of stomach acid has an effect on the opening and closing action of both the oesophageal and pyloric sphincters. If stomach acid remains weak in the presence of food then the oesophageal sphincter will not close properly, allowing food and acids to travel into the lower portion of the oesophagus giving symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. If the stomach acid remains weak then the pyloric sphincter (which would normally open to allow food to pass into the intestines) remains closed, it senses that the food is not ready to pass on and the contents of the stomach will begin to ferment leading to bloating and general sensations of indigestion.

Stomach acid and its functions are affected by several factors: acid production drops off with increasing age, combining carbohydrates/starches with proteins at meals times delays the digestion of both and can lead to fermentation and toxin production, ant-acid medications (and proton pump inhibitors) may mask the symptoms of heartburn but ultimately further weaken production and strength of stomach acid (which is the actual cause in many cases of heartburn and acid reflux), stress, alcohol abuse, poor diet and eating habits (not chewing enough) and infection.

Diseases related to stomach acid (production and strength) and the health of the stomach include gastric and peptic ulcers, pyloric stenosis, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), acid reflux, GERD, oesophagitis, cancers, appendicitis, colitis, gallstones, pancreatitis, anal fissures and fistulae, constipation, diarrhoea, malabsorption disorders, irritable bowel disorders, diverticuli formation, food allergies, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, candida, so called autoimmune diseases and many other problems too numerous to list.

Healing objectives are to improve diet and eating habits (including food combinations and thorough chewing), adopt a stress reduction/relaxation routine, take herbs or healing agents to increase/balance stomach acid production and provide symptomatic relief for symptoms when needed whilst proper healing takes place.


Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

The plant enzymes present in raw plant foods aid the digestive process so try and include a portion of raw food daily (such as a mixed salad) or with each meal if possible.

 

Always chew your food thoroughly as saliva is an integral part of digestion. Food that is not chewed well and is swallowed in chunks will not be properly digested and contribute to problems such as fermentation and stomach acid reduction over time.

 

 


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Many of the bitter tonic herbs such as gentian, agrimony, centaury, wormwood, dandelion root, barberry root, angelica root and holy thistle can be taken as a mix to help aid digestion. 

Buchu leaf is considered a warming tonic for the stomach, clearing catarrh and congestion and giving a tonic effect to the membranous linings.

Blessed thistle is considered a general tonic to the stomach, as are fennel seeds.

Elecampagne root is a warming tonic to the stomach and digestive system generally.


Natural healing

Natural healing

Try to ensure that eating is done in a calm and relaxed environment. Stress and tension will contribute to improper digestion.

 

A teaspoon of cider vinegar (just before meals) in a little water can help the digestive process along.


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