Our gastrointestinal tract is a sophisticated organ system in our body. While we know its primary role of digesting and breaking down food, this is just a small role. Our GI tract is a snapshot to the rest of the body. If digestive function is compromised, it compromises the entire body. We often look at the GI tract as having four core pillars. If one or all of them gets cracked, it throws off the rest of the body. This is why we should being with the gut as the starting place to achieving optimal health.
Here's what you need to know about the role of your digestive system in your health.
How to Improve Digestion
To absorb the vitamins and minerals from the food we eat, we need to make sure they are digested.
Signs of dysfunctional digestion are gas, bloating, burning, belching, indigestion and the overall feeling of fullness after eating. Many of us experience heartburn or indigestion after eating; in these instances, we reach for antacids or acid-blocking medications. Surprisingly, it is not excessive stomach acid causing problems, but rather a lack of stomach acid.
We can support digestion by replacing the missing component. This could mean adding pancreatic enzymes, hydrochloric acid and/or bile. Also important to digestion is proper elimination. If you aren't having regular bowel movements, this can signal a problem within the digestive system as well.
Understand the Gut-Brain Connection
Our GI tract is called the "second brain." It is full of nerves and neurotransmitters that form a network called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The ENS is wired directly to the brain. This explains why stress and anxiety can be felt within the digestive system. More of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin is made within the intestinal tract than in the brain. Those with mood disorders or depression will also have an underlying digestive issue.
Know Your Microbiome
We have an internal microbiome of beneficial bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms, predominately found in the large intestine. This microbiome helps maintain healthy digestion and serves as our first line of defense against internal pathogens. Eighty percent of our immune system resides in our gut. From an immunity perspective, having plenty of beneficial bacteria will keep the pathogenic bacteria in check. If there is an imbalance, you may find yourself more vulnerable to colds and frequent infections. Over time, the immune system will trigger other responses throughout the body, leading to autoimmune diseases.
"Leaky Gut" Is Real
Poor diet, chronic stress, medications, toxins and bacterial imbalance all damage the intestinal tract. Once it becomes damaged, it can't stop the passage of unwanted organisms or undigested food particles from entering the blood stream. This can send our immune cells on hyper drive and send inflammatory signals throughout the body. The damage can be repaired—and is the key to treating inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and many others.
I hope you can see the reason behind the phrase: Heal the gut, heal the body. Please contact me with specific questions—let's get your gut working again!
Brandi Grimmer is a nutritional consultant for Keystone Nutrition. She completed her certification as a Nutritional Consultant through Natural Healing College and graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor's degree in Human Biology. She is a Licensed Pharmacy Technician with over 10 years of experience. Brandi believes total health is dependent on proper diet, exercise and nutritional supplementation.
For more information on gut health, please contact Brandi at 616.974.9792 or at [email protected].