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A Holistic Perspective on the Digestive System of Infants and Children

Written by Laurence B. Palevsky, MD   
Friday, 01 December 2006 00:00
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Infants and children are not simply small adults, especially when it comes to feeding and nourishing their little bodies. They are less able than adults to receive, transform and assimilate the nutrients given to them. Infants and children are born with immature digestive systems. Digestive enzymes are not as plentiful and efficient. Intestinal materials, including undesirable particles, are more readily absorbed into the bloodstream through the porous lining of the digestive tract. Their digestive capacity may be weakened and impaired due to an early exposure to poor dietary choices and environmental stressors. This weakness can persist well into adulthood increasing the likelihood of chronic childhood and adult illnesses.

If children are fed appropriately, their digestive systems will naturally strengthen and mature by age 6 or 7 years. With proper maintenance and barring any genetic or other environmental problems, their digestive systems will continue to strengthen as they grow. Western science, nutritional and functional medicine and Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine teach that the overall health of infants and children correlates with the strength and health of their digestive system. The digestive lining interfaces with the outside world and houses the largest part of a child’s immune system. The nervous system plays a key functional role in maintaining the health of the digestive lining and its immune system. Due to the immaturity of their systems, children require different food choices and preparations.

Holistic Perspective Digestive SystemThe digestive system is more than a physical space that provides enzymes, hormones and surface area for digestion. The digestive system is also an energy system, one that is affected by the energy of the food and the environment. The digestive energy system works by generating a certain amount of heat, or kinetic energy, to help ignite the digestive processes. In chemistry lab, stirring and heating are two processes that help drive the efficiency and completion of a chemical reaction. Stirring helps to generate heat, break down molecules and provide greater surface area in order to maximize enzyme efficiency and the completion of a chemical reaction. Digestion is also a series of chemical reactions. In the body, the physical act of chewing food, or the ingestion of food that appears to have already been chewed, accomplishes for digestion what stirring does for chemical reactions:

  • Stirring = Heat + Increased Surface area + Mechanical breakdown of molecules = Efficient, completed chemical reaction
  • Chewing = Heat + Increased Surface area for enzyme activity + Mechanical breakdown of food into smaller particles = Efficient, completed digestion, maximal absorption and assimilation of micronutrients.