Understanding your Gut and it's Importance

may blog gut

To truly grasp the significance of your gut on your overall well-being, it's essential to dive into the mechanics of your digestive system. Understanding how your gut functions can shed light on those pesky symptoms you may be experiencing and help you navigate your gut health journey more effectively.

I have been a Naturopathic clinician for over two decades and from clinical experience I often see patient’s come through my door with the view that their health and gut issues can be fixed with a simple direct approach. Today I am wanting to take a step back and give you a broader understanding of the complexities of digestive health and why a holistic approach often provides a sustainable solution to not only your gut problems but also to your overall well being.

Your gut, also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, is a complex network of organs working together to process the food you eat. From the moment food enters your mouth until it's eliminated as waste, various organs such as the mouth, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine play crucial roles in breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, and removing waste from your body.

The process begins in your mouth, where food is chewed and mixed with saliva containing enzymes that kick start digestion. As food travels through your GI tract, it encounters additional enzymes and acids produced by organs like the stomach, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder, further breaking it down into smaller components. These components, such as amino acids from proteins, simple sugars from carbohydrates, and fatty acids from fats, are then absorbed in the small intestine, while waste is passed into the large intestine for elimination.

But your gut does more than just digest food; it's a hub of activity that influences various bodily functions. Did you know that about 70% of your immune system resides in your gut? That's right—your gut health directly impacts your immune function and even your brain health. This intimate connection between your gut and other bodily systems underscores the importance of maintaining a healthy digestive system for overall wellness.

The Pillars of Gut Health

Now that we understand the basics of how the gut works, let's explore the key factors that contribute to gut health:

  1. Diet: You've probably heard the saying, "You are what you eat," and when it comes to your gut, truer words were never spoken. To be honest it is not just what you eat, but what you actually absorb that makes the real difference. Opting for a balanced diet rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can promote gut health and overall health, while a diet high in processed foods and sugar can lead to gut issues and chronic diseases.
  2. Enzymes: Digestive enzymes are essential for breaking down food and facilitating nutrient absorption. When enzyme production is compromised, digestion may be impaired, leading to symptoms like bloating, gas, fatigue and abdominal pain.
  3. Microbes: Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms collectively known as the gut microbiome. These microbes play a crucial role in various bodily functions, including digestion, immune function, and even mood regulation.
  4. Barrier: The gut barrier, composed of a mucus layer and specialized cells lining the GI tract, acts as a protective barrier against pathogens and toxins while allowing nutrients to be absorbed. Maintaining the integrity of this barrier is vital for gut health.
  5. Immune System: As mentioned earlier, a significant portion of your immune system resides in your gut. A healthy gut is essential for proper immune function.
  6. Nervous System: Your gut has its own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is the largest part of the autonomic nervous system which communicates between the sympathetic  and parasympathetic nervous system and influences digestive activity. This communication circuit influences gut symptoms when feeling all emotions, particularly perceived stress.


Common Gut Issues

Now that we've covered the basics of gut health and its pillars, let's delve into some common gut issues and how to address them:

  1. Bloating, Flatulence, and Indigestion:
    These symptoms are often caused by poor digestion, imbalanced gut bacteria, dietary factors or simply by eating too fast. Foods high in fermentable carbohydrates, additives and processed ingredients can be difficult to digest, leading to excess gas and discomfort. To alleviate these symptoms, focus on eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods and fiber, which promote healthy digestion. Additionally, incorporating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut can help replenish beneficial gut bacteria and improve digestion, however if you have a microbiome imbalance these fermentable foods can create more gas and bloating if you eat too much of them at a meal. Slow and steady wins the race when is comes to fermentable carbohydrates,
  2. Constipation and Diarrhoea:
    Irregular bowel movements can be a sign of gut dysfunction, often due to dietary factors, dehydration, ongoing stress or underlying conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Increasing fibre intake through fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help regulate bowel movements and relieve constipation. For diarrhoea, staying hydrated and avoiding trigger foods like dairy or spicy foods can help manage symptoms.
  3. Abdominal Pain and Reflux:
    Abdominal discomfort and acid reflux are often linked to poor diet choices, stress, and inflammation in the digestive tract. Avoiding trigger foods like caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods can help alleviate symptoms. Eating smaller, more frequent meals and practicing relaxation techniques can also reduce stress on the digestive system and minimize discomfort. Additionally, incorporating gut-healing foods like bone broth and slippery elm can soothe the digestive tract and reduce inflammation.


Causes of Gut Issues

Understanding the root causes of gut issues is crucial for effective management and prevention especially if your symptoms are chronic. Factors like poor dietary choices, excessive stress, medication use (especially antibiotics and NSAIDs), and gut infections can disrupt gut function and lead to symptoms. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is known to be the cause of over 60% of people suffering with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

An often overlooked cause of gut issues is a dysregulated nervous system. There are two important components of the central nervous system, the enteric nervous system which are part of the wall of the digestive tract and the vagus nerve that entwines at different segments of the digestive tract. These two parts of the nervous system communicate to the master controller, the brain signaling if it perceives stress, threat or safety. If the signals of threat & stress override the safety and calm signals then the gut will suffer.

By addressing these underlying factors and adopting a holistic approach to gut health, you can support your digestive system and reduce the likelihood of experiencing gut issues in the future. If your symptoms are chronic, my advice is to seek professional assessment and a holistic approach to your treatment.

By incorporating these practical strategies into your lifestyle, you can support your gut health and promote optimal digestion. Remember that consistency is key, so aim to make small, sustainable changes that support your overall well-being. Here's to a healthier, happier gut and a thriving you!

If you want to know the basics about your gut health and start incorporating more gut-friendly food into your diet, check out our workshop by clicking below!

Broth Making & Gut Health Workshop

Breakfast – the Most Important Meal of the Day. Or Is It?


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