Dear Peter, when your heart was telling you about itself in the previous issue (and perhaps you got a bit annoyed with him) I realized that it was talking for your own good. It not only was giving you advice about your health, but it was also directing you to the horizons of thought that will lead you to think of the True Owner of your heart and Who gave it to you as a gift. To tell you the truth, I really liked this and thought that I too should have a chat with you. If you could spare me a few moments and listen to me I hope that you will benefit both spiritually and emotionally.
I have been placed under the cavity of the chest. So that we do not harm each other, the Creator has placed a membrane between me and my neighbors, the heart and lung; I can hear them, but cannot see them. They are further protected by the rib cage, because they are more sensitive than I. Of course that does not mean that I am without protection. Our Lord has placed all of us in the most appropriate way. If I had bones covering me you would have a lot of difficulty eating and drinking and since you could not store what you eat you would need to eat little portions throughout the day. But since I have been placed in the stomach cavity and all the walls are flexible I can easily store all that you eat and drink until you digest them. This means that you are busy with eating only at certain times, allowing you to spend your time with other things.
I look like a kettle and this rather simple-looking shape might make you undermine my skills. It is for this reason that some people speak of me in a rude way, describing me as “a sack-like organ.” To understand how important I am, ask those with stomach ulcers or stomach cancer. God forbid, should I stop functioning; life would become a living hell. Each drop that you drink and each morsel you eat would be like poison and all of the world’s pleasures would vanish.
My walls, which seem like a simple sack, are made of four layers of special tissue. On the outer layer there is a strong tissue, below this are layers of muscle that have been placed vertically and horizontally in a diagonal manner, and under this there is tissue engulfed in a flexible layer and a final lining called the epithelium. Of course, we should not forget the web of blood vessels and nerves that nourish these thick walls. My system of nerves is such a complex system that you would be amazed; it resembles a second brain and it is aware of your whole body without you being aware. When you hurt your foot or you are upset with the slightest thing or laugh because of joy I am affected by this. This nervous system is so sensitive that it affects all my actions and my digestive excretions.
It is through this nervous system that I control my actions and my excretions when the scent of the food comes and you are getting ready to eat, saving you trouble after you have eaten. I can also be easily trained. If you can stick with it you can get me used to a new life after three days. Some stomachs are used to three meals, while others are content with two or one meal a day. My recommendation is that you get me used to two meals a day.
Not a lot of chemical decomposition can occur in the mouth, so all the nourishment you have eaten needs to pass through me before it is digested by the intestines and it becomes part of your body. What happens is that the things you have eaten are broken up mechanically into little pieces by the teeth so that I can accept them. If you hurry and swallow without chewing and do not soften the morsels you tire me out. In addition to this, if the morsels are sharp or too large they can rip the walls of the esophagus and make them bleed. It is best to chew the morsel 30 times, but unfortunately most people do not do this. They send me mouthfuls after having only chewed on it once or twice. They do not realize that they are full and therefore eat too much, disturbing the balance. If you eat slowly I will let the relevant section of the brain know and the feeling of hunger will stop after you have received enough nutrients. In this manner you do not tire me out too much and the nutrients do not go to waste. If you eat too fast I will be full before I get a chance to bring to the surface the molecules that give the sensation of being full and there will be no room for water or air, which allow me to move comfortably.
There are three different types of cells on the mucous layer that lines the inner layer of my walls and which is in contact with the food. One of these excretions is hydrochloric acid (HCl). This acid, which can dissolve even a piece of rock, is used not only to digest all the meat and proteins, but it also kills any bacteria that may come with the food and beverage. Without this acid the pepsinogen enzyme, which breaks down the protein, cannot be activated. The pepsinogen enzyme also synthesizes some other cells. This enzyme cannot function on its own and cannot be excreted if I do not have food in me. It starts to be excreted together with the hydrochloric acid as soon as I start to be filled with food. So how is it that such a strong acid and protein digesting enzyme do not harm my walls? My Creator has provided my lining with a temporary protective layer. The goblet cells that excrete this protective mucous are so sensitive that they excrete a protective liquid that coats it. Every day I sacrifice one and a half million cells to these enzyme and acids. In other words, every three days my inner layer is destroyed by these corrosive enzymes and acids. But thank God, I have been given me such a revitalizing strength that each day this lining is renewed with new cells.
Sometimes, if there is a problem with the excretion of this protective liquid, the acid and enzyme can start to eat at the stomach walls, leading to blood leaking from the arteries that are in the outer layer; this is known as an ulcer, a wound on my walls. Nervousness and tension affect the excretions in me, and therefore people who have a nervous character can develop ulcers more easily than relaxed people. The best thing to do is to live a life where one faces things with patience, neither being too panicky nor too happy, but living in a balanced and mature way. If you try to live in a balanced way then you will maintain order in the stomach and I will be happy.
You cannot move the muscles of my walls like you can your arm or leg muscles. The muscles are commanded and start working according to orders from an autonomous nervous system that you are not even aware of. An important feature of these muscles is that they work slowly, but take a long time to get tired. At the same time, they are very susceptible to growing if you do not take care of yourself properly; if you are not careful I can swell up quickly like a balloon. The evil side of human character has a very close connection with me; so you have to be very careful not to eat and drink too much and consume unlawful food. Otherwise, you might become weak and be easily misled and consequently this makes me nothing more than a waste container and then I become a pest.
Let me tell you some of the things that I do not like. At the top of the list is very hot or very cold food or beverages. Both ruin the enzymes and make them dysfunctional. The best condition for enzymes to work is at your body temperature-that is 36-37 degrees. There are more scientists today than before who think that overly hot or burnt food can cause my cells to turn cancerous. If you heat very cold items in your mouth and then swallow you protect me from getting cold – because if I get cold I contract and my working balance becomes dysfunctional so that I am no longer able to do my job.
When I finish my job of extracting the nutrients and treating them with the enzymes the food takes on a liquid form. When the food has achieved the desired texture I send it through to the intestines that are right below me. In this regard, I am like this transitory worldly life, which is nothing more than a two-door guesthouse-one door for entrance and the other door for exit. I never retain anything in me-I receive from one end and send it out the other. There is no door between myself and the esophagus, so I can take out what is in me if I have to by vomiting. At first, this vomiting reflex might seem a bad thing and you might wonder why there is nothing to prevent this? But let me remind you of something, what if you mistakenly eat something poisonous or something that has gone off, what would you do if you could not vomit? You would have to be taken to hospital so that you do not die of food poisoning and an incision would have to be made in the stomach; I would have to be cleansed out, but by this time you might have died. However, if I feel that something you have eaten is bad I can remove it. But with the gateway that is placed between myself and the intestines I am able to stop the food in the intestines from coming back to ruin the acidic atmosphere in me, as the enzymes in the intestines work under more neutral conditions. My acidic structure would disrupt the intestine’s enzymes. In particular, if the bile salts excreted from the liver and the pancreas enzymes should spill into me the situation would be very chaotic.
Another important piece of advice I can offer to you Peter is not to play any sports when I am full and not to strain yourself. The thick muscle lining on the walls requires a lot of blood to move. After eating a significant amount of blood is withdrawn from other parts of the body and sent to me. If you try to be active in this state you will suffer, as the rest of your organs will not be nourished properly and stress will be put on your heart.
Here’s another secret I’m going to let you in on: the more you fill me up without thinking about whether it is necessary and lawful or not, the more likely it is that you will make spiritual mistakes. Your spiritual well-being and health are inversely proportional to a full stomach. If you make me grow too much all your veins, starting with your heart, will start to gather fat and therefore their functions will slow down. Also your spiritual side will be dulled. Actually it is enough for a person to eat only what they need to survive. Serving your senses of taste and eating within the allowed parameters by remembering the Giver will not only give me peace but will also take you to spiritual horizons. After the food passes through your mouth it does not make much of a difference to me whether it is sweet or salty. Therefore, if you can take charge of your mouth, which acts as a gatekeeper, you can protect yourself from waste and from putting on extra kilos.
Some time ago some people would laugh at my above advice, and they would say, “Good food is the backbone of life and one should feed well.” But now modern medicine and dieticians have started to give the same advice I have been giving for years and they state that eating enough for sustenance is adequate. Most illnesses arise from over-eating; good food may be the backbone of life, but too much of it is a prescription for an early death.
In particular, with the dietary change that you make during the month of Ramadan, I and my team are able to renew ourselves; it is like a fitness camp that prepares us for a new term. This is an important need for us to start the new season. The time for this is approaching. I expect you will use your will power and allow me to rest as commanded. To continue with your life you need me to provide you the nutrients and energy, because without me even your heart could not function. At the root of all biological sustenance there is a need for food intake. Accordingly, I am like a double bladed sword. You should neither neglect me nor indulge me too much. I hope that you will display this balanced outlook and behavior.