Article #2: The Elements Of Nutrition by Dr. Herbert M. Shelton
Nutrition is the cardinal function of organic evolution and growth. It is the sum of all processes by which raw materials (foodstuffs) are transformed into living structure and prepared for use by the body. It is the appropriation of nutritive material by the plant or animal and its transformation into cell substance and structural units. It is the means by which food is transformed, in the case of plants, into sap, pulp, woody fiber, leaf, flower, fruit and seed, and, in the case of animals, into blood, muscle, bone, nerve and gland.
It is the process by which living organisms develop, grow, repair and maintain themselves, wounds and broken bones are healed, functions are carried on, and reproduction accomplished. It is the process of converting food into cell substance. This occurs in living organisms and nowhere else, and in the case of man, vegetable substances are transformed into human tissues.
Organic existence is perpetual creation (or evolution, if you prefer) and renewal. There is no resting, only continuous activity. Nutrition is the grand process by which creation and renewal are accomplished. Though we can observe the results, we know little of the process.
Let us think of an egg composed of material previously prepared by the nutritive processes of the hen out of which a new bird is to be made: Nutrition is the process by which the simple homogeneous material of the egg is transformed into the complex heterogeneous structures of the bird. But a microscopic speck of the egg, the germ, is alive. It is this germ that begins the work of nutrition by which it grows and becomes two cells, by which the process of cell division is continued and, finally, differentiation, organization and integration are accomplished.
In the seed of the plant a similar process takes place. The germ of the seed is microscopic in size, the remainder of the seed being prepared food. Utilizing the stored food, the plant germ evolves into the complex structure of a young plant. Thus, in the plant as in the animal, nutrition is the process of converting food into cells and organs.
Nutrition is a highly complex process carried on by all living organisms from the smallest, simplest one-celled organism to the most complex organism in nature: man. Food is not nutrition, but the chief material of nutrition. Water, oxygen and sunshine are nutritive materials, while activity, rest, sleep and warmth are vitally important to normal nutritive processes. Vital structures and functional products can be created only out of food, but it is the process of nutrition that builds and maintains organic structure.
Viewing the whole domain of live-vegetable and animal-nutrition is the fountain out of which flow structure, function, capacity, strength, growth, development and reproduction. It is the process of building, repairing and vitalizing organs and organisms. All structure is made by processes of nutrition; all repairs are accomplished by nutrition; it is through nutrition that we come to have organs in the first place; it is only through nutrition that they are constantly repaired; it is through it that we come into being and maintain life.
The tissues of man are woven on a loom that no Eastern rug designers or Western carpet machinery can rival.
Where strength is needed, an iron-like power of resistance is given to man's tissues, though these strands of fiber are finer than spider's thread. Yet where elasticity is required, the fibers rival rubber in flexibility.
The size and development of a man's muscles and the strength and functioning power of his nerves are the products of nutrition. Even his brain is a product of this process. The human infant, like the bird in the egg, starting as a single cell, grows organs and other parts by the process of nutrition, deriving its food supply, water and oxygen from its mother's blood. After birth, utilizing food, it develops and grows to maturity by processes of nutrition. Reproduction, which is merely discontinuous evolution and growth, is achieved by the process of nutrition.
The digestive system should not be thought of as the nutritive system. The respiratory system supplies the organism with needed oxygen. If it is cut off, even for a very few minutes, the whole nutritive process comes to a halt and cannot be started again.
In man and other higher animals, the many and varied functions contributing to the grand overall process of nutrition are, to a great extent, each performed by a separate organ. In the human system there are a large number and variety of organs, each of which fills a peculiar and appropriate function. In the human sphere the viscera may be regarded as a tree, the digestive system of which represents the roots, the lungs, the leaves, the blood and lymph, the sap. Given the organic structure that circulates the juices, choosing the best food and refining it, we finally arrive at human structure.
As we are primarily interested in human nutrition, I shall attempt to picture in broad outlines by use of the following diagram, the means by which the body appropriates its foods:
The organs and secretions involved in this work of appropriation and the preparation of raw materials for use are: hands, teeth, tongue, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, gastric glands, small intestines, intestinal secretions, pancreas, pancreatic juice, liver, bile, villi, lacteals, lymphatic system, heart and vascular system, the several ductless glands and their hormones, the nose, bronchioles, lungs, diaphragm, chest walls, long bones and skin.
The long bones, in which the red blood cells are formed may be properly regarded as part of the body's nutritive system. Millions of these cells are formed daily and are essential in removing oxygen from the lungs to the body's cells, then carrying carbon dioxide from these cells to the lungs. Without this process in the bones, oxygen could not reach the other bodily cells.
Because the skin is the channel through which we receive the sun's rays and regulate their uses, this investing membrane may be properly included in the body's nutritive system.
It will thus be seen that in the higher animals, especially in man, a great number and variety of organs and organ-systems and their functions are subservient to the overall process of nutrition, and all of them converge towards a common center.
Certain functions like digestion, circulation and respiration are common to all types of animals, who must receive, elaborate and circulate the materials necessary to build and sustain their tissues. Locomotion and prehension are essential parts of the nutritional process in most animals. Locomotion is denied to some forms of animal life, and these depend upon water and waves to bring their food supplies to them.
In the final analysis, the whole body is engaged in carrying on the process of nutrition, every part contributing to the whole and no part selfishly assimilating alone. Some parts, however, are more involved than others, especially in the preparatory work. Reciprocity and mutual service characterize the work of the bodily organs. The lungs take in oxygen for the whole body and not for themselves alone; the stomach digest food for the entire organism and not merely for its own food needs; the heart receives and circulates the blood throughout the body, not merely through its own tissues. The living organism is a model of cooperation.
The production of food is a reciprocal process, plants and animals being co-equal partners in the vital synthesis. For this the forests and their myriad inhabitants have been industriously working since the beginning of life on our globe; for this the flowers have been working since they were self-sown from the miraculous garden; for this the bees and birds and wind have been pollinating flowers since the beginning of organic existence; for this the birds and mammals have scattered seed. From time immemorial, for this the soil bacteria and earthworms have labored incessantly throughout uncounted ages; for this the un-cropped earth has rested in the balmiest latitudes, while the great sun, supporter of all life, has poured her tropical spirit upon its unexhausted islands, so that spring, summer and autumn provide us with an abundant supply of tasty green leaves, delicious fruits packed with food values and baited with delightful aromas, delicate flavors and pleasing colors, and with tasty, life-sustaining seed.
Not in the animal alone is assimilation in progress. The plant is the prime assimilator, absorbing the minerals of the soil and the nitrogen and carbon of the air, the fertile soil being the great storehouse of plant food and the source of their many aromas and flavors. The animal returns the soil's fare, as fertilizer and carbon dioxide, to the original storehouse from which it was taken. In the great workshop of nature we witness progressive assimilation and refinement: The pioneer plants prepare the primitive soil for the advent of the higher plants; the higher plants refine and synthesize food for the animals above; these, in turn, compensate the plants in a variety of services for the goods received.
Through every change, by secret processes, the surface of the planet is steadily fitted for a greater edifice of society. All things normally work together for the good of the whole. Even the wrathful violators of her fundamental law of reciprocity serve her ends.
The mineral kingdom supports the plant kingdom, which in turn supports everything above it. Living plants arise—rich, delicate and lovely from the ground—created from a few simple elements. Through the subtle alchemy of life, disintegrated rock becomes stems and leaves, flowers and seeds with power to reproduce themselves. In the plant this amounts to taking the lifeless materials of air, water and soil and raising them to the status of living structure.
The animal appropriates parts of the plant and transforms them, by the subtle alchemy of animal nutrition, into sentient flesh and blood. As a result of processes of living plants and animals (assisted in the initial stages by bacteria), which we call collectively nutrition, sentient flesh is made from what otherwise would remain inert stone. The oxygen, nitrogen and carbon of the air plus the minerals of the soil are passed through the leaves and trunks of herbs, trees and other growing things. Each enriches its tissues through a division of labor and succession of touches at least as great as the processes employed in the laboratory in the manufacture of synthetic products.
Animals cannot appropriate the raw materials of the soil and air, except for oxygen and water. They cannot utilize the carbon and nitrogen of the air but must receive carbon (carbohydrates) and nitrogen (proteins) from the primary producers: the plants. These elements must be refined and synthesized by the plant and transformed into substances that the animal can appropriate. The earth might as well be bare granite and the atmosphere untinted gas if the vegetable kingdom lacked organic qualities to bestow upon the animal in the foods it turns out in great profusion.
The assumption that plants do not impart to the elements of the air and to water and soil, qualities that they do not possess in their gaseous and mineral states, is a form of ungratefulness in the inhabitants of any land whose fields are laden with fragrance and savoriness each year.
Plants, like factories, feed us and clothe us; they spin out our cotton in their looms and turn out their fruits and juices in profusion. Whether it be fruit and flavor for our bodies, or beauty and symbolism for our minds, plants support us. They yield up their substances to be transformed into new substances by us.
Thus, in the normal course of the nutritive processes of nature, vegetables draw their sap from the underground, from the dark scurf of the mineral kingdom; whereas, the animal takes its nutrient juices from among the children of the air, light and motion, from the succulent tops and fruits of the vegetable kingdom, from the results of an elaborate predigestion in the bosom of the earth and sun-kissed leaves of the plant.
By the marvelous processes of plant nutrition, lifeless matter drawn from air, water and soil has been raised to the status of living structure. Undergoing further refinements, transformations and organization in the animal, it is raised to the status of dynamic structure. The inert and unorganized is now highly organized and alive. The breath of life has been breathed into the structure and it has become a living soul. Such is the marvelous end-result of plant and animal nutrition.
Home > Lesson 5 - Introduction To Nutritional Science
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