Understanding the Human Digestive System:
Acidophilus and the Small Intestine
Hello and welcome to section three of our Journey to Better Nutrition!
Here in part 2, we continue to deepen our knowledge about how nutrition works inside the human body.
To review part 1, click Understanding
the Human Digestive System
"You often hear about ecology, the relationship between organisms
and their environment. Within your body there is an entire miniature
ecosystem, a microecology, which has a major influence on your
health. This inner ecology is made up of the microflora, more
than 400 species of microscopic living bacteria, creating an internal
environment that is diverse, complex, interrelated, and ever-changing.
This population, although minute, is so enormous that the number
of microbial (bacterial) cells in our body at any one time is
greater than the total number of all the other cells in our body.
The microflora are essential to our well-being. These bacteria
provide very real beneficial effects. They limit the populations
of harmful bacteria. They assist in the process of digestion.
They manufacture essential nutrients. When our gut ecology is
in balance, we thrive."
Nigel Plummer, Ph.D. "Friendly Flora"
(from the book, Optimal Digestion, chapter five, page 46)
A curious irony…
It is a curious irony that as we begin the 21st century most of us are more familiar with the term antibiotics than we are with the term probiotics. Most of us at one time or another have had the experience of taking "prescription antibiotics" for strep throat, for a bout of the latest "Asian" flu, or for that nasty cut on our finger that got infected back in third grade. Most of us are familiar with the spectre of bacterial infections that haunted the early part of the 20th century. You may have heard of the work of renowned British physician Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin. In the year 1918 alone, the most infamous of all flu epidemics ravaged the United States and two million people died. Many of our parents and grandparents (and great-grandparents!) lived through that epidemic and talked about it often throughout the rest of their lives. For most people the word antibiotics in general, and the word penicillin in particular, are the closest things we have ever seen to a medical cure.
Yet, as powerful as antibiotics were (and some still are), there was - and is - something far more powerful. That would be the bacteria the antibiotic was developed to destroy! The word "bacteria" is closely linked with the word "biotics" (greek for "life") and in fact these two words are often seen together in sentences side by side as in the familiar phrase: bacterial life.
Single celled bacteria, the cyanobacteria, were among the very first living organisms to evolve. Aphanizomenom flos-aquae, (the technical name for New Earth's Wild Bluegreen™ Algae), refers to the fact that it is a blue-green cyanobacteria making it a direct ancestor of one of the earth's first foods.
"Probiotics" refers to a category of beneficial bacteria whose various functions are designed to promote life, thus the term pro-biotic! At last count, scientists have identified at least 400 different strains of beneficial bacteria that live inside the human body. Most of these probiotic bacteria inhabit the human gastrointestinal tract and provide a variety of services that are essential for optimum human digestion.
The healthy human digestive system contains upwards of three to five pounds of acidophilus bacteria, 95% of which can be found throughout the many twists and turns of the small intestine, that 24-foot long tube that starts at the stomach and ends at the appendix. This profusion of acidophilus bacteria (technically called Lactobacillus acidophilus ) provides at least five very important services instrumental to the optimum functioning of the digestive system in general and the small intestine in particular:
Acidophilus bacteria help to maintain the proper alkaline/salt
(or pH) balances throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract,
particularly in the small intestine. Remember that saliva is
slightly alkaline or salty. The stomach is dominated by secretions
of hydrochloric acid (HCL) which lowers the pH considerably.
As the initially digested and very acid-laden food leaves the
stomach and enters the duodenum (the first section of the small
intestine) bile salts are secreted from the gall bladder to
begin to raise the pH. Acidophilus bacteria assist in this process
and help to maintain a pH level that will facilitate the transfer
of micronutrients from the millions of finger-like projections
(villi and microvilli) of the small intestine into the bloodstream
on the other side of the intestinal wall. The pH of human
blood is not a fixed number but can range anywhere from
7.35 to 7.45 (the approximate ph of sea water). Intestinal cramping
and bloating can and will occur when the intestinal pH is out
of balance. Many other uncomfortable symptoms and conditions,
which characterize Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are partly
connected to pH imbalances as well.
Acidophilus bacteria are helpful in serving as co-factors
to various food and digestive enzymes in thoroughly transforming
once solid food to liquid, called chyme. Only in this liquid
state are nutrients in our food small enough to be absorbed
into the villi and microvilli across the intestinal wall and
into our eagerly awaiting bloodstream.
Acidophilus bacteria help to maintain the strength, flexibility,
and integrity of the intestinal walls. Acidophilus bacteria
by the trillions attempt to inhabit every square inch of the
millions of finger-like projections (villi and microvilli) that
line the small intestinal wall. This "wall" is a narrow circular
tube about one inch in diameter and 24 feet long. The surface
area of the small intestine could easily cover an entire tennis
court! Acidophilus bacteria inhabit the villi and microvilli
and facilitate the transfer and transport of micronutrients
from the liquid food (chyme), across the one-cell-thick intestinal
wall, and into the bloodstream.
Acidophilus bacteria secrete B vitamins essential for absorption
and assimilation of nutrients. Acidophilus bacteria secrete
acidophilin that is a naturally occurring antibiotic which inhibits
the growth of unfriendly bacteria in the intestine.
Acidophilus bacteria service and protect the many lymph nodes
that line the small intestine. (This aggregation of lymph nodules
is called Peyer's patch) These lymph nodes are essential components
of the human immune system and are currently the target of much
research on the topic of a gut-brain-immune connection. Inside
the nodules of Peyer's patch live very specific plasma cells
that manufacture antibodies. Antibodies are part of our immune
"artillery" that protects us from various kinds of invader organisms.
The amount and kinds of internal ecological checks and balances all working
on our behalf are truly staggering. But wait! What happens after
all the nutrients have been absorbed from our properly digested
foods and assimilated into our bloodstream? Stay tuned to find out…
"The balance that exists among our microflora is an example of
nature's incredible perfection. When microflora coexist in harmony,
a healthy state of symbiosis results and we thrive. When they
live not in symbiosis, but in dysbiosis, this disturbed ecology
often results in a sense of unwellness or even disease."
Len Saputo, M.D. "Harmful Flora"
(from Optimal Digestion chapter six, page 54)
Insults to healthy probiotic and intestinal function:
Here is a partial list of various insulting habits and influences that can destroy or seriously impair the normal functioning ability of our essential microflora, the beneficial bacteria that are essential to our overall health and well-being. Remember, "when our gut ecology is in balance we thrive." - (Nigel Plummer, Ph.D.)
Consequently… when our gut ecology is out of balance or impaired in any way…we suffer!
Insults to our probiotic and digestive system health can include:
antibiotics, alcohol, antacids, all drugs, coffee, tea, all sources of caffeine, chlorine in drinking water, chlorine in bathing water, chronic dehydration, lack of exercise, too much negative stress in forms of worry and anxiety, not enough sleep, overeating, anti-depressant drugs, carbonated beverages of all kinds (even carbonated water!), cigarettes and any inhaled tobacco smoke, chewing tobacco, processed foods in general, additives, colorings, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, flavor enhancers, dairy products, microwaves, excess sugar in any form, excess consumption of fruit juices from concentrates, excess meat consumption, exposure to environmental pollutants (solvents, cleaning agents, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.), petro-chemical out-gassing from plastics in various building materials (carpets, floorings, clothes, glues, magic markers, paints, paint thinners, etc.), eating too late in the day, eating or drinking anything too cold, the lack of thorough chewing, and the list goes on.
Action Steps for Section 3!
- Learn more about New Earth's
- Learn more about
- Read the article, Better
Nutrition: Understanding the Fundamentals
- Fill out your Weekly
- Identify an insulting habit in your diet or lifestyle
and minimize its impact. You could eliminate the insult altogether
or simply modify it. Just try it one day at a time, for one week,
and see if you notice improvements in your health and energy.
Review the Habits of Naturally Healthy People
for ideas and suggestions.
- Do you have questions?
- Make sure you do something that really makes you
laugh every day!
Back to the Table of Contents