While it may not be the top of your health concerns, your gut health is on the top of my mind. The reason being is that if your gut isn’t functioning well, you likely won’t be optimally absorbing anything you consume – food, medications, and supplements. I’ve already started to highlight the importance of nutrition for the body, but if you haven’t read it yet, check out Foundations For Health Part 1 and Part 2.
“The road to health is paved with good intestines” – Sherry A. Rogers
I like to look at our digestive system as a processing factory line that starts with food as the raw material and poop as the product. Digestion truly starts with our senses, an often missed aspect. When we start to see and smell the food, that gets our digestive juices running, powering up for the incoming food. Then we taste the food as we put it in our mouths and the salivary glands produce enzymes that begin chemically digesting some of the foods. Mechanically, our mouth does a lot of the prep work, breaking the food down into smaller pieces so that our digestive enzymes will be more efficient. Swallowed food travels down the esophagus and into the stomach. The stomach’s main job is to temporarily store swallowed food and liquid, while breaking it down and mixing it with the digestive juices it secretes. It also has a role in starting to absorb some nutrients as well as killing harmful microorganisms that may have entered the system. Then, all the contents moves into the small intestines where they are further mixed with pancreatin enzymes and bile from the liver and gallbladder. The small intestines in conjunction with the large intestines are the last steps of the digestive tract, playing a major role in absorption, and elimination of waste material. This is a multi step process and if one part doesn’t function well, it typically results in downstream effects, and the occasional upstream effect if things really aren’t moving along well.
Signs of an inefficient digestive system include: dry mouth, heartburn and reflux, indigestion, burping, bloating, flatulence, as well as increased or decreased transit time. The final product, the stool can also be evaluated based on size, colour, texture, composition amongst other parameters.
Carefully managed with dietary modifications and addition of supportive supplements, will have profound effects. These aspects must be carefully managed because if incorrect, they can cause further imbalance and increased gastrointestinal distress. Different treatment options include: acidifying/alkalinizing agents, digestive enzymes, probiotics, specific digestive nutrients and complementary herbs.
Lastly, I would just like to touch on the Microbiome.
The microbiome is the many small organisms, referred to as microbiota, that live in our gut (and also throughout our body), which play a major role in our health. Research is constantly coming out and evolving for the role these organisms play in our health. Since the 1970’s it has been estimated that the human microbiome includes around 100 trillion bacterial cells on the high end. To give some perspective, that is 10 times the number of cells in our body! Since then, other articles estimate a smaller number that is closer to the number of cells in our body giving light to variability between individuals, still very impactful. As you go further down the digestive tract the number of microbiota increases in a healthy individual. But alas if the digestive tract is not functioning optimally this will start to vary and microbiota may flourish in a previously unfavourable environment. Conditions like H.pylori infections, gastroenteritis, small intestine bacterial/fungal overgrowth are connected to these imbalances. Research also continues to look at the impact the microbiome plays in other digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. We are also starting to better understand the huge impact the microbiome has on the rest of the body from immune system function and inflammation, to the gut-brain connection. Ever wonder why your stomach goes off when you’re stressed OR why you feel terrible when your gut is off? It’s a two way street of communication!
Take care of your gut – work with someone who has an excellent understanding of the widespread effects of gut health and knows how to thoroughly assess your gut!
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