Digestion part 2 — The Kingdom Within

Elf King and Queen

When you were a child, did you play knights and princesses? Were you sure you would grow up to be a King or Queen of your own domain? I am here to tell you that you did grow up to rule your very own Kingdom. Yes, and it is not a small kingdom either. You are not like Queen Elizabeth of England with around a billion subjects; you have 500 trillion subjects. The little organisms that make up our ecological balance reflect the State of the Union.

Like any kingdom, yours runs on the strengths and the weaknesses of the monarch. If you treat your subjects right, you will have a smoothly running kingdom. If you are abusive and corrupt –well, there will be a coup attempt. There is great responsibility in being a monarch. The ecological balance of your kingdom ultimately lies in the choices you make on a daily basis of what foods you eat and drink, amount of sleep, exercise, and well, you know the rest of the list. The more mindful and centred the ruler is, the more abundant the kingdom is and the higher the probability that they will all live happily ever after.

On the surface, it might seem that modern medicine knows all there is to know about the digestive tract. The understanding of the anatomy of the tubing, gastric and enzymatic secretions necessary to break down food has been studied and ‘understood’ for several decades. But in reality, very little is understood about the almost magical alchemical process that goes on during digestion.

As far as the general public is concerned, once you have put food or drink in your mouth, hopefully chewing it thoroughly and enjoying its taste, the food could very well have been shipped off to another universe far, far away, as we really don’t know, or feel, what happens to it until the waste products come out at the other end. Since these two events, eating and excreting, are so disassociated in time, most people don’t even consider there to be a connection between them.

On the other hand, most systems of traditional medicine from around the world, have considered digestion as the cornerstone of health. This concept is exemplified by the common-sense axiom, “you are what you eat”. Every physical component of our bodies is derived from our daily sustenance. Just as the quality of a building is only as good as the materials that are used to build it, our diet is the foundation upon which our body recreates itself.

Fortunately for most of us, the process of digestion is normally beyond our conscious control, and if just given the chance, through proper nutrition, the master architect and builder that resides within each one of us will have the best chance to recreate a state of health for us.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, one of the simplest and most functional descriptions of the digestive tract is that of a donut – or more precisely, the hole in the donut. The series of tubes that make up the digestive tract make up this hole. Once you swallow food, it is tempting to consider it to be inside of our body. But it isn’t. The foodstuff, or should we say nutrients from the food, does not enter into the body until it is broken down (digested) and absorbed (transferred into the blood and lymphatic system). What is left over, stays in the tube and makes up the bulk of the material we evacuate with our bowel movements.

The donut hole that makes up our digestive tract is dynamic. It is as though a group of elves goes to work on our food and drink as soon as we swallow. And, for all intents and purposes, they do. A shoemaker would be envious. We have a more scientific name for these elves these days; we call them microorganisms. These are made up of what we call ‘probiotics.’ The World Health Organization (WHO) defines them as “organisms that confer benefits to the life of the host.” These are made up of several types of organisms, mostly bacteria, but do include even yeast and other fungi. They are assisted by our body’s own mechanisms of digestive juices, enzymes, and secretions. The work of these microorganisms is no small contribution to our overall health.  In fact, the condition the little elves are in creates how we feel and act. Sickness or healthy! Again, the number of microorganisms that play a role in this process is huge -over 500 trillion. These microorganisms are distributed throughout the body, but a large concentration of them resides in the digestive tract. These little elves are a very major contributing factor in how we get nutrients into our body, and thus play an extremely important role in our overall health. In fact some researchers are even considering the community of microorganisms, our microbiome, to be an additional organ!

So who are these little elves, these essential little microorganisms? A simple enough question, but not an easy one to answer. You see this is one of those areas where science is a bit lost. What does this have to do with digestion? Well, in recent years, The American Gut Project decided to look at the microbes in our own gut. They took samples from the microbiomes (collective group of microorganisms in a body) of 1268 people. There were over 1000 species. No big revelation there, as we knew there had to be a large diversity, but up until this point, most microbiologists thought there were approximately only 500 species. This means there are clearly twice as many as they thought there were. To put this in perspective, this means that there are more than twice as many species of microorganisms in one human’s microbiome as there are mammals in North America. Even at that though, 1000 species is not a huge number. The most shocking news was that of the top five most prominent species, science only had names for two. In fact, for the second-most common microbe (found in all but 100 people), all that scientists could determine was its family, not the genus or species.  Now let us get this straight – this species is probably helping most of us sustain life, but we don’t know who they are!

There is not only a large diversity of them, but they change very rapidly, depending on what you eat. Studies released in Nature, show that the density, diversity, and even the types of microbes changed in volunteers within days of them altering their diet. Completely different prominent species were found in as short as 48 hours of changing the diet. If you eat lots of junk food, you have hobbling, boil-riddled, foul-smelling junky elves, and if you eat foods full of vitality, you have a colony of noble, strong, clear-eyed vital elves. It is that simple. What kind of elves do you want to hang out with, or should I say, have in charge of making life-changing decisions for you?

It makes sense then that the little elves that help us vary from person to person and from culture to culture. All of this is information wasn’t available to MDs even 3 years ago, so of course it was not part of their medical training and has not yet been adopted into medical practice in even the slightest.

On the other hand, indigenous healers from around the world have been using a large array of fermented foods to help in their group’s health. In the nature of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation, and the great work of Weston Price in the 1930’s, we see that the tradition of fermentation has been kept alive to help us understand how our ancestors dealt with many digestive and other health issues.

In future blogs we are going to consider the hole in the donut as a vital tube system, full of all kinds of diverse elves that help us through the alchemical process of digesting and absorbing food and drink.

All of this is designed to help you gain a better understanding of your conditions, and give you solutions that you can employ in your everyday life. Strategies, if you will, to be a great and effective ruler