I am writing a novel about anatomically plausible superhumans (a new kind of man) who had to evolve in conditions of some food deficiency, living, for example, in high-altitude conditions or semi-desert countries where most of his diet would have to consist of dry vegetation almost devoid of moisture (like what camels eat), empty salads (ordinary leaves) and any carrion available to them.

Over the past time, I have already managed to think a little about how their digestive system could adapt to such a low-calorie diet and learn how to extract energy from it more efficiently. So if I understand correctly, the process of splitting food in the stomach is extremely energy-consuming, and the amount of energy consumed in this process depends on the caloric content of the incoming food (so within a few hours after a snack, energy consumption increases to 90%). People who consume healthy foods and have a balanced diet need only 10% of the total daily energy for digestion. When a large percentage of fat is received, it increases to 20%.

Therefore, I thought that before the food digested by them (the nutrients contained in it) would have to get into the blood, it would be fermented for a long time in a special cavity of the stomach. So ruminants such as cows have a complex multicameral stomach adapted for processing empty salads for greater digestive efficiency, they even regurgitate part of the food for re-chewing.

My people could use their intestines as a sieve, filtering the same food in it many times. Each time the nutritional value decreases, it returns to the stomach, where it is fermented further for a long time. Food is excreted from the body only when the nutritional value of working out becomes negative (we spend more energy than we get). Being on fermentation in a special pocket of the stomach, the food is "stored". So you can save a nutritious resource until you need it — a person can have a hearty breakfast, and get hungry only for dinner the next day. This will save them from heavy and long intestines. Such a mechanism will allow them to eat both empty salads and carrion.

The stomach of this type of person consists of two types of cavities: primary - here the food undergoes primary treatment with pepsin, which breaks down proteins to amino acids, and secondary - a blind pocket into which food enters from the intestine.

Food passes through the primary pocket of the stomach and intestine many times until the proteins in it are fully worked out. After that, the food enters the secondary pocket, where it is mixed with bile for further release of sugars and fats. This is a long process — so the body stretches the receipt of nutrients, as well as spends less effort.

The small intestine is thick and strong enough to distill food back into the stomach many times. It contains taste buds that determine its composition. If the food no longer has nutritional value, it is not sent to the stomach for fermentation, but thrown away. In the long (instead of our large) intestine, the remains of food are completely processed, and only after that they are removed from the body.

Food gets from the larynx to the first ventricle, where it is on primary fermentation. Depending on the taste of the food (analysis for the content of sugars and proteins), gastric acid is prepared. It is often extremely strong, and therefore the walls of the stomach are extremely thick and are regularly restored.

Next, the food enters the near intestine, where it is absorbed into the blood. In the case of carrion or "empty" salads, the food returns to the stomach in the second ventricle. The acid is softer there, the walls are smaller. Here the food is re-fermented and resorbed. This happens until the taste buds of the stomach stop registering a sufficient concentration of nutrients or their ratio to residual toxins becomes too low. After that, the junk food goes into the rectum and leaves the body.

Thanks to the second ventricle, where food can be fermented repeatedly, a long intestine is not needed — it goes "back and forth" until it is completely worked out. In addition, this allows you to make a short supply of food for a short time - sophont can have a good dinner, and the next time he eats only for lunch. In addition, in case of poisoning, food quickly leaves the body — it does not need to overcome the path of the long intestine and give away toxins.

However, how else could the process of extracting energy from low-calorie food be made more efficient (so I heard that the mitochondria of birds are more efficient than ours)?

  • $\begingroup$ I came here ready to downvote for a likely poorly understood digestive process -- upvoted instead, this actually sounds plausible. I hope you get some good answers! $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 6, 2021 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ After logging into your account, I noticed that you are from one of the CIS countries, so if you want, you can see everything that I have already managed to write: ficbook.net/readfic/10772893#part_content $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2021 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ Right now, humans get a lot of value out of food digested by bacteria in the large intestine. We get the by-products which include some serious chemicals. You might want to address if more efficient digestion will give up those. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Oct 6, 2021 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ I don't quite understand $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2021 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Just a few clarifying questions. What is it that makes these people superhuman, how are they different from regular humans? Why can't they just hunt the living creatures, why are they dependent on carrion? Do these people cook their food? Cooking is the way humans have massively increased the efficiency of digestion irl. $\endgroup$
    – Blazen
    Oct 6, 2021 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


Circular digestive tracts pose problems.

You have food pass through the stomach (stomachs?) into the intestine. Then back from the intestine into the stomach(s). /Each time the nutritional value decreases, it returns to the stomach, where it is fermented further for a long time./ So from the stomach to the intestine and back.

The small intestine also, if I understand it, receives bile-treated material from the second stomach. This is not supposed to go backwards into either stomach afterwards.

You ask a lot of the small intestine of these people, sorting things out. It must receive stuff from first stomach, then pass it back to the first stomach, then eventually pass it back to second stomach, then receive it from second stomach. I understand that you want to be efficient with space but I think using the same tube for all these things will get all of those things mixed together and so be less efficient.


I understand that a one way digestive tract occupies a lot of space and for aesthetic reasons you do not want your superhumans to have huge pendulous paunches. Each to their own. Rabbits are faced with a similar problem: how to deal with mass quantities of low quality food but keep a svelte athletic build.
The rabbit answer: refection, or eating of special feces to allow a second try at extracting nutrients.


Rabbits and hares produce two types of fecal pellets. One type is soft and green, consists of partially digested food, and is produced at night. These soft pellets are refected, or reingested by the animal, and are swallowed without chewing. Eating its own droppings (coprophagy) allows for a twice-through process of digestion and assimilation of nutrients from the cecum, which is sited after the stomach and small intestine.. The other type of fecal pellet of rabbits and hares is brown and drier, is not eaten again, and is produced during the day.

Your superhumans can do it this way too - use the entire digestive tract twice, fresh food in the day (when they can see it) and then settle down for some quiet refection at night. The day/night various and circadian clues that come with this would also allow a retooling of secretory apparatus in the gut to optimize the processing of whatever grade food was expected: fresh or once processed. The good thing is that they do not need plumbing re-engineered for this but can keep human standard. The engineered part is that everything tastes delicious.

  • $\begingroup$ I think it would be too disgusting and unhygienic. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2021 at 13:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @FrankThompson4 They already eat carrion, perhaps the question is would they find it too disgusting. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2021 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ And yet it seems to me not appropriate to my topic, is it possible to extract more from food with the help of more caustic gastric acid or using matanotrophic bacteria in their intestines that could give us some amount of energy during the oxidation of methane released during digestion? $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2021 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ @FrankThompson4 - those are reasonable approaches but also require a one way system: acid is energetically expensive to make and you would need to neutralize and remake it, while commensal bacteria would be killed if exposed to digestive processes occurring elsewhere in the gut. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Oct 6, 2021 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk personally, I like the derivative of cellulose usually called steak with mushroom sauce. $\endgroup$ Oct 7, 2021 at 13:10

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