WHAT IS THE GUT?
The “gut”, refers to your gastrointestinal tract which is essentially a continuous long tube that runs from your mouth to your anus.
The gut is separated into four main areas, the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine, each with different digestive functions.
Digestion begins in the mouth. As we chew, saliva coats the food and signals the brain to prepare the rest of the digestive system.
Food then enters the highly acid environment of the stomach where it is broken down into smaller molecules and any bag bugs that may have been on your food are killed before passing into the small intestine.
About 90% of nutrients and water are absorbed in the small intestine. These nutrients are carried throughout the body and used by cells for growth, energy and repair.
The remaining waste products of digestion move into the large the intestine which is home to a complex ecosystem of gut flora called the microbiota, before passing out of the body as a solid matter called stool.
The gut is also an important and essential part of our immune system. Approximately 70% of our immune cells live in and around the digestive tract. Research has discovered that our gut flora is important for maintaining normal immune function.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
A healthy gut will absorb nutrients from food, destroy unwanted pathogens and eliminate toxins and waste. This results in better physical and mental health… But sometimes things go wrong.
Microbiota diversity is affected by many factors. In a healthy gut the balance is usually around 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria. However, poor diet, antibiotic use, toxins, food intolerances, stress or poor lifestyle choices can tip the balance in favour of the bad bacteria and this can lead to a number of digestive symptoms and diseases.
Furthermore, the tight junctions of the gut lining can become damaged and leaky. In a healthy gut lining many tight junctions allow just enough space for very small particles, such as nutrients, to pass into our bloodstream. However, exposure to inflammatory and processed foods, environmental toxins, parasitic infections and food intolerances can pull apart these junctions allowing for larger food fragments and pathogens to travel in to the circulation. This can trigger an immune response which may present as skin conditions, autoimmune conditions, food intolerances or allergies.
ARE YOUR GUT SYMPTOMS NORMAL?
The foods that we eat, medications, supplements and emotions can alter the appearance of our stools. However, most of the time your stools should resemble a well-formed, mid-brown coloured sausage. Fibre and water intake can influence how many stools you pass each day. Passing an average of one to two stools a day allows for the healthy release of toxins and waste products. A stool should not be painful or difficult to pass.
Frequent constipation, bloating, flatulence, nausea, diarrhoea, reflux, digestive pain, mood swings, hormone imbalances, dull skin and hair, weak nails, skin conditions, low energy and sluggish metabolism may be signs of a dysfunctional digestive system.
THAT GUT FEELING
Have you ever experienced butterflies in the stomach or diarrhoea when you’ve been stressed or anxious?
The gut is often referred to as ‘the second brain’ because the brain and the gut are in constant communication via the nervous system. Digestion is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, an intricate and abundant system of nerves that communicate with the central nervous system.
Stress switches on the sympathetic nervous system, our ‘fight or flight’ response and switches off our parasympathetic nervous system which controls digestive function. When we are stressed the blood supply to the digestive system is diminished making repair difficult and digestion weak. Over time the bacterial ecosystem in the gut – so vital for nutrient absorption, mood and immune function – becomes unbalanced and unwanted digestive symptoms may become more frequent or severe.
You many notice changes to your mood. Almost 100% of the body’s serotonin, our happy hormone, is made in the gut from what you eat. Low serotonin levels are commonly associated with depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. At this current time, it is believed that our gut bacteria can both, directly and indirectly, influence serotonin levels.
TIPS FOR A HEALTHY DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Maintaining a healthy digestive system doesn’t need to be complicated nor expensive. Here are some simple recommendations that you can implement straight away:
- Aim for 20 grams of fibre a day, including plenty of soluble fibre from fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.
- Avoid processed foods and primarily eat a plant-based whole food diet.
- Drink approximately 2L of water every day.
- Include resistant starch in your diet. Dietary sources include cooked and then cooled potatoes or rice. It can also be found in unripe bananas (you can buy this as a supplemental powder), lentils and many unprocessed cereals and grains.
- Eat prebiotic foods (prebiotics feed the good bacteria) such as asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, beans, beets, fennel, leafy greens, onions, garlic, almonds and peas.
- Add probiotic foods and drinks to your diet such as tempeh, raw honey, sauerkraut, miso, kimchee, kefir, yoghurt, kombucha and gluten-free soy sauce.
If your digestive symptoms persist, further investigation and specialist care is recommended. For more information about digestion and your symptoms book in for a discovery call!
Yours in happiness and health,