According to Hippocrates, “All disease begins in the gut,” a concept that has withstood the test of time. Like our brains, our guts play a significant role in regulating our metabolism as well as our mood, our thoughts and our hormones–essentially our overall health.
Why your gut is called your "second brain"
It is our gut, or “second brain,” that tells us to eat sweets when we are stressed, or gives us “butterflies” before a job interview. It is believed that up to 80 or 90 percent of the neurotransmitters responsible for these feelings or responses are transmitted from our guts to our brains, and not the other way around.
With all of this gut activity, it’s little wonder that tens of thousands of Americans experience some kind of digestive disruption every day, from a little gas and bloating to Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many of us dismiss the minor tummy grumbles and other discomforts associated with gastrointestinal problems as minor annoyances. “It’s probably something I ate,” we reason to ourselves. “I am really stressed out about my job.”
That might be true, but the gut has a tremendous amount of influence over so much more than GI flare-ups. The gut hosts its own nervous system, made up of millions of neurons that send signals throughout your body. Many of these signals do affect digestion–breaking down food, absorbing its nutrients, and getting rid of its waste. However, the gut is an incredibly sophisticated and complex system that can accomplish so much more. In fact, about 80 percent of our immune system is located in our gut. Imbalances in our gut have been linked to:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Rashes and other skin conditions
- Chronic fatigue
- Thyroid problems
- Joint pain
- And many other diseases and dysfunctions
What makes our guts tick?
In a word, bacteria. There are trillions of bacteria floating around in our guts, both good and bad, that affect the rest of our bodies. You probably know the good gut bacteria as probiotics, which are commonly found in yogurt as well as miso, tempeh and other fermented foods and commercial supplements. Probiotics protect our guts. They help to maintain balance in our bodies, keeping the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. This impacts our immune systems and overall health and well-being. When you have too much bad bacteria in your gut (and not enough good bacteria), it can disturb the balance of your entire body. It can impair the way your intestines absorb essential nutrients.
What is leaky gut?
The lining of your small intestine is thin and permeable. If it becomes damaged, bacteria, toxins and undigested food particles are able to pass through it and enter the bloodstream. This is what is known as leaky gut syndrome—a common and aptly named condition and a cause of inflammation, dysfunction and disease.
Though there is no definitive medical diagnosis for leaky gut syndrome, there is growing support in the medical community that a leaky gut is a contributing factor in many diseases and conditions.
How can you keep your gut happy and healthy?
A happy gut starts with a healthy diet. A balanced diet can help to prevent or manage gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), fatigue, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic constipation, cardiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, migraines, leaky gut syndrome and more.
Here are some basic ways to take care of your gut:
- Eat high-fiber foods and probiotics
- Avoid processed food
- Focus your diet on vegetables, fruits and lean proteins
- Drink more water
- Manage your stress
- Take steps to quit smoking or address other unhealthy habits
- Try an elimination diet if you think you have a food sensitivity or intolerance
- Talk to a knowledgeable health professional about supplementation
When looking for the root cause of disease and dysfunction, functional medicine practitioners look to the gut for answers—or at least some pretty important clues.
It is always wise to consult with your healthcare professional about what is best for you.
To schedule a consultation, call 609.512.1468.
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