Good digestive health is something many people take for granted. For very many of us who are not so lucky, feeling bloated, gassy and uncomfortable can be a daily occurrence and become a ‘normal’ part of our lives. Identifying and isolating the offending foods often seems to be very difficult. Digestive wellness is sensitive, dynamic and ever changing like the ebb and flow. That is because it is intrinsically connected to what is going on in our lives, not only nutritionally but also mentally and emotionally. Learning to listen to your body, knowing how to interpret your symptoms and treat them naturally is essential for self-care and creating long-term digestive wellness.
We are what we digest.
Eating healthy, nutritious food is the right place to start but many people still have digestive and other health problems despite eating the ‘right’ foods. When we feel this way, it is a sign that our digestive system has become inflamed. Once inflamed, it is very difficult to break down and absorb the nutrients found in food and as a result further inflammation occurs. Ideally we digest and absorb about 90 to 97% of the food we eat. Yet, the best diet in the world won’t help if you are not digesting, absorbing and eliminating properly. It’s how effectively we digest and absorb our food that’s determining our state of health rather than just what we eat.
Why a healthy gut is the centre of a healthy life
Traditionally diseases have been identified by where they are located. If you have asthma, it is considered a lung problem. If you have eczema, it is considered a skin problem. Understanding health this way is both right and wrong. Sometimes the causes of your symptoms do have some relationship to their location but there is much more to it. As we come to understand health and disease in the 21st century, the old ways of defining illness based on symptoms and location in the body are not very useful any more. Instead, understanding that the body operates as one whole integrated system we know now that symptoms appearing in one area of the body may be caused by imbalances in an entirely different system.
Everything is connected. And the centre of that connection is the gut. It is indeed the most important organ in the body and connects to virtually every other system in the body. Compare your gut to the roots of a tree. The tree cannot be healthy if its roots are not healthy, no matter how far away the branches are. And so your body cannot be healthy and vibrant if your gut is not healthy. Tending to your ‘roots’ can be the answer to many seemingly unrelated health problems.
Is your gut making you sick?
If your skin is bad, you can’t seem to lose weight, suffer from an autoimmune disease, have allergies or a chronic illness the real reason may be that your gut is unhealthy. This may be true even if you have never had any digestive complaints.
Imbalances in the digestive system do not only cause digestive symptoms but also symptoms, imbalances and disease throughout the body. When the ecosystem in your gut gets out of balance, when the gut lining becomes leaky and inflamed, and when digestion and absorption is suboptimal, a toxic environment develops that affects your body and your metabolism in many ways.
Did you know that about 70% of our immune system is located in the gut? The GALT (or gut-associated-lymphoid tissue) and MALT (mucosal-associated-lymphatic tissue) is the body’s main immunological frontline. The immune system present in these membranes makes more immunological decisions in a day than the rest of our immune system makes in a lifetime. If they are structurally strong, then our ability to withstand the stressors of life holds true.
That means gut health is directly linked to health issues you would probably never imagine, including low immunity and frequent colds and infections, autoimmune disease, PCOS, arthritis, allergies, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, mental health and clarity, skin problems like eczema and psoriasis, weight gain and obesity.
Our second brain
Do you have gut instincts? Do you get butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous or anxious? This happens because our nervous and digestive systems are intertwined. The enteric nervous system runs through the digestive system and is often called ‘the second brain’. It is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve but can work entirely on its own. It makes more neurotransmitters than the brain, including serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine. These neurotransmitters do not only have local effects but also systemic effects which means they affect body systems other than and far away from the digestive system.
The communication goes both ways – the brain talks to our gut and the gut talks to our brain. When our behaviour changes in a certain way (like getting anxious before a job interview), our brain sends a message that changes our gut bacteria, causing low-grade inflammation and possibly gastrointestinal distress (like stomach cramps). But it also goes the other way. If we have an imbalanced gut flora, called dysbiosis, the gut sends messages to the brain that can lead to behavioural and mood changes. Leaky gut, for instance, increases the incidence of all sorts of mental dysfunction, including anxiety, depression, fatigue, confusion and poor memory. In children, poor gut health and suboptimal detoxification is linked to learning and behavioural difficulties, ADD/ADHD and Autism. It is estimated that about two-thirds of children and adults on the autistic spectrum have gastrointestinal dysfunction.
By balancing our digestive health we can have more energy, think more clearly, experience less pain and create a better quality of life.
Finding your own gut-bliss
Two people can have the same diagnosis but different treatment. That’s because the same diagnosis may have different reasons for it. On the other hand, two people can have different diagnoses and have the same treatment. This is possible because they may have the same underlying issues. The causes and contributing factors of digestive stress vary tremendously between individuals and are also often multifactorial. Finding the underlying triggers of digestive issues and listening to a person’s story is the key for successful treatment and the return to gut-bliss.
Factors that may be affecting your digestive wellness include:
- Food choices and quality of food
- How and when you eat
- Nutritional status and nutrient deficiencies
- Lifestyle, alcohol and cigarette smoking
- Exercise routine or lack thereof
- Food sensitivities and intolerances
- Liver & detoxification issues
- Low stomach acid & low digestive enzymes
- Imbalanced gut flora (dysbiosis)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Low thyroid function
- Environmental toxins and heavy metals
- Gender-specific anatomy
- Oral Contraceptive Pill
- Prescription and OCT medication (antibiotics, antacids, NSAIDs, steroids and others)
- Chronic stress
- Emotional & mental stress
Dump your digestive baggage now and find your own gut-bliss the healthy way.
Contact us today to get personalised help.