It’s been estimated that approximately 70% of Americans have some sort of digestive related symptom or disease. The digestive tract also affects health throughout the body.
Our gastrointestinal tract is a highly sensitive system of organs. Even though most of us would only recognize typical IBS symptoms, many people don’t realize an imbalance in the gut will manifest as other symptoms elsewhere in the body. The GI tract has an intricate and delicate relationship with our entire body and all of our other systems.
Here are some staggering figures-
¾ of our neurotransmitters are located in our gut
⅔ of our immune system sits in the gut
Did you know: There is 10x the amount of bacteria in our guts, when compared to the amount of cells in our entire bodies
Key aspects of your gut health and the roles it plays include:
• Intestinal permeability
• Immune system modulation
• Nervous system harmony
Digestion and absorption of the nutrient in our food can be affected by hurried eating, inadequate chewing, low acid/HCL production, pancreatic insufficiency, and/or bile acid sufficiency.
Intestinal permeability involves damage to the lining of your digestive tract. An intact intestinal barrier is essential to normal physiological function and prevention of disease. Multiple factors including stress, eating the ‘wrong foods’, infections, medications can all cause vulnerability to our gut lining. As a result, this intestinal permeability causes ‘leaky gut syndrome’ allowing harmful substances to leak thru the gut barrier into the blood system and come into contact with our immune systems, causing system wide inflammation, negative food reactions, and autoimmune symptoms.
Our GI system needs balance and diversity. If the surface area of our skin is 1.5m2, the mucosal surface is 300m2, which is approximately the size of a tennis court! Our microbiome is influenced on a daily basis by our food and lifestyle choices, chronic stress, antibiotic use, infections, and toxins. An imbalance in our microbiome, or dysbiosis, has been implicated in countless chronic health conditions. Making lifestyle and dietary modifications is key in restoring our gut health and function.
Our immune system has a direct connection to our GI barrier lining, and with the presence of a compromised barrier, we can see symptoms of an overwhelmed immune system. Approximately 50 million Americans, or 1 in 5 people, are suffering with the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. If ⅔ of our immune system is in our gut, why aren’t we all focusing on GI health?
The gut-brain barrier also involves our enteric nervous system. Stress, chronic disease, and hormone imbalance all affect this system. Being in a constant state of fight or flight will not only stress our adrenal systems, but also affect the function of our gut. Dysfunction in the GI tract is just the beginning of a cascade of events that will lead to ill health, inflammation, and autoimmune disease.
In my approach to functional medicine, I focus on the gut first. I put a heavy emphasis on getting back to the basics. Remember that our bodies should be treated and respected like a temple. If we expect our bodies to take care of us, we need to be sure to properly take care of our bodies. This means not only providing our bodies with the proper fuel, but also being aware of our gut-brain connection, keeping stress levels manageable in our lives, providing proper hydration, and optimizing detoxification of both the gut and the liver.
We talk about gut health every day to our patients. It’s so important that we recently created a Group Medical Visit series on the topic.
If we can heal our gut, we can heal our bodies!