It’s long been said that health begins in the gut.
Our digestive systems are a lifeline to good health – it’s where food is digested into the hundreds of life-sustaining nutrients and the same place where we rid ourselves of toxic waste. It’s no wonder that poor digestion, and the many symptoms and conditions that accompany it, can have an affect on us beyond the digestive tract.
Most doctors don’t recognize this fact. A dysfunctional digestive tract can lead to more than just bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or irritable bowel syndrome.
Did you know that what goes on in your digestive tract can lead to health issues beyond the gut, like allergies, skin conditions, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, fatigue and even depression?
Digestive health is central to your overall health. Taking an acid-blocking drug (Prevacid, Protonix, Nexium, Pepcid, Zantac, etc) isn’t the answer (and in fact will make things a lot worse in the long run).
The digestive tract must do several things at once to keep you healthy. Foods are broken down and nutrients are absorbed while toxins, allergens and infectious bugs are kept out. All of this depends on several different aspects of digestion running smoothly.
For instance, we depend greatly on the 500+ different species of bacteria in our gut to help digest food, regulate hormones, manufacture vitamins and other nutrients, produce helpful chemicals for our bodies, and remove toxins.
Eerily, the amount of bacterial cells in our GI tract handily outnumbers the amount of human cells in our entire body – this means that we’re actually more bacteria than human! Kind of mind blowing, and at the same time it’s no wonder the balance of good vs. bad bacteria is so integral to our health.
When there aren’t enough of the good bacteria or too many of the wrong things like parasites, yeast or unfavorable bacteria, the result is digestive chaos that can be felt far beyond the confines of the bowels.
The lining of your GI tract is highly specialized and easily damaged by things like alcohol, antibiotics, medications, food chemicals and imbalanced bacteria.
Only a thin layer of cells guards the contents of the GI tract from the 90% of our immune system that rests just beyond these cells.
When this cell layer becomes damaged, the immune system can overact leading to systemic inflammation in the body and lead to conditions elsewhere like eczema, psoriasis, asthma, joint pain or arthritis, and even mental emotional problems.
It’s also said the gut contains our “second brain” because of the large amounts of the same neurotransmitters found here and in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that activate our nervous system. You know how people say “I’m sick to my stomach” when they’re upset – its because of how the brain is directly wired to the GI tract.
Again, when digestion is off, our brain receives these messages – that’s why researchers are now linking mental-emotional conditions like depression and anxiety.
Attackers of Gut Health
- Diets full of sugar, lacking in good fiber (plants), and rich in processed (lifeless) food doesn’t allow for good bacterial balance.
- Use of drugs like antibiotics, which kill good bacteria and allow bad bacteria and yeast to thrive, anti-inflammatories, which cause gut bleeding, and acid blockers that slow digestion and further upset the bacterial balance.
- Overgrowth of bacteria, yeast, parasites and ongoing low-grade infections set us up for immune system imbalances.
- Stress disrupts neurotransmitter production in the gut leading to digestive dysfunction.
How To Start Improving Your Gut Health
- Loose the sugar and start eating more vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Eat real food!
- Get tested for food sensitivities. Eating foods that you’re sensitive to can lead to leaky gut and autoimmune-like conditions throughout the body.
- Rule out overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. This can be done with a specialized stool testing.
- Only eat when you can sit down in a non-stressed state and allow your body to digest your food. Digestive enzymes and probiotics (healthy bacteria) are essential to the digestive process.
Restoring gut health is important to the rest of your body! Remember, all health, even mental-emotional health begins in the gut. If you have health conditions outside the gut, it’s important to start looking for the cause – it’s often found in the digestive tract!