Digestive Health & Gut Microbiome
Good health begins in the gut
That’s why I almost always start helping people treat chronic problems by fixing their digestive health first, whether they’re suffering from gastrointestinal distress symptoms like bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, reflux, increased gas, nausea, painful stomach cramps - or not.
The highly sophisticated digestive system is where 80% of your immune system lives. And 90% of your body’s serotonin (a neurotransmitter more commonly referred to as the “feel-good” hormone), that’s responsible for regulating things in the body like mood, appetite, and sleep is found not in your brain, but in your gut.
Just a couple of reasons why compromised digestive health can play out all over your body – joint pain, muscle aches, insomnia, weight gain, skin conditions, fatigue, allergies, autoimmune disorders, brain fog and more..
Digestive Health - How does your digestive system work?
The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, also called the digestive tract - and the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
The hollow organs that make up the GI tract are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are the solid organs of the digestive system.
Bacteria in your GI tract, also called gut flora or microbiome, help with digestion. Parts of your nervous and circulatory systems also help. Working together, nerves, hormones, bacteria, blood, and the organs of your digestive system digest the foods and liquids you consume every day, and then convert them into energy and basic nutrients to feed your entire body.
Your hormones and nerves also control signals flowing within your GI tract, and back and forth from your GI tract to your brain (along the gut-brain axis). For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin can actually modulate motility in the gut, so when levels of serotonin are too high or too low, this can cause either constipation or diarrhoea.
You are what you digest and absorb
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “You are what you eat,” but I’d like to add to that and say, “You are what you digest and absorb.” If you’re eating healthy foods and wondering why you are still experiencing bloating or lack of energy, look to your digestive health. Your body may be working hard to break foods down, but just cannot assimilate the nutrients.
What causes poor digestion and absorption?
It’s easy to associate digestion purely with "fuel-conversion" - the breaking-down of food into nutrients for your body to use. In reality, it’s way more complex than this and when any of the digestive organs aren’t functioning as they should there’s the potential not only for poor digestive health but also for chaos elsewhere in the body.
Here’s some of the most common scenarios in which digestive health can be disturbed:
- Insufficient digestive enzyme and stomach acid production - both of which are essential for digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Damage to nerves or tissues - that reside in the GI tract can prevent proper functioning and nutritional uptake from food by the body.
- Stress - produces stress-related hormones like adrenaline which will decrease blood flow to the gut and subsequently compromise the integrity of the delicate mucosal barrier that lines the intestinal walls. This is often why IBS sufferers’ digestive health symptoms worsen during stressful times.
- Leaky gut syndrome (LGS) or intestinal permeability - where there’s damage to the lining of the gut wall and harmful toxins, bacteria plus partially digested foods can break-free from the GI tract and enter the immune system, setting off a cascade of unfavourable digestive health events.
- Underlying viruses or gut infections - like candida, parasites, or SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth), which can cause for example, things like nutrient deficiencies (as these unwanted organisms consume ingested foods), and poor fat metabolism which reduces the absorption of fat soluble vitamins - A, D, E & K.
- Gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) – poor diet, stressful living and medication such as antibiotics severely disrupt your digestive health and the ecology of your gut, leaving a state of dysbiosis where pathogens such as yeasts and bad bacteria can flourish, while healthy bacteria diminishes.
Gut Microbiome – a welcome or unwelcome intrusion
Within your gut is a large, bustling community (otherwise known as microbiome) of what should be mostly beneficial microorganisms (including microbes like viruses, fungi and bacteria).
This intelligent ecosystem makes up the majority of your immune system, and your body contains 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. Hard to believe I know, but in truth you’re actually more bacteria than human. Fascinating!
This busy force of microorganisms that have evolved with us over the centuries make essential nutrients, provide immunological signaling, perform detoxifying functions, and influence neurotransmitters and hormones. It’s no surprise therefore to learn that they are ultimately in charge of how we look, feel and think.
For instance, conditions such as leaky gut syndrome and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can wreak havoc on your microbiome. As the age-old Hippocratic saying goes, "All disease begins in the gut", and when your microbiome is weakened or damaged, it can "switch on" a number of potential disease processes throughout the body.
And researchers are quickly learning how much the microbiome regulates just about every system of the body. As mentioned earlier, this means that you don't have to be experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms to have poor microbiome health.
The makeup of bacteria within your gut can determine whether you’re likely to experience psychological states like depression or anxiety, GI conditions like colitis or irritable bowel, skin problems like eczema or psoriasis, neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis and inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Even susceptibility to being overweight can be mediated by the microbiome’s impact on thyroid autoimmunity and insulin resistance.
Optimise your digestive health & gut microbiome
Identifying and correcting digestive health dysfunction and gut microbiome problems can be challenging, but hugely rewarding.
My natural approach to treating and resolving client’s digestive health problems quickly, is to provide the body with the tools needed to unleash its innate, biological healing powers.
There's no doubt about it - fixing digestive health and gut microbiome issues are two of the most important steps you can take to healing your body and optimising your overall health.
If you're concerned about your digestive health and would like expert help, check out my 90-Day Gut Health plan or get in touch to discuss with me your specific concerns and how best to overcome them.