Digestion and Metabolism

     We've all heard that old health food slogan, "You are what you eat."  But how true is it?
     As important as good, healthy food is to good health, Greek Medicine says that it's only half the story.  The other half of the equation is the strength and quality of your pepsis, or digestion and metabolism. 
     To revise the health food saying, you aren't exactly what you eat.  More precisely, you are what you can digest, assimilate and metabolize properly from what you eat. 


The Five Stages of Pepsis 

     The process of pepsis is like a chain reaction.  There are five basic links in this chain, or five stages in the process of pepsis.  They are:
     Ingestion is the initial intake of food and drink.  This also includes our appetites and tastes for foods, which influence food selection.
     Digestion is the breakdown of food into its constituent nutrients.  The Ignis, or Fire principle, is used to cook, distill or ripen the food to release its nutrient constituents. 
     Assimilation is the absorption or incorporation of nutrients into living organs and tissues.  For this to happen, a transformation must occur, which again involves Ignis, or the Metabolic Heat. 
     Metabolism encompasses the totality of all biochemical reactions or transformations occurring within the organsim.  Every step in the metabolic process requires Ignis; at each step something is kept and used and something is cast off as being unusable. 
     Elimination is the final step in the process of pepsis.  It may be excretion from a cell, organ or tissue, or it may be the final elimination of wastes from the organism.  Pepsis is incomplete until final elimination has occurred.
     A chain is only as strong as its weakest link; so it is with the process of pepsis.  For pepsis to be perfect and complete, all its five stages must function properly.


The Nature and Functions of Ignis 

     Ignis is the Fire principle of the body, and has many forms within the organism.  In the Vital Faculty, Ignis manifests as the Innate Heat and Thymos, which confer energy and immunity on the organism.  In the Natural Faculty, Ignis manifests as the Digestive Fire and the Metabolic Heat, which digests the food into chyle, concocts the humors, assimilates and metabolizes them into living tissue, and neutralizes and eliminates the toxins and wastes. 
     If the Ignis is strong, the body will be energetic, immunity will be good, pepsis will be balanced and efficient, and toxins and wastes will be promptly and properly eliminated.  If the Ignis is weak, the body will be tired, immunity will be poor, appetite and digestion poor or erratic, and toxins and wastes will accumulate. 
     In nature, Fire can be destructive.  But when tamed as Ignis in the healthy body, it manifests the qualities of intelligence, lightness, dryness and clarity.  One of the main secrets of good health and longevity is keeping a healthy, well-balanced Ignis.  
     A healthy, balanced Ignis assures proper, normal pepsis in all its stages.  An unhealthy, unbalanced Ignis will manifest problems or dysfunction in one or more of the five stages of pepsis:
     Ingestion - A healthy, balanced Ignis will give us the instincts we need to make the right food choices, and a calm, balanced appetite that assures good, sensible eating habits.  An unbalanced Ignis will pervert the appetite and our food choices, and manifest either as poor appetite or as a sudden, ravenous hunger that encourages binge eating and discourages sensible eating habits. 
     Digestion - Proceeds smoothly and efficiently with balanced Ignis.  Bloating, gas, distension, colic, discomfort or pain common with unbalanced Ignis.  
     Assimilation - With balanced Ignis, there's good healthy tissue nutrition and nutrient metabolism.  With unbalanced Ignis, assimilation disorders, nutritional excesses or deficiencies, or food sensitivities or allergies may develop; degenerative changes set in.
     Metabolism - With healthy, balanced, Ignis, metabolism is efficient and body weight optimal.  With unbalanced Ignis, metabolic disorders, emaciation or obesity may develop. 
     Elimination - With healthy Ignis, wastes are eliminated efficiently, and toxins easily burned off or neutralized.  With unbalanced or weak Ignis, toxins and wastes accumulate in the body.


Toxins, or Crudities 

     The secret to proper pepsis lies in getting the heat level just right, and in cooking or concocting the humors to perfection.  If the Ignis or heat is too high, the food will get charred or burned, leaving a toxic residue that is something like ash.  If the Ignis is too low, excessive cold, wet, raw humors and phlegm will accumulate, forming a kind of toxic sludge that obstructs or impedes normal body functioning. 
     Either way, the resulting toxins, called crudities, are poorly digested or undigested metabolic residues that can't be properly assimilated and integrated into the organism, and so impede its functioning.  Toxins are sticky, turbid, foul, noxious, heavy, inert and irritating. 
     Periodically, it's good to fast and cleanse the body of toxins.  But there are two great secrets to keeping them from being created in the first place:  First, always eat in accordance with your Ignis, and never eat more food than your Digestive Fire can efficiently handle.  Secondly, eat a balanced diet to keep your Ignis balanced, healthy and well regulated.


Ignis and the Four Temperaments

     Just as there are Four Temperaments, there are also four basic types of Ignis that one can have.  Each of the four temperaments has its own type of Ignis, which governs its basic patterns of appetite and digestion. 
     Each type of Ignis tends to produce an overabundance of the humor associated with its temperament.  Each type also has its own particular problematic foods, which tend to aggravate and unbalance the Ignis even further.  Often, these problematic foods are the very ones craved by the Ignis type in question, which tends to create a vicious circle of aggravation and imbalance. 
     The practitioner of Greek Medicine should familiarize himself well with these four basic types of Ignis.  Not only will they help him to better understand and treat digestive and metabolic disorders, but they're also very good indicators of constitutional nature and temperament.
     Besides indicating the constitutional type of the individual, these four Ignis types also indicate acquired disorders or imbalances of digestion associated with aggravations of the type's associated humor and its temperament.  The manifestations of Ignis associated with these acquired conditions will tend to be more transitory in nature, and emphasize the dysfunctional patterns of the respective Ignis type. 
     The type of Ignis manifesting in an individual's digestion will usually be reflected in the general patterns and behavior of Ignis throughout the organism.  Thus, the cellular metabolism of the Vital Faculty will reflect the digestive metabolism of the Natural Faculty, and exhibit the same basic patterns and tendencies. 


Ignis Cholerica:  Sharp and Quick
     Strong, powerful Ignis digests  and metabolizes things very quickly.  Can eat a huge meal and be ravenously hungry an hour later. 
     When functioning well, digestion is quick and efficient, can handle most anything.  The proverbial "cast iron stomach".  With quick metabolism, weight gain is slight to moderate, usually appearing past middle age. 
     When dysfunctioning, digestion may be quick, but it won't be good.  Tends towards ulcers, gastritis, heartburn, hyperacidity, acid reflux.  There can also be the sudden onset of ravenous hunger. 
     Stools tend to be soft or loose, often foetid or smelly, especially with dysfunction.  Intestinal transit time tends to be short. 
     Craves intense taste sensations: salt, hot spices, fried foods, vinegar, sharp aged cheeses, hard liquor.  But these foods should be avoided, as they tend to aggravate the Choleric Ignis evenfurtherNeeds to take care to eat calmly and moderately, and not be so driven by their ravenous appetites.


Ignis Phlegmatica:  Slow and Lethargic
     Slow, low level Ignis and digestion.  When functioning well, digestion is slow but steady.
     When dysfunctioning or aggravated by phlegm and dampness, Ignis gets sluggish and lethargic, producing sluggishness, bloating, lethargy, drowsiness after meals, heavy head and limbs.
     Problematic foods are sweets, starches, dairy, farinaceous or glutinous foods; but these are often the very foods craved.  Needs to reduce, eliminate phlegm with heating, drying foods and hot, pungent spices.  Caloric needs are slight, since metabolic rate is low.
     When Phlegmatic Ignis is functioning well, stools are solid, bulky, well-formed, may be slightly soft.  Intestinal transit time tends to be slow.  When malfunctioning, stools can be excessively soft or loose; in extreme cases, pieces of undigested food may be present. 
     Prone to weight gain, obesity due to low metabolic rate.  Cellulite, lipomas, soft nodules may appear as organism tries to peripheralize unmetabolized Phlegmatic residues. 


Ignis Melancholica:  Nervous and Irregular
     Ignis variable, sometimes high, sometimes low, fluctuating according to mental/nervous/emotional states, with moodiness, depression lowering and nervousness, agitation raising Ignis.
     Digestive irregularity produces colic, gas, distension, bloating, irritable bowel.  Nervous, sour stomach also common.  Intestinal immunity tends to be poor, with intestinal flora imbalances common. 
     Needs to make meals a happy, joyous occasion, free from undue worry, anxiety, stress.  This also includes excessive worry and fuss about their food. 
     Problematic foods include astringent foods, some proteins, nightshade vegetables: beans, soy, nuts, tomatoes, eggplant, etc...  Old, dry, stale foods, cold foods, rancid or fried foods also bad.  Pungent, sweet, aromatic spices aid the Melancholic digestion.
     Prone to nutritional deficiencies: anemia, hypoglycemia, dehydration, mineral imbalances, etc... due to erratic digestion.  Can crave sweets, starches as quick energy boosts due to underlying malnutrition and devitalization.  Needs a nutritious, wholesome diet, also high in fiber.  Of all Ignis types, finds it hardest to be purely vegetarian. 
     Stools usually hard, compact due to coldness, dryness.  Prone to constipation or alternating constipation / diarrhea with irritable bowel.  Stools can also be gassy, porous with wind, flatulence.


Ignis Sanguina:  Balanced to Relaxed
     Midway between Choleric quickness and Phlegmatic slowness; balanced.  Not as strong as Choleric, can be overwhelmed. 
     Prone to excesses of appetite due to Sanguine Attractive Virtue.  Can overwhelm digestive capacity with overconsumption of sweet, rich, creamy, fatty food, leading to liver congestion, intestinal putrefactions.  Light, easy to digest foods should be stressed, 
     Sanguine Ignis is generally the most balanced and desirable, and is problem free when good, sensible eating habits are followed.  With dietary excess, it can become too relaxed, even sluggish.


Working with Ignis

     The cardinal rule of all constitutional management of diet is:  Always eat in accordance with your Ignis and its type.  Never give your Ignis more than it can handle. 
     Although the inherent strength of Ignis can be unduly diminished by chronically underfeeding it, overfeeding and overwhelming the Ignis is much more common and problematic, and leads to autointoxication, or the generation and accumulation of toxins and morbid superfluous humors.
     Never eat when you're tired, angry, emotionally upset, or when you're not hungry.  At these times, the Ignis is likely to be weak or unbalanced.
     Many people have constitutions of mixed temperament; their Ignis and pepsis will also be of mixed quality, changing in its predominant symptoms and manifestations depending on what they eat and how they take care of their Digestive Fire.
     Working with Ignis through diet and lifestyle modification is one of the main methods of constitutional improvement in Greek Medicine.  With improved Ignis and pepsis comes increased health, vitality, immunity and longevity.


Ignis and the Four Stages of Life

     In the metaphor of the Lamp of Life, we saw that the flame of Ignis does not remain constant throughout the lifespan of the individual, but changes in its quality and intensity.  Therefore, it must be fed differently in the different stages of life.
     In the Sanguine growing years of childhood and youth, which are Warm and Moist, we must eat a more moistening, nutritious diet to feed the demands of rapid growth.  Still, the stomach and digestion have some delicacy to them, and should not be overwhelmed.  Children and youths endure fasting with the most difficulty, especially long fasts. 
     In the Hot, Dry Choleric years of adulthood, the stomach and digestion are usually at their strongest and most vigorous, and able to handle most anything.  Because the body has stopped growing, short fasts are OK, but long ones are borne with difficulty, and not recommended. 
     In the Cold, Dry Melancholic years of maturity and middle age, the metabolic rate slows down, and our caloric needs decline.  The digestion generally gets more fussy and delicate, and food allergies and sensitivities may develop.  Food should be modest in quantity but high in quality, and in micronutrients.  Middle aged people generally tolerate fasting the best, and benefit from it the most.
     In the Cold, Wet Phlegmatic years of old age, a light, easy to digest diet is essential.  Meals should be sensibly planned and regular.  The overall health of old people is generally too delicate to endure long fasts, although short ones are OK.