Whether on the news or on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed more and more people talking about gut health. Every day it feels like there’s a new diet being promoted that promises better health, less stomach discomfort, and more regular digestion. At Rejuvé, we’re getting to the bottom of this, and we’re starting at the source — your stomach, intestinal tract, and other supporting organs called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract plays a crucial role in your health — so it makes sense so many are worried about what goes on down there. But despite its importance, many people know very little about how it functions and what’s really going on when problems arise. By knowing what can cause GI problems, you can better understand the symptoms and what can be done for it.
The main function of the stomach and intestines is to digest and transport food, breaking it down so it can be absorbed into the body. This process allows the body to absorb the daily nutrients it needs like proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. It is also involved in eliminating the body’s waste and toxins. Interestingly, the gastrointestinal tract is a complex system that does much more than just process and eliminate food. The health of our mind and body is closely related to the condition of the GI tract.
In a normal gut there is an estimated 10 quadrillion (that’s 10,000,000,000,000,000) little critters living in your intestines. That’s more bacteria than there are cells in your body — by a factor of 10 — and even more than the total number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy! A healthy gut begins with the over 400 species of bacteria that live within it. When perfectly balanced, these good bacteria known as gut microbiota will break down and excrete vitamins while preventing other bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi from gaining a foothold in your GI tract. They will also stimulate the development of certain tissues, as well as interact with your immune system to strengthen its defenses. These bacteria also produce gut-nourishing short chain fatty acids, metabolize drugs, and produce natural antibodies. The gastrointestinal tract is also rich in the formation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin through the 5HTP pathway. When serotonin becomes deficient it can lead to insomnia, anxiety, depression, and changes in the personality like aggressive behavior, paranoia, hostility, and even an altered perception of one’s surroundings.
When the gut microbiota (also called flora) isn’t healthy and is out of balance, it is often referred to as “gut dysbiosis.” Patients who have this problem may experience occasional to embarrassing gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, burping, heartburn, constipation, irregular stool formation, loose stool, diarrhea, or incomplete evacuation. There can be other effects that are less obvious, too. This can include producing numerous kinds of different toxic enzymes, inability to evacuate harmful substances, weakened immune system, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or poor absorption of nutrients (which can lead to other diseases such high blood pressure, diabetes, fatigue, and obesity, as well as contributing to food allergies and atopic eczema).
Several factors that can change the bacteria in the gut and cause these effects are food allergies, antibiotics, stress, and a poor, unhealthy diet. By maintaining a healthy diet you can avoid these issues and strengthen your immune system. Here are eight steps that can help you maintain a healthy gut flora:
- 1. Eating plenty of good fats (like the essential fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, coconuts, avocadoes), proteins, vegetables, and fruits
- 2. Avoiding dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
- 3. Reducing or avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars
- 4. Avoiding foods that cause allergies or sensitivities, as well as indigestible foods
- 5. Reducing stress
- 6. Consuming prebiotics (a food source that help the growth of gut organisms). Foods like onions, asparagus, and garlic are rich in inulin and FOS (fructooligosaccharides ) — the main component found in prebiotics.
- 7. Consuming soluble and insoluble fiber. You should be eating enough to maintain a daily bowel movement. A slow bowel transit time leads to increased exposure of your body to toxic bowel contents.
- 8. Reducing dietary sulfate consumption. Sulfates promote the growth of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). SRBs produce a toxin that increases the permeability of the lining of the gut (leaky gut) and can cause ulcerative colitis. Sulfates are found in preservatives — found everywhere from lettuce at salad bars, dried fruits, and shellfish, to packaged fruit juices and alcoholic beverages.
The GI tract is a complex system that plays a crucial role in not only your health, but also your general well being. It is often the root cause of many symptoms and diseases. Listen to it! It may be telling you something. Coming soon in our next post (Part 2), we’ll discuss Intestinal Permeability or “leaky gut” syndrome — what causes it and ways to fix it.