Gut health, or lack thereof, is a hot topic in medicine today. Rightfully so, as proper gas-trointestinal (GI) function is critical to all aspects of body function and ad-equate nutritional status. Failures of the GI system can manifest as diges-tive diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and colorectal cancer (3). Autoimmune diseases can originate from GI dysfunction, and include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, chronic dermatological conditions, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), allergies, asthma, schizophrenia, and autism (1,3).
In my work with clients, I’ve found that most people aren’t really aware of their gut - until things go wrong. This makes sense, since we don’t ‘see’ our gut on daily basis. We go about our days eating and drinking, taking for granted that all of our meals end up getting digested and put to use. That is, until things go wrong and we begin experiencing common GI symptoms: bloating, cramping, gas, constipation, diar-rhea, and insomnia. Let’s review GI anatomy real quick in order to gain a better understanding of this system.
The gut is also referred to as the enteric nervous system (ENS), or, “second brain” (1). This system contains tens of trillions of cells, and is home to 10 times more bacteria than all the cells in the entire body, 400+ species of which are known (2). The GI system begins with the mouth, and proceeds to the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, small intes-tine, large intestine, rectum, and the anus (1). It has a big role to play as the body’s gatekeeper between the outside world and the body’s inside environment. Our GI system is con-stantly analyzing everything coming in, differentiating between beneficial and harmful. It attempts to put to use beneficial (think high quality food) while discarding harmful (think poor quality, highly processed food). How do you know if you have opti-mal GI health? You have a couple easy bowel movements daily, don’t fart with each step you take, sleep soundly, have consistent energy throughout the day, feel good after eating, and experience minimal food cravings or mood swings. You aren’t taking acid blockers or antidepressant medications (to name a few) (1).
Good Guts Gone Bad
We spoke above about the gut as the “second brain”. Remember, trillions of cells, and tons of bacte-rial species? It’s a sensitive, highly aware system. If we bombard it for long enough with a poor diet (low protein, low veggies, low omega 3 fats, high sugar, high starch) certain medications (anti-biotics, acid blockers, NSAIDs) (3), genetically modified foods, and chronic stress (constantly being “connected” to mobile devices, relentless work and family stress, persistent unhappiness) the GI system will eventually fail.
Bad Guts Restored
Good news prevails, however. If you suffer from poor GI health and various symptoms associated with it, there’s hope. But, it’ll require change, and a few beneficial supplements. Initial dietary steps include the removal of of-fending, but often favorite foods. Get rid of anything containing gluten, toss the sugar bomb cereal (your kids don’t need it, either), and pick up a good cookbook (I recommend Paleo Comfort Foods, by Julie Sullivan Mayfield) and get to work.
Multiple supplement protocols are available to assist this process, and will vary slightly depend-ing on your health care provider. These include essential fatty acids, amino acids and peptides such as glutamine and glutathione, and direct digestive support such as betaine HCL, pancre-atin, and bile acids (3). Probiotics have proven to be extremely effective in healing the gut, largely due to their role in re-establishing healthy bac-teria and intestinal barrier function (1,2).
As you can tell, the GI system is fascinating and complex. Nurture it with good food, basic digestive support, probiotics, laughter, and daily attempts at stress management/reduction. Work closely with your health care provider to eliminate the harmful medications listed above.
To your success!
MS, CSCS, Certified Sports Nutritionist
Muscle City Fitness, Clearwater Beach
1. Brewster, Geri: The Biochemical Connection between the Gut and the Brain: How food, Bugs, and Barrier Affect Mood, Health, and Behavior.
2. Kresser, Chris. 9 Steps to Perfect Health #5 – Heal Your Gut.
3. Lord and Bralley: Laboratory Evaluations For Integrative and Functional Medicine, 2nd edition.