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Some people eat to live; others live to eat. Which best describes you? What are the implications of each choice?

We eat to provide the nutrients our cells need to work at their optimal level.

So how do cells function? Some cell functions are always taking place. The enzymes that cause biochemical reactions in the cell do so at a slow rate. They require cofactors to accelerate the reaction. These cofactors are the vitamins and minerals found in food. In fact, magnesium is known to be involved in more than 300 reactions, more than any other known vitamin or mineral.

This is eating to live: eating the proper ratios of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, good fats, and meats.

Living to eat often focuses on consuming less nutritious foods that have been modified, or processed, to please our palate. The addition of sugar, hydrogenated oils, and chemical flavorings appeals to the taste buds, while dyes and colorings appeal to the eyes. People pile more on their plates, yielding to the cravings initiated with the sneaky, deceptive flavors and colors. When the nutrient value and fiber is missing, hunger sets in early, and we eat more “food.”

The Conundrum

If our body needs food that provides nutrients to live, how can it sometimes reject food? And if it doesn’t outright reject food, why does it sometimes set up a reaction or sensitivity to good food, making a wholesome, normally nutritious food harmful to the body?

To help answer that question, let’s talk about how we normally digest and absorb foods. We will follow that with what causes the breakdown of that process and the transition that leads to allergies or hypersensitivities to food.

Normal Digestion and Absorption of Food

Digestion starts in the mouth when we chew food until it is liquid. The stomach continues the churning or mixing process. Once food is broken up enough, enzymes break it down further.   Starting with acid, the stomach breaks down proteins. The pancreas assists with enzymes that break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The gall bladder releases bile so that the fat emulsifies for easier breakdown.

The final stage of digestion and ultimate absorption occurs in the small intestine. The small intestine is about 20 feet long, but with the microvilli (small out-pouches throughout), the total absorption surface is about the size of a tennis court. The final stage of enzyme breakdown and absorption takes place here. The large intestine has the job of reabsorbing water for waste elimination.

Causes of Incomplete Digestion and Absorption, Resulting in Allergies or Sensitivities

When we don’t chew our food adequately, we can’t absorb the micronutrients that are so vital to our health. Likewise, if we produce insufficient bile (which is produced in the gall bladder), pancreatic enzymes, or stomach acid, the food we consume is not able to break down and we don’t absorb the micronutrients. Undigested food goes to the large intestine, where probiotic bacteria say, “Let’s have a party!”– causing gas and bloating.

If the bowel becomes inflamed, the cells in the bowel wall separate and create openings for undigested food to pass through the wall. This is called leaky gut. The largest part of the immune system in the body surround the bowel wall, so undigested food passing through the wall is seen as the “enemy.” This sets up an allergic or hypersensitive reaction to the food. The next time the food is introduced into the body, that reaction takes place.

Causes of Inflammation

So what causes inflammation to take place, starting this whole leaky gut process? Each cause deserves a greater explanation, but here is the short list:

  1. Wheat or gluten sensitivity, or the end stage called celiac disease.
  2. Milk protein allergy
  3. Lactase deficiency (this is the enzyme needed to break down lactose)
  4. Candida infection, fed by excess sugar or deficient numbers of probiotic bacteria (caused by antibiotics)
  5. Bacterial infections, or the end stage called SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)


Treatment is based on the diagnosis. This often requires testing and treatment by one familiar with each of the causes above. Conventional medicine largely ignores this assessment process. However, you can easily do the following without supervision to see if it helps before seeking a practitioner:

  1. Chew your food well
  2. Stop consuming sugar, wheat, dairy, or soy
  3. Avoid other foods to which you think you might be allergic; or try a rotation diet every 4 days
  4. Wean off your stomach acid blocker
  5. Try pancreatic enzymes with each meal
  6. Take probiotics daily

The following are just a few things a medical practitioner may also do:

*Allergy desensitization: NAET, homeopathic
*Identify multiple specific foods through electrodermal testing for avoidance purposes
*Appropriate antibiotics (with probiotics)
*Appropriate anti-fungal medicine
*Supplements specific for repair and support of the gastrointestinal system

With practice, we all can identify, prepare, and consume foods that truly nourish our body and provide micronutrients. As our bodies recognize the value in our food, the cravings for unhealthy “fake” food will diminish, and eventually disappear. When that happens, we will feel the joy of eating to live.

Dr. Gardner, board certified in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine and a Certified Nutrition Specialist, works out of his Riverton office, Keys to Healing Medical Center. He can be reached at (801) 302-5397 for appointments.