The digestive system is an extremely important, yet vastly overlooked, system of our body. Our digestive system, or “the gut”, is so vitally important to our overall health that it warrants consideration with any chronic disease being treated. When it comes to the health of your gut, you are not alone. Over 100 million Americans have digestive problems. The Number One selling drug in 2012 was Nexium, for treatment of acid reflux. The over-the-counter remedies for digestive complaints bring in billions of dollars per year. Yet, with all this treatment, the situation is not improving. Obviously we need to do something else.
Now everyone has experienced episodes of gas, bloating, diarrhea, heart burn, irritable bowel and so on. But it is not limited to these types of intestinal complaints. The effects of the digestive system can be far-reaching and cause havoc in areas that most people, and doctors for that matter, would not even consider. Here are some examples you may have heard of: Arthritis
• Autoimmune disorders
• Mood disorders
• Chronic fatigue
• Fibromyalgia/ CFIDS
• Neurodegenerative disorders
This is why we almost always start helping people with chronic health problems by fixing their gut first. At least we will get going on the gut repair as we tackle other areas as well. So let’s take a look at why a healthy gut is crucial if you want to be truly healthy.
Good Gut Health
At its most basic, the gut needs to be able to break down the food we eat so we can properly absorb the nutrients from our food. Then what we don’t use we are able to pass along and get rid of in urine or with a nice bowel movement (many people have issues with the bowel movement part). So we let the good stuff in (nutrients, minerals) and at the same time we must keep the bad stuff out (toxins, harmful microbes). But what if the gut is not absorbing all the nutrients it should be? What if it’s not keeping out all the toxins and allergens that it comes in contact with? That’s when we have our issues. Let’s investigate…
In the healthy gut, there are approximately 500 species and four pounds of bacteria (don’t get freaked out, we need them). This is what we now call the microbiome. There are more cells than “human” cells and more DNA than the rest of your body in this microbiome. This is an amazing interdependent ecosystem that keeps us alive and healthy. The gut even has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system. It can carry signals and function without input from the brain if necessary. There are actually more inputs going from the gut to the brain than from the brain to the gut. Eighty percent of your immune system is in your gut. That is worth repeating. Eighty percent of your immune system is in your gut. It makes sense because it is exposed to everything that enters our mouths and it must be able to fight off foreign invaders when necessary. So if you damage the lining of the gut you will have a chronic inflammatory response from the immune system and that whole host of disorders we listed earlier may ensue.
So, between having to break down food to its basic components so you can absorb the nutrients and providing priceless immune support, the gut is an immensely important system. It wants nothing more than for you to be nice to it so it can perform its duties (no pun intended) without disruption.
So What Goes Wrong?
There are a myriad of things that can make the gut unhappy. These include a poor diet (we’ll get into it), high stress, chronic low-graded infections, overuse of medication, and so on. If any of these conditions exist it can lead to intestinal hyperpermeability, or “leaky gut.” This occurs if the junctions between the cells (tight junctions) become weak. Now instead of only letting in good nutrients the gaps are wide enough to let other, larger particles into the blood stream. The body recognizes these as foreign invaders and mounts an immune response. This can ultimately lead to autoimmune conditions, skin rashes and a host of other symptoms and disorders mentioned earlier. As you continuously eat foods that cause an immune reaction inside your body you will have chronic low-grade inflammation which also causes all sorts of issues.
Why The Unhappy Gut?
The gut normally does a very good job at breaking down food into nutrients it can use all while keeping out the bad guys. But sometimes your gut gets out of whack. What are some things that can cause it do go awry?
• The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in sugar, processed foods and refined carbohydrates, while being low in fiber and many nutrients. Sugar and processed foods tend to cause inflammation in the gut.
• Chronic low-grade gut infections. This is usually from having a chronic low-grade inflammatory response which destroys the immune system in the gut and harmful bacteria are able to take over.
• Chronic stress is a major cause of an unhappy digestive system. Again, chronic stress causes a decrease in the immune system function and the bad bugs are able to multiply.
• Overuse of certain medications. Antibiotic use destroys the bad bugs but also destroys the good bacteria in the gut. Antacids lower the acidity in the stomach so proper breakdown of food cannot happen at this stage.
If you are suffering with any of the disorders listed above or have chronic digestive issues then you are likely dealing with some form of gut dysfunction. You may have no bowel symptoms but suffer from chronic allergies, eczema, chronic pain, fibromyalgia or other chronic health challenges, the odds are good that they may be stemming from an unhealthy gut. Some things you can start today to improve your gut function include:
• Cut out processed foods and refined carbohydrates
• Cut out the refined sugars
• Eat a whole-foods based diet, consisting of veggies, proteins, nuts and berries
• Take digestive enzymes with your meals
• Take a high quality probiotic
If you are still having gut health issues or are having difficulty cleaning up the diet and deciding which supplements to use or suffering from one of the many chronic conditions that may be attributed to poor gut health then give our office a call to schedule your functional medicine consultation. We will help guide you through the process and support you every step of the way. We look forward to working with you.
Yours in health,
Village Center Chiropractic healthcare team