"All disease begins in the gut"- Hippocrates
If you google "Gut Health", you will find so many articles on what to eat, what supplements to take, the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut, etc. Maybe you have some digestive issues? Bloating, indigestion, gas, GERD, IBS, ulcers, acidic stomach, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, etc.?
My first experience with having gut issues was a few years ago (luckily for me), when I noticed that when I ate ice cream, my stomach would hurt so badly. Come to find out, I have a lactose intolerance, and I strongly believe most people do (as we aren't supposed to consume lactose after childhood). I had never linked these issues before because, to be honest, I just never paid attention. It happened when I would consume any kind of dairy. Maybe you have noticed this too?
Our gastrointestinal system is so complex AND magical, and if you figure out how to create a healthy microbiome, not only will you feel better physically, BUT new research shows that you will feel better mentally! How cool is that?!
Our gastrointestinal system is there to break down food into energy, and to give our body the nutrients we need to thrive.
Here is a little break down of how food moves through our body:
Mouth: here we chew our food with our teeth (this is called masticating, WHICH by the way, carnivores do not have this type of jaw set up because they swallow their prey in chunks. Herbivores, like I believe we are, are able to masticate due to our jaw). The tongue tastes the food, and sends a message to the brain saying "hey, FOOD ALERT", which then tells the salivary glands to activate, and excrete saliva, which contains enzymes that helps break down food (which is why you should avoid drinking water while eating because you dont want to dilute these enzymes), and lubricates the food so it will move with ease down your throat (aka pharynx).
Pharynx: not much happens here, besides the food passing through to our....
Esophagus: this is the tube that connects your pharynx to the upper gastrointestinal tract of our stomach. At the end, there is a muscle that contracts (sphincter) in order to trap the food in your stomach for digestion.
Stomach: this is really just the storage area for your food, and is usually about the size of two fists next to each other. There are digestive enzymes and HCI (hydrochloric acid) to continue breaking down food (called chyme) while it waits to move into your...
Small Intestine (10ft LONG and part of your lower gastrointestinal tract; looks like a coiled hose): here, your pancreas (which makes a digestive juice that has enzymes that breakdown proteins, fats, and carbs), and your liver (which makes a digestive juice called bile which helps break down fats and some vitamins. The extra bile is stored in the gallbladder for later use) and your intestine will break down and 90% of nutrients have been absorbed. Water from your bloodstream is introduced to help break down foods even more!
Large Intestine (5ft LONG!): here, the water that was introduced from your bloodstream in your small intestine is then reabsorbed into the bloodstream; also, this is where the symbiotic bacteria lives (aka microbiome, which lives in a pocket called your cecum) and aids in breaking down any waste and absorbing whatever nutrients it can before leaving your body through the anal canal (in the form of feces, aka defecation).
Alright friends, that concludes our anatomy lecture for today.
When you hear the word "Gut", all of these parts are included, and all of them are important in the process of digestion.
But, nerves and hormones play an important role in helping to control the process. How, do you say?
Nerves: your gastrointestinal system is connected by nerves to your CNS (Central Nervous System, aka brain and spinal cord) which notices cues in order to tell your salivary glands to produce saliva (just an example). Then, you have your ENS (Enteric Nervous System), which are nerves that line your gastrointestinal tract. When you eat, the food stretches the walls of your GI tract, and releases substances that either speed up the digestion process or delay it.
Hormones: Cells lining your stomach and small intestine release hormones that tell your body when to make digestive juices AND tell your brain when you are hungry or full; your pancreas also secretes hormones that aid in this as well.
What is our gut microbiome?:
It is the bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other living organisms that live in mainly our intestines and on our skin (aka Microbiota). Most of them are found in a pocket of our large intestine (the cecum). THERE ARE MORE BACTERIAL CELLS IN YOUR BODY THAN HUMAN CELLS. Which means we're mostly bacteria! There are many kinds of bacterial organisms, and they all play different roles in our body. But, it's important to remember that not all of these organisms are GOOD organisms. Often, when our bodies are consumed by bad organisms, it leads to disease or other health issues.
***Your mama gave you the microbiome you have when she gave birth to you, and as it grows, it begins to diversify! --->Highly diversified microbiome leads to better health!
***In Ayurveda, the gut is called your Agni, or your internal fire. When your agni is strong, your food will be digested no problem. But if your agni is too hot or cold, the food won't digest properly. Undigested food will begin to rot in your GI tract, and overtime, the rotting will ferment, and spread toxicity all over your body. If this interests you, try finding out your Dosha to learn what to eat, when, and other information on how to approach life.
How do you know if you have an "unhealthy" gut? Here are some behaviors, signs and symptoms:
Upset stomach: gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn
High Sugar Diet: processed and high sugar foods decrease the "good" bacteria in your gut, which throws your gut out of balance, which creates a domino effect in the way that because of the imbalance, you crave more of these kinds of foods, leading to inflammation, which leads to numerous diseases.
Weight Changes: weight gain or loss can be seen when your body is having trouble absorbing nutrients, fat storage, and regulating blood pressure. When our body senses that we aren't absorbing nutrients, it tells us to eat more, which leads to weight gain.
Sleep issues: chronic fatigue, low sleep quality, and insomnia stem from our serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter created by the bacteria in our gut!
Skin issues: a damaged gut can lead to inflammation which shows up on our skin! Eczema, and other inflammatory skin conditions can be caused by an unhappy gut.
Food intolerances: when our body has a hard time digesting things, it shows up in many ways (like our stomach hurting or skin issues, etc).
Mood issues: like stated above, most of our serotonin (a neurotransmitter that affects our mood and sleep) is produced by the bacteria in our gut. If you dont have enough "good" bacteria, you might have a low level of serotonin which would have an effect on your mood, such as anxiety, stress, unable to concentrate, depression, etc., which can also lead to sleep issues as well.
Pain: physical pain, which is usually from inflammation
My main point is: our brain and our gut communicate with each other! Not only does having a healthy gut affect our physical wellbeing (preventing disease, having energy, feeling good, getting all the nutrients we need, taking care of our blood and brain, lowering inflammation, having great skin, hair, and eyes, etc), BUT it also has an effect on our mental and emotional wellbeing too!
Alright already! WHAT CAN I DO TO HAVE A HEALTHY GUT?!
Lower your sugar intake!
Eat more fermented foods: yogurt, miso, pickled vegetables/kimchi, kombucha, kefir, etc.
Avoid alcohol, processed/fried foods, caffeine, and anything carbonated.
Try adding in a probiotic supplement! There are so many strains of bacteria (look for one that has at least 1 Billion CFU's (colony forming units). You can find these in liquid or pill form. I personally really like the apple cider vinegar liquids because they taste delicious and the cultures are still alive!
DRINK LOTS OF WATER!
Make sure to eat lots of fiber rich foods like vegetables and whole grains.
Try an elimination diet to see if you have any food sensitivities/intolerances. A lot of people have reactions to certain foods, but can't quite pinpoint which food that is. This is a good way to figure that out! There are also tests you can take for a more scientific approach. You can also find out what your "C score" is, which means how many copies of a gene called Amylase (AMY1) you have, which will tell you how your body breaks down carbohydrates.
Work on LOWERING your stress levels in whatever way you can (exercise, hobbies, reading, work/home life balance, finances, family, relationships, therapy, etc.).
Try to be more plant based (lowers cholesterol, inflammation, and disease causing bacteria).
GET MORE SLEEP!
Eat more foods rich in polyphenols: chocolate, green tea, olive oil, and whole grains (yes, red wine, but try to avoid that!).
Avoid FODMAP foods (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols): These are short chained carbs and sugar alcohols that are really hard for our body to digest, which leads them to just sitting in your stomach, undigested, and fermenting, leading to many different GI problems. Only try this if you having a lot of unresolved issues.
Avoid antibiotics, if possible, as they will kill ANY bacteria, even the GOOD ones.
Eat a diverse range of food: this will increase the diversity of your microbiota!
Focus on your oral hygiene: digestion begins here! I suggest: oil pulling (aka gundusha, an ayurvedic practice; this removes toxins and bad bacteria from your mouth), tongue scraping (also an ayurvedic practice; also removes bacteria and toxins from your tongue), flossing, and brushing regularly.
GINGER! TURMERIC! GREEN TEA! LEMON! PEPPERMINT! Add more of these to your diet to rid your gut of bad bacteria, relieve inflammation and gas, stimulates saliva and bile production, soothes digestive tract, etc.
CHEW YOUR FOOD MORE! CHEW IT! Masticate that shiiiii....
Eat smaller meals, but more frequently.
Try changing how you prepare your food
Be more mindful while eating. Pay attention! Enjoy your food!
Use natural cleaning supplies/beauty products.
Try enzymes! I like using these!
Don't eat 2 hours before bedtime, and avoid eating laying down.
If all else fails, go to your doctor!
BAM! That is all I have for you on how our digestive system works, what happens when our gut is "unhealthy" and what to do to improve it! Let me know what you think!
Until next time, my friends! Be well!