Why Gut Health Matters

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I’ve been reading some really interesting things lately about the gut and microbiome, many of which have discussed that the health of our gut directly impacts our physical, mental and emotional health.  This new information, coupled with what I have learned from my own health journey, has really opened my eyes to a new way to pursing health.

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician known as the father of modern medicine, once said that “all disease begins in the gut.”  It’s taken us a while, but I think we are finally realizing that this ancient medicinal wisdom is actually true.  Studies have shown that poor gut health has been linked to autoimmune conditions, mental health disorders, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, among other things. 

So what exactly is the microbiome?  It is made up up approximately 100 trillion living microbes (bacteria, fungi and viruses) which mainly live in our gut (i.e. large intestine).  These 100 trillion living microbes have about 3.3 million genes.  For comparison purposes, we have about 10 trillion human cells in our bodies and the human genome contains 23,000 genes.  In other words, the microbiome is HUGE.  It is made up of many diverse bacterial species, this diversity specifically being touted as very important to our health.  The bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with their human hosts; we could not exist without them and they without us.

About 75-80% of our immune system is in our gut.  So, what we eat has a direct impact on how we feel and the overall health of our gut.  As I mentioned before, the diversity and balance of the bacteria within our microbiome is necessary for our health.  If we eat foods that are damaging to the bacteria in our gut, such as sugar and processed food, this bacteria can become imbalanced.

Eventually, our microbiome becomes weak, not able to properly absorb the nutrients in the food we are eating.  It can become compromised and the intestinal lining (which is one cell thick) damaged, allowing undigested food proteins and bacteria to pass into the blood stream.  When this happens (a condition commonly known as “leaky gut syndrome”), the immune system reacts to protect the body and inflammation is produced.  Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to disease.

I read a fascinating article recently arguing that gut inflammation is actually the root of depression.  What’s the reasoning behind this revolutionary idea?  Well, the author discussed that the vast majority of the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin is actually made and stored in the gut, impacting the brain via the vagus nerve.  There are also more serotonin receptors in the gut than in the brain.  The microbiome is also in direct communication with the enteric nervous system (ENS, known as your “second brain”), the autonomic nervous system (“fight or flight” and “rest and digest” branches of the nervous system) and the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).  This also helps to explain why anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with digestive issues.

What you eat truly does impact how you feel.  I never fully understood this until I gave up processed food and starting cooking my meals from real food on a daily basis.  I am happier when I eat real food.  I am more positive and upbeat, my fatigue, which plagued me for years, subsides.  I am able to think more clearly and am more confident that I can achieve my dreams.  I even don’t get sick as much.

I have been taking the “gut first” approach recently with regards to my thyroid health.  As I mentioned in a previous post on hypothyroidism, 20% of our thyroid hormone is converted in the gut.  So even if your thyroid is working correctly, if your gut is compromised, chances are your thyroid will feel the effects.  So right now I am focusing on gut healthy foods such as fermented foods, avoiding foods that compromise the gut such as sugar, processed food, dairy and gluten, and am taking probiotics and digestive enzymes. 

And I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, healing my gut could be the solution that I am looking for.

~Peace, love and gut health~

Sources:

Photo credit:  CC image courtesy of Take Back Your Health Conference on flickr

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7 thoughts on “Why Gut Health Matters

  1. Pingback: Natural Ways to Heal from a Winter Cold | Yogi ~ Foodie

  2. Pingback: What is Functional Medicine? | Yogi ~ Foodie

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