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

Food – Gatekeepers to the Stomach

It is impossible to operate a machine to the height of its ability if it is not understood. The most important machine to understand is the human body, since it helps us to carry out every daily task no matter how minute or extravagant. Many mysteries about this incredible creation have unfolded recently which allows us to better care for its needs. The stomach plays a huge role in the body, and its processes are better understood now which helps us to work with our bodies to allow maximum performance.

The stomach has two “gatekeepers” or sphincters which help it to regulate what comes and goes. The upper sphincter is located next to the heart and is innovatively dubbed the cardiac sphincter. The lower gatekeeper, the pyloric sphincter, is located by the small intestine. These two regulators are made of circular fibers which create a doughnut-like opening to and from the stomach.

The cardiac sphincter is responsible for keeping food, liquids, and digestive juices in the stomach once it has been swallowed. It has two helpers: gravity and the diaphragm. Since gravity is a reinforcement, we can help make the job a little easier by remaining upright after eating. If we don’t, the food just ingested puts a tremendous amount of pressure on both the sphincter and the diaphragm. Just like anything else that is put under too much pressure on a regular basis, the sphincter and diaphragm will both weaken. If the sphincter is damaged, the stomach is no longer able to keep its gastric contents to itself, and the esophagus reacts to the abuse by developing what is known as esophageal gastric reflux disease. This is a condition where the stomachs contents move back up into the esophagus, over time causing the lining of the esophagus to deteriorate due to the acidic nature of the regurgitated food. The drug companies love this as they make millions of dollars in sales each year in helping people with heart burn and an ulcerated esophagus due to weakened cardiac sphincters and diaphragmatic hernias.

The pyloric sphincter controls food exiting the stomach. About three times a minute, it allows less than one teaspoon of liquid and small food particles out of the stomach. This is signaled by sensors in the stomach and the duodenum (the first small part of the small intestine following the stomach) which detect the size of the food mass, the temperature, the chemical makeup and the size of particles within the chime (the semi-liquid mass of food in the stomach). If the chime is too hot or cold, the mass must be cooled or warmed. Hence, it is important to not drink hot or cold liquids with meals. The mass must also have a chemical composition that will digest our food. This means that the digestive juices need to be strong enough to bring about digestion. If they are weakened sufficiently with liquids, the liquids must be passed out of the stomach before digestion can occur, or excess gastric juices must be secreted. This is another reason we should not drink liquids with our meals. The size of particles in the food mass must also be small enough to allow final digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Therefore, it is important to chew your food well or empting of the stomach will be delayed.

So lay off the pillow after dinner; don’t confuse your tummy by throwing in a drink with dinner, and chew, chew, chew! Remember: do unto your stomach as you would have your stomach do unto you!

Restoring the Temple – Improper Eating

A continual transgression of nature’s laws is a continual transgression of the law of God. Had men always been obedient to the law of the ten commandments, carrying out in their lives the principles of those precepts, the curse of disease now flooding the world would not exist. . . .

“We are in a world that is opposed to righteousness, or purity of character, and especially to growth in grace. Wherever we look, we see defilement and corruption, deformity and sin. How opposed is all this to the work that must be accomplished in us just previous to receiving the gift of immortality! God’s elect must stand untainted amid the corruptions teeming around them in these last days. Their bodies must be made holy, their spirits pure. If this work is to be accomplished, it must be undertaken at once, earnestly and understandingly. The Spirit of God should have perfect control, influencing every action. . . .” Counsels on Diet and Foods, 118, 119.

Willing Ignorance

“The strange absence of principle which characterizes this generation, and which is shown in their disregard of the laws of life and health, is astonishing. Ignorance prevails upon this subject, while light is shining all round them.” Ibid., 119.

“There are conditions to be observed by all who would preserve health. All should learn what these conditions are. The Lord is not pleased with ignorance in regard to His laws, either natural or spiritual. We are to be workers together with God for the restoration of health to the body as well as to the soul.” Ibid., 121.

Sickness Follows Indulgence of Appetite

“Many persons bring disease upon themselves by their self-indulgence. They have not lived in accordance with natural law or the principles of strict purity. . . .

“The mind does not wear out nor break down so often on account of diligent employment and hard study, as on account of eating improper food at improper times, and of careless inattention to the laws of health. . . . Diligent study is not the principal cause of the breaking down of the mental powers. The main cause is improper diet, irregular meals, and a lack of physical exercise. Irregular hours for eating and sleeping sap the brain forces.

“Many are suffering, and many are going into the grave, because of the indulgence of appetite. They eat what suits their perverted taste, thus weakening the digestive organs and injuring their power to assimilate the food that is to sustain life. This brings on acute disease, and too often death follows. The delicate organism of the body is worn out by the suicidal practices of those who ought to know better.” Ibid., 122, 123.

Price of a “Good Meal”

“A wrong course of eating or drinking destroys health and with it the sweetness of life. Oh, how many times have you purchased what you called a good meal at the expense of a fevered system, loss of appetite, and loss of sleep! Inability to enjoy food, a sleepless night, hours of suffering,—all for a meal in which taste was gratified!

“Thousands have indulged their perverted appetites, have eaten a good meal, as they called it, and as the result, have brought on a fever, or some other acute disease, and certain death. That was enjoyment purchased at immense cost. Yet many have done this, and these self-murderers have been eulogized by their friends and the minister, and carried directly to heaven at their death. What a thought! Gluttons in heaven! No, no; such will never enter the pearly gates of the golden city of God.” Ibid., 125, 126.

A Common Sin

“Overtaxing the stomach is a common sin, and when too much food is used, the entire system is burdened. Life and vitality, instead of being increased, are decreased. . . .

“By taking too much food, we not only improvidently waste the blessings of God, provided for the necessities of nature, but do great injury to the whole system.” Ibid., 131.

Gluttony a Capital Offense

“Some do not exercise control over their appetites, but indulge taste at the expense of health. As the result, the brain is clouded, their thoughts are sluggish, and they fail to accomplish what they might if they were self-denying and abstemious. These rob God of the physical and mental strength which might be devoted to His service if temperance were observed in all things.

“Paul was a health reformer. Said he, ‘I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.’ [1 Corinthians 9:27.] He felt that a responsibility rested upon him to preserve all his powers in their strength, that he might use them to the glory of God. If Paul was in danger from intemperance, we are in greater danger, because we do not feel and realize as he did the necessity of glorifying God in our bodies and spirits, which are His. Overeating is the sin of this age.” Ibid., 132, 133.

Physical and Mental Debility

“We should not provide for the Sabbath a more liberal supply or a greater variety of food than for other days. Instead of this, the food should be more simple, and less should be eaten, in order that the mind may be clear and vigorous to comprehend spiritual things. A clogged stomach means a clogged brain. The most precious words may be heard and not appreciated, because the mind is confused by an improper diet. By overeating on the Sabbath, many do more than they think, to unfit themselves for receiving the benefit of its sacred opportunities.” Ibid., 136.

For Sedentary Workers

“At each meal take only two or three kinds of simple food, and eat no more than is required to satisfy hunger. Take active exercise every day, and see if you do not receive benefit. . . .

“One person cannot lay down an exact rule for another. Every one should exercise reason and self-control and should act from principle.” Ibid., 139.


“The habit of overeating, or of eating too many kinds of food at one meal, frequently causes dyspepsia [indigestion]. Serious injury is thus done to the delicate digestive organs. In vain the stomach protests, and appeals to the brain to reason from cause to effect. The excessive amount of food eaten, or the improper combination, does its injurious work. In vain do disagreeable premonitions give warning. Suffering is the consequence. Disease takes the place of health. . . .

“A diseased stomach produces a diseased condition of the brain, and often makes one obstinate in maintaining erroneous opinions. The supposed wisdom of such a one is foolishness with God.” Ibid., 139, 140.

“With all our profession of health reform many of us eat im-properly. . . . Let the individual who is seeking to possess purity of spirit bear in mind that in Christ there is power to control the appetite.” Ibid., 127.

Restoring the Temple: Physiology of Digestion

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. . . . We are to appreciate the light God has given on health reform, by word and practice reflecting clear light to others upon this subject.” Counsels on Diet and Foods, 101.

“God holds you responsible to obey the light He has given you on health reform.” Ibid., 102.

Clogs the Machinery

“You indulge your appetite by eating more food than your system can convert into good blood. It is sin to be intemperate in the quantity of food eaten, even if the quality is unobjectionable. Many feel that if they do not eat meat and the grosser articles of food, they may eat of simple food until they cannot well eat more. This is a mistake. Many professed health reformers are nothing less than gluttons. They lay upon the digestive organs so great a burden that the vitality of the system is exhausted in the effort to dispose of it. It also has a depressing influence upon the intellect; for the brain nerve power is called upon to assist the stomach in its work.

“Overeating, even of the simplest food, benumbs the sensitive nerves of the brain, and weakens its vitality. Overeating has a worse effect upon the system than overworking; the energies of the soul are more effectually prostrated by intemperate eating than by intemperate working.

“The digestive organs should never be burdened with a quantity or quality of food which it will tax the system to appropriate. All that is taken into the stomach, above what the system can use to convert into good blood, clogs the machinery; for it cannot be made into either flesh or blood, and its presence burdens the liver, and produces a morbid condition of the system.” Ibid., 102, 103.

Digestion Aided by Moderate Exercise

“Exercise is important to digestion, and to a healthy condition of body and mind. You need physical exercise. . . . Healthy, active exercise is what you need. This will invigorate the mind. Neither study nor violent exercise should be engaged in immediately after a full meal; this would be a violation of the laws of the system. Immediately after eating there is a strong draft upon the nervous energy. The brain force is called into active exercise to assist the stomach; therefore, when the mind or body is taxed heavily after eating, the process of digestion is hindered.” Ibid., 103.

Aided by Pure Air

“The influence of pure, fresh air is to cause the blood to circulate healthfully through the system. It refreshes the body, and tends to render it strong and healthy, while at the same time its influence is decidedly felt upon the mind, imparting a degree of composure and serenity. It excites the appetite, and renders the digestion of food more perfect, and induces sound and sweet sleep.” Ibid., 104.

Avoid Very Hot or Cold Food

“The stomach is greatly injured by a large quantity of hot food and hot drink. Thus the throat and digestive organs, and through them the other organs of the body, are enfeebled. . . .

“Food should not be eaten very hot or very cold. If food is cold, the vital force of the stomach is drawn upon in order to warm it before digestion can take place. Cold drinks are injurious for the same reason; while the free use of hot drinks is debilitating. . . .

“Many make a mistake in drinking cold water with their meals. Food should not be washed down. Taken with meals, water diminishes the flow of saliva; and the colder the water, the greater the injury to the stomach. Ice water or ice lemonade, taken with meals, will arrest digestion until the system has imparted sufficient warmth to the stomach to enable it to take up its work again. Masticate slowly, and allow the saliva to mingle with the food.

“The more liquid there is taken into the stomach with the meals, the more difficult it is for the food to digest; for the liquid must first be absorbed.” Ibid., 106.

Caution to Busy People

“Take time to eat, and do not crowd into the stomach a great variety of foods at one meal. To eat hurriedly of several kinds of food at a meal is a serious mistake.

“In order to secure healthy digestion, food should be eaten slowly.” Ibid., 107.

Limit Variety

“For those who can use them, good vegetables, prepared in a healthful manner, are better than soft mushes or porridge. Fruits used with thoroughly cooked bread two or three days old will be more healthful than fresh bread. This, with slow and thorough mastication, will furnish all that the system requires.” Ibid., 108.

“Do not have too great a variety at a meal; three or four dishes are a plenty. At the next meal you can have a change. . . .

“There should not be many kinds at any one meal, but all meals should not be composed of the same kinds of food without variation. Food should be prepared with simplicity, yet with a nicety which will invite the appetite.” Ibid., 109, 110.

War in the Stomach

“Disturbance is created by improper combinations of food; fermentation sets in; the blood is contaminated and the brain confused.” Ibid., 110.

“It is impossible for the brain to do its best work when the digestive powers are abused. Many eat hurriedly of various kinds of food, which set up a war in the stomach, and thus confuse the brain. . . .

“When fruit and bread, together with a variety of other foods that do not agree, are crowded into the stomach at one meal, what can we expect but that a disturbance will be created?” Ibid., 111.

Fruits and Vegetables

“There should not be a great variety at any one meal, for this encourages overeating, and causes indigestion.

“It is not well to eat fruit and vegetables at the same meal. If the digestion is feeble, the use of both will often cause distress, and inability to put forth mental effort. It is better to have the fruit at one meal, and the vegetables at another.” Ibid., 112.

Sugar and Milk

“Far too much sugar is ordinarily used in food. Cakes, sweet puddings, pastries, jellies, jams, are active causes of indigestion. Especially harmful are the custards and puddings in which milk, eggs, and sugar are the chief ingredients. The free use of milk and sugar taken together should be avoided. . . .

“Sugar and the milk combined are liable to cause fermentation in the stomach, and are thus harmful.

“The less that condiments and desserts are placed upon our tables, the better it will be for all who partake of the food. All mixed and complicated foods are injurious to the health of human beings. Dumb animals would never eat such a mixture as is often placed in the human stomach. . . .” Ibid., 113.

Afflict the Stomach, Afflict the Soul

“If men and women would only remember how greatly they afflict the soul when they afflict the stomach, and how deeply Christ is dishonored when the stomach is abused, they would be brave and self-denying, giving the stomach opportunity to recover its healthy action. While sitting at the table we may do medical missionary work by eating and drinking to the glory of God.” Ibid., 111.

Health – Chew, Chew and Chew Some More!

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. There are so many fascinating things to learn about ourselves. I cannot wait until we get to heaven where time is unlimited and we will have an eternity to learn and understand the in-depth workings of the amazing bodies the Lord has provided us. But in the meantime, we need to be thankful for the understanding the Lord does provide to us of the simple actions of our bodies. What does happen to food once it leaves the mouth? The following information is very fascinating to learn about the travel of a meal in its journey through the body.

The Mouth

Man was created with a keen sense of taste. This serves a double purpose; first that great pleasure would be derived from the experience of eating, which is a necessary act of existence. The only time food gives any special pleasure is while it is in the mouth; once it is swallowed, the joy is over. It would seem natural that there would be a desire to prolong this joy to its utmost, which would automatically fulfill the second purpose of the sense of taste by keeping the food in the mouth long enough so that it will be thoroughly masticated and salivated. This is necessary to normal digestion and elimination and is a part of the Creator’s perfect plan for our existence.

Science has revealed that while chewing and tasting food the peristaltic activity of the colon is four times as vigorous as at other times. Consequently, if one chews and tastes his breakfast quickly for only ten minutes, he gets but little of this extra help toward elimination, while if he chews and tastes the meal for forty minutes, he receives four times as much help.

“When food is taken into the stomach, the movements of the tube become vigorous. Indeed, while the food is still in the mouth and being chewed, and before the morsel has been swallowed, the movements begin, and are four times as vigorous during the taking of a meal as at other times. This is a very excellent reason why constipated persons should eat deliberately, taking ample time at meals and chewing long and well. Food is the natural laxative. The act of eating starts the action of the muscular machinery by means of which first the food and later the food residues are transported along the alimentary canal, and so long as chewing continues new impulses are continually transmitted to the stomach and intestines which quicken the peristaltic movements and activity of the whole digestive machine. The observation of Hirsch, Case, and others have shown that the colon contents advance as far during the hour of eating as during four hours just before the meal.” J.H. Kellogg, M.D., The Itinerary of a Breakfast, Funk & Wagnalls, 1918, 13, 14, 87, 88.

The Stomach

After the chewing is finished the food passes into the stomach where it is mixed with the gastric juice, beginning the digestion of protein. After about four hours, the food should have passed out through the pylorus, which means gate keeper, into the duodenum where it receives the juice from the pancreas and the bile from the liver, and thence it passes into the small intestine where digestion is completed by the combined work of the saliva, gastric, and pancreatic juices and the bile. Now it is ready for absorption into the blood and to be used in rebuilding the body.

The Intestine

The interior of the small intestine, which is about twenty feet long, is provided with many millions of villi, which absorb the foods into the blood. Mineral oil cannot be absorbed, as it is only a lubricant, and so it smears over these villi and hinders them from passing the food into the blood. After about four hours in the small intestine, digestion should be completed and the nutrients passed into the blood and the residue into the colon for elimination.

Note: Four hours in the stomach and four in the small intestine. The residue should not take over sixteen hours to complete the journey so that no food would remain in the tract over twenty-four hours.

If foods move according to this schedule, the ordinary cases of sour stomach, intestinal decay, gas, and constipation will disappear, for this is normal.

“A breakfast should reach the colon with all of the good already absorbed by the body about noon and it should pass through and out of the body not later than after breakfast time the next day, and if we are perfectly normal the lunch and supper residue may go along with it. Anything slower than this is constipation, and is a retention in the intestine of residue for too long a time.

“Under normal conditions there is an impulse to move the bowels after each meal. A well-trained set of organs in a well-managed body will react in this desirable fashion under perfectly normal conditions.” C. Ward Crampton, M.D., Chairman National Committee on Education, National Congress of Parents and Teachers; and Director Health Service Clinic, Post Graduate Medical School, New York City.

But people do not live that way. If people secured an elimination for each meal, the majority of our ills would disappear; but most people believe that if there is one elimination each day they are doing well, and the majority do not succeed at that without taking some laxative or cathartic. (Americans spend fifty million dollars a year for seven hundred kinds of laxatives.) The X-ray has shown that most of the people who live on the one-a-day plan are holding the residue in the tract for fifty hours. Often there is delay in the stomach, producing fermentation. When fermented food reaches the small intestine and is held there overtime it decays; and when it remains in the colon for still more hours, its condition cannot be accurately described. …

Natural foods … will not ordinarily putrefy in the tract in twenty-four hours, so that if they remain in the stomach four hours, in the small intestine another four, they still have sixteen hours to pass through the twelve feet of the colon and yet be within the safety limit of twenty-five hours. But after twenty-five hours putrefaction begins, so that the people who live on the one-a-day plan and, unknowingly, carry the remains for fifty hours, are allowing twenty-five hours for putrefaction for every meal, every day, year after year. Decayed food is passing into the blood and thence to every organ, gland, nerve, and cell day and night during every hour of life. That program makes health impossible and the coming of disease sure. On the other hand, if all residues leave the body inside of twenty-five hours, there can be no sour stomach, gas, and putrefaction, and life will be one continuous joy. Why not live on that high plane?

Many people do not know that an elimination for each meal is the health rule. They would know it if they but stopped to think. An untrained child often has to go to the toilet before the meal is finished. There is proof that the rule is right. Here is another. When your nose gets the aroma of delicious food, your mouth “waters.” Why? Because the nose said to the mouth, “Something good is coming, get ready for it.” And the mouth prepared the saliva. Likewise, when the food is in the mouth an advance message goes to the stomach saying that food is coming, and it in turn prepares the gastric juice before the food arrives. In similar manner, when the food is in the mouth and also while it is in the stomach other advance messages go on to the intestine announcing that something is coming and that room should be prepared for it, and the only way room can be ready for it is for the intestine to pass its contents to the colon and the colon eliminate its contents. That is easy to understand once you think about it. Any rhythm slower than this is some degree of constipation. Establish this rule and follow what you are reading until you attain this ideal.

Remember, for good health chew your food well!

Adapted from Abundant Health, by Julius Gilbert White, Teach Services, Inc., 2005, 116–118.

The Digestion Process

In Psalm 139:14, King David, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declared: “I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” More and more we are led to echo these words of David as we study the structure and function of the human organism and see therein reflected the marvels of divine engineering. It is God’s wish that we should understand the working mechanisms within the human body so that we can develop an intelligent life style that works in harmony with the laws of our being. This will, in turn, enable us to keep our body temples pure and undefiled as a “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.” Romans 12:1.

Those who strive, by the grace of God, to be faithful stewards of their physical being will also reap the rich reward of an increased spiritual dynamic in their lives that will help facilitate the development of a righteous character. For these reasons, we must concur with God’s prophet in declaring that “the health should be as faithfully guarded as the character.” Education, 195.

The digestive system is one of the major systems that God has established within the human body, and we need to become conversant with its structure and function. Too often this vital component of the body is abused, resulting in dysfunctional problems and ill health, which, in turn, affect the mind and dull the spiritual perceptions. A proper state of things is therefore vital as this relates to our quest for the eternal crown.

The digestive system begins at the lips where food first crosses the threshold into the system and terminates at the anus where waste residues are finally expelled from the body. What happens in between is truly a miracle of God’s ingenuity.

As food is being chewed, it becomes more liquefied by the saliva, making it more easy to swallow. Also, a certain enzyme called ptyalin, present in saliva, begins the chemical breakdown of cooked carbohydrates (CHO) and sugar into maltose, which is a simpler form of sugar. After food has been adequately chewed and then swallowed, it is passed downwards to the stomach via the esophagus, a muscular tube about 9–10 inches long. Food does not simply drop down into the stomach in the same way as one can drop a pebble down a well. The esophagus conveys the food downward through the action of peristalsis. This conveyance mechanism takes place when the circular muscle fibers in the esophagus relax in front of the swallowed food while also contracting behind it, thus moving the material downward toward the stomach. While the act of swallowing food is done voluntarily, the remaining part of the journey comes under the control of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system.

The esophagus connects with the upper part of the stomach. However, before food can finally empty into the stomach, it has to pass through a special entryway called the cardiac sphincter. This portal, which is normally kept in a tightly closed position, becomes relaxed and opens as the peristaltic wave rolls down the esophagus and impinges upon this initial upper area of the stomach; thus allowing food to pass within.

The stomach may not share the same glamorous image as the heart or the brain, yet it is as worthy of recognition as any other organ of the body. After receiving food from the esophagus, the stomach acts as temporary storage while its muscular contractions mix the food with its gastric juice. Peristaltic waves in the stomach slowly ripple down the length of its muscular walls at about three times per minute in order to produce this necessary mixing and help to liquefy the ingested food stuffs.

Various glands in the mucus lining of the stomach collectively produce a clear, colorless mixture called gastric juice. Some of these glands generate a substance called hydrochloric acid (HCl). This serves to acidify the food and acts as an antiseptic and disinfectant, rendering harmless many organisms ingested with the food. There are other glands within the stomach wall, which produce a substance called pepsinogen. When pepsinogen is released and interacts with HCl, it is converted to pepsin, a powerful enzyme that begins the breakdown of protein foods into more soluble substances known as peptones. Rennin is another product secreted by the stomach and is involved in the digestion of casein, a milk protein. Also present in small amounts is a fat splitting enzyme called gastric lipase.

Especially interesting is the fact that some cells specialize in producing a heavy layer of mucus that coats the lining of the stomach. This is crucial to the stomach’s own defenses; and if this barrier did not exist, preventing the HCl and pepsin from having direct contact with its delicate lining, the stomach would start to digest itself. Unfortunately, this can happen (though on a limited scale) in the case of a gastric ulcer where the defenses are breached and the gastric juice makes direct contact with the stomach lining. This condition produces much discomfort and, if not rectified, can result in the ulcer eroding its way completely through the stomach wall. Ulceration is even more common a little lower down from the stomach in the duodenum.

There are many causes for peptic ulceration, though the major factors are:

  • Irregular meal times
  • Tension, anxiety, and emotional stress
  • Ingestion of irritants to the stomach lining, e.g., hot spicy foods, alcohol
  • Smoking

Diagnosis of peptic ulcer, either gastric or duodenal, can only be made for sure after careful medical investigation (usually involving an inside view of the stomach through a fiber-optic instrument.) Prevention, of course, is always better than cure; and correcting faulty life style practices that lie at the root of this condition is obviously the wisest course both for the prevention and cure of peptic ulcer.

One final ingredient of gastric juice that is worthy of mention is a substance known as the intrinsic factor. This vital component is necessary for the absorption of vitamin B-12. If the stomach does not produce sufficient amounts of the intrinsic factor, it will result in B-12 deficiency in the system. This special vitamin is, in turn, necessary for the production of healthy red blood cells. Insufficient levels produce a blood disorder called pernicious anemia. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can also cause chronic degeneration of the spinal cord, resulting in various degrees of nerve dysfunction to other parts of the body. People who have had surgical removal of some or all of the stomach are obviously prime candidates for B-12 deficiency due to their reduced or non-capacity to produce sufficient amounts of the intrinsic factor. Fortunately, whatever might be the causes of B-12 deficiency as described here, the problem can be easily corrected by periodic injections.

The stomach secretes between one to two liters of gastric juice per 24-hour period. There are two basic ways by which this happens: the first and immediate way is through stimulation of the vagus nerve, a major nerve extending from the brain which gives off branches to the stomach, which in turn initiate the secretion of gastric juice. The thought, sight, and smell of food is sufficient (when a person is hungry) to trigger this mechanism. A further aspect of nervous stimulation is produced when food enters the mouth and “tickles” the taste buds. This also results in increased vagal activity. Further still, food that enters the stomach, causing initial distention, will also serve to further increase production of gastric juice. The second phase of gastric secretion (the humoral phase) is initiated later in the digestive process as a result of protein breakdown. This causes the release of gastrin, a hormone that stimulates the stomach via the blood stream.

Regular meal times, as already mentioned, are essential in order to keep the stomach healthy and able to function to the optimum. If regularity is maintained, the body’s biological clock will prime the digestive tract and make it ready for action at specific times of the day in anticipation of food. God wants us to understand the importance of regularity; and for this reason, He has counseled us to maintain this factor in our eating habits. You may have noticed that if circumstances prevent you from taking a meal at the usual time, the appetite begins to wane until we start feeling “past it.” We may still retain an inclination to eat, but the hearty, wholesome relish is gone. At such times, if the physical work demands placed upon us will permit, it would be better for the system if we were to forego eating a late meal well outside of our usual routine and wait until the next established meal period comes around.

Other factors included with regularity that help us take proper care of the digestive system are as follows:

  • Chew the food well
  • Allow at least five hours between each meal
  • No smoking
  • No drinking at meals

After food has been well mixed and liquefied in the stomach (it is now referred to as chyme), small amounts are allowed to pass through the stomach’s lower exit into the small intestine. The first nine to ten inch section of the small bowel is called the duodenum. It is here that digestion takes its next major step. Enzymes from the pancreas are secreted into the duodenum to continue the breakdown of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into smaller components. Bile from the gallbladder is also secreted into the duodenum. The function of bile is to emulsify fats so that they can be more easily dealt with by lipase, the fat digestion enzyme from the pancreas. The acidic chyme is also neutralized in the duodenum by bile and pancreatic enzymes which are alkaline in nature. The gallbladder and pancreas, under the influence of nervous and humoral stimulation, are also led to release their digestive juices.

As the liquid chyme continues further down into the small intestine, it comes under the action of other digestive enzymes which are released from the wall of the gut. These enzymes finalize the breakdown of protein foods into amino acids, carbohydrates into simple sugars, and fats into glycerol and fatty acids.

After the breakdown of ingested foodstuffs, the next step in digestion involves the absorption of this material from the bowel so that it can be utilized by the body. This is accomplished through the action of countless minute structures called villi.

The villi are tiny, finger-like projections that line the wall of the small bowel for the major part of its length. The villi are so constructed that collectively they present a much larger surface area for the absorption of nutrients than could be realized if the lumen of the bowel were smooth and even. Digested materials absorbed by the villi are then shipped off to the liver, via the bloodstream, for processing. Some of the digested fat substances and fat-soluble vitamins are released directly into the general circulation via a more circuitous route, rather than going to the liver first.If digested protein substances, for example, were released directly into the circulation without being processed first by the liver, a very toxic condition could develop in the body. It is for this reason that people with cirrhosis, who have a diminished liver function, must be careful with their diet, especially regarding protein intake. If a poorly functioning liver is overwhelmed by an over ingestion of protein, which it does not have the capacity to fully handle, it has little choice than to allow unprocessed material to pass out into the blood stream. In extreme cases, this could result in coma and even death.

The liver is also a marvel of God’s design and it fulfills many functions, one being, serving as a factory, or initial service center, for digested materials. Many substances undergo further changes here before being released into the general circulation for use by the body.

Another major function of the liver is to take glucose (the end product of CHO breakdown) and convert it into a more concentrated form called glycogen. This material is then stored temporarily inside the liver cells and later reconverted into glucose when needed by the body. By means of this function, the liver is involved in maintaining the correct level of glucose in the bloodstream. Much could be said about this very versatile organ, but space will only permit this very brief mention.

By the time ingested material reaches the large intestine, it is still liquid and almost, if not completely, void of all nutritive elements. The peristaltic action of the colon is much slower than in the small bowel, and water is absorbed from digestive residues as they are gradually conveyed along inside the colon. This process results in solidifying the waste material and formation of the feces.

Peristalsis often increases in the colon for a time immediately after a meal, causing waste to be more rapidly moved onward on its final journey through the system. When waste material is emptied into the rectum, nerve pathways in the bowel, in contact with the spinal cord, initiate the desire to go to the bathroom and expel the waste material. Nerve pathways leading from the spinal cord also ascend upward to the brain, thus alerting the individual to natures call.

Colon cancer is a major cause of disease in America today. Probably the greatest causative factor is unhealthy life style, especially faulty diet. The highly refined diet that so many seek to exist on today is grossly deficient in fiber and certain protective foods. Low fiber intake results in a slow passage of food waste through the system (especially in the colon). This is referred to as the transit time. This slow movement of refuse through the system allows cancer initiating substances to remain in contact with the bowel wall for an extended period of time, thus providing the ideal conditions for disease to establish itself.

For example, a well-known breakfast cereal manufacturer, in a promotional for its high fiber products, stated that the standard, low-fiber, white bread, cheese sandwich can take a week to pass through the digestive tract! Little wonder that constipation is so common in the so-called civilized world when so many live on such an uncivilized diet. Of course, the point the breakfast food producer was obviously trying to make was that their high fiber cereal did not behave in such a sluggish fashion as the average cheese sandwich and contribute to a clogged up system.

Fiber is important to the health of the system, especially the colon. Medical science has amply documented the fact that people who eat an unrefined diet, naturally high in fiber, have a much shorter transit time and a much lower incidence of colon cancer. Vegetarians automatically receive an adequate intake of fiber apart from the other benefits that such a diet provides; and, as far as the colon is concerned, they also have far less incidence of constipation, diverticulosis, and appendicitis.

To be kept health and functioning well, the divinely prescribed diet of fruits, grains, nuts, and vegetables, coupled with the other healthy life style factors of water, exercise, rest, abstemiousness (see Ministry of Healing, 127), will keep his and the rest of the system healthy and sound.

It may be well to remind ourselves that as human beings, we can easily go to extremes in our philosophy and practice of life style. A tendency has developed among some people to view the colon as the key organ of the body in respect to physical well being. Much of the diseases that afflict modern man are believed to originate in the colon and consequently can be prevented and also cured by placing special emphasis upon treating this organ. While there may be genuine medical grounds for a person from time to time to resort to an enema, or the occasional colonic, it is neither a healthy practice nor a sign of balanced thinking to make this the chief focus and practice on a regular basis.

The inspired counsels on health given us by God present a much broader, well-balanced philosophy on the question of health and the cause and treatment of disease. In fact, Ellen White was led to give timely caution to those in her day who had a fixation on the colon: “There are men who make a specialty of treating the rectum, and some feel that they have been greatly benefited. But I have been instructed that this treatment, as well as many surgical operations, leaves with many a serious weakness.” Paulson Collection, 217.

We have much to be thankful for. Especially we need to thank God for the marvelous gift of life and the wonderful bodies wherein we are able to live out this precious gift. Therefore, as we eat, let us eat to His glory, eating only those things that will do us good, and also with thankful hearts rejoice that we have amazing living organisms that, under God’s continued and immediate agency, are able to assimilate the nutritious bounties of the earth, perpetuating in turn the glorious gift of life!