Restoring the Temple – The Digestive System

“A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; [and] with the increase of his lips shall he be filled.” Proverbs 18:20.

We have a lot of mouths to feed. Our bodies are made up of billions of cells, and each one is hungry. Every cell has a specific duty that it accomplishes day in and day out, a process that uses a lot of energy, which must be replenished or the cell will die. Cells cannot absorb food in its natural state. If you smeared peanut butter on your skin, the cells would not absorb its nutrients. The purpose of the digestive system is to break down food into nutrients that can be absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered to each of those billions of hungry mouths.

The first stop in the trip through the digestive system is the mouth. Teeth crush the food so that it can be swallowed and processed more easily by the stomach. The tongue helps with the chewing process and is also designed to detect flavors. The purpose of tasting is both for pleasure (as when biting into a juicy peach) and for detection of potential toxins (as when a slice of bread tastes moldy).

Saliva is produced and mixes with the food. Saliva contains enzymes that begin the chemical breakdown of the food. Ellen White noted that, “Food should be eaten slowly, and should be thoroughly masticated. This is necessary, in order that the saliva may be properly mixed with the food, and the digestive fluids be called into action.” Counsels on Diet and Foods, 107. The body is designed to make enough saliva to moisten the food properly for its trip down the esophagus. If you feel the need to drink a tall glass, or more, of fluid with each meal in order to “wash it down,” that is probably because you have accustomed yourself to that habit. Fortunately, the habit can be reversed. Too much fluid during a meal dilutes the digestive juices necessary to break down the nutrients.

When the food has been chewed into a soft mass, it can then pass easily into the esophagus. When you swallow, the epiglottis closes off the entrance to the trachea or windpipe so that food travels down the correct tube. Muscular action in the esophagus helps food make its way to the stomach and prevents it from going backwards. This is why you are able to drink upside down and the water still makes it to your stomach!

The stomach is rather j-shaped and is toward the left of the center of your upper abdomen. The purpose of your stomach is to continue the process of breaking down the food into absorbable nutrients. The stomach produces acids, which help break down food. The stomach has a special mucus-secreting lining that prevents the acid and chemicals from breaking down itself. This is particularly important since the digestive juices are powerful enough to burn a hole in carpet. The muscular layers of the stomach wall churn the food and acid into a substance called chyme which is then passed through a sphincter—like a gate—and into the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum.

The small intestine is made up of three parts: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. As the chyme passes through the duodenum, more digestive chemicals are added, such as enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver. The small intestine also has a special lining, upon which are tiny finger-like projections (villi), and upon which are even tinier finger-like projections (microvilli). This dramatically increases the surface area of the small intestine, as God planned it, to make sure that as many nutrients as possible can be absorbed into the body. Each villus has its very own blood capillary and lymph capillary, so that the nutrient transfer is extremely efficient and rapid. The small intestine terminates at the beginning of the large intestine. The appendix is attached to this last portion of the small intestine.

Now that the majority of the nutrients have been absorbed, the job of the large intestine, or colon, is to turn chyme into feces and eliminate it. So far, the chyme has been quite moist, but the large intestine absorbs a large amount of the water. The body’s goal is to be able to easily eliminate the soft, formed stool. The very last portion of the intestine is called the rectum. When the stool makes it to the rectum, you have a feeling of pressure and the urge to eliminate. The feces are then eliminated as the last sphincter, the anus, opens and closes. Fortunately, the anal sphincter is controlled by voluntary and involuntary muscle action (which is why stool doesn’t continually leak in infants and paralyzed persons), and has the ability to distinguish between gas and solid rectal contents. The entire length of the intestines, large and small combined, is about 25 feet (7.6 meters) in an adult.

Other organs assist in digestion and are therefore part of the digestive system. They include the salivary glands, which moistens and predigests food; and the pancreas, which adds enzymes to the intestine and also produces insulin, which regulates blood sugar. Another digestive organ, the liver, produces bile, which is stored in the gallbladder and then secreted into the intestine. Part of bile helps to break down fats, but the other portion is waste being excreted from the liver via the gallbladder. The multi-tasking liver also stores nutrients, which it releases into the blood stream when the body needs them. These nutrients include a version of sugar and vitamins.

The digestive system is a created wonder, but it is up to the individual to maintain its health. As you have seen, anything that you eat or drink is likely to be transported to every cell in your body, so it is important to be wise about the food and beverage choices you make. Ellen White stated, “Respect paid to the proper treatment of the stomach will be rewarded in clearness of thought and strength of mind. Your digestive organs will not be prematurely worn out to testify against you. We are to show that we appreciate our God-given intelligence by eating and studying and working wisely.” Counsels on Diet and Foods, 101.

“Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy [endureth] for ever.” Psalm 136:25.

Sheryle Beaudry, a certified teletriage nurse, writes from Estacada,Oregon where she lives with her husband and twin daughters. She may be contacted by e-mail at