Tuesday, 17 September 2013

It Starts in the Gut

As I alluded to in the previous post, I’m big on digestive health. I believe the state of the gut is where the beginning of all health lies. Absorbing nutrients and ridding the body of toxins is something a well-functioning system should be able to do - without causing us any grief. For a few of us however this process is impeded, leaving us with all kinds of disconnected symptoms. Today I’m going to take you on a short tour of the three parts of the digestive system I’m most familiar with: the stomach, the small intestine and the large intestine. Let’s set the scene, *you sit down at the dinner table after preparing a meal, your juices are flowing and you’re ready to eat! You arrange the perfect mouthful on your fork and place it in your mouth. Chew, chew, chew, swallow*

The Stomach

Munched up food meets with acid in the stomach to break it down and kill off any nasty bugs or bacteria that may have hitched a ride on the back of your dinner. It’s churned up into liquid form and nicely prepared to move on to the next step. If your stomach isn’t producing enough acid however, food won’t be broken down properly which can cause problems at the next stages. Parasites and bugs won’t be killed off, enabling them to travel further into your gut. It can also cause acid reflux (caused by too little stomach acid not too much), belching and bloating after meals. Stomach acid production can be affected by bacterial infections such as Helicobacter Pylori, a vegetarian diet which can switch off stomach acid production as well as lifestyle things like lack of sleep and eating when stressed or on the run.

The Small Intestine

This is where your body begins to absorb nutrients and if you’re healthy you receive all the vitamins, minerals and amino acids you need. A glitch in the process can cause many different issues, the obvious one being that you don’t get the nutrients you need. Other issues caused in this area include: food intolerances, bacterial overgrowth, allergies, candida, weakened immune system (more than half your immune cells are actually in your small intestine) and a funky thing called leaky gut. When the gut is leaky, food particles cross through the intestinal wall into the blood stream. The body views these as invaders and starts to attack! Enter joint pain, headaches, depression, allergies, skin problems, foggy head, anxiety, as well as that nagging feeling of always feeling a bit run down - just to name a few. Long term if leaky gut isn’t addressed it can actually develop into an autoimmune disease, where the body begins to forge a war own its on cells. Along with lack of sleep and stress other things that can contribute to a compromised small intestine include: alcohol, caffeine, antibiotics, pain killers, oral contraception, sugar, processed grains, food additives and preservatives… Unfortunately with the way we live leaky gut is very common, and because of the host of symptoms it creates it often goes undiagnosed.

The Large Intestine

This is where the last of the nutrients are absorbed and water is drawn out. The time between food entering your mouth and ending up in the toilet is called transit time, best case scenario this happens within 18-24 hours. If your gut is irritated this will happen much faster than it should, affecting your absorption of nutrients (diarrhoea). If you have a slow transit time waste will sit in your colon longer than it needs to (constipation), often ending up back in the system putting pressure on the liver and skin to get rid of. Neither conditions are ideal and both can be caused by problems upstream, eating foods you’re allergic too, parasites, imbalanced flora (dysbiosis), stress, overuse of laxatives or if you’re really unlucky celiac, crohn’s or colitis (examples of autoimmune disease I mentioned above). These conditions are both painful and uncomfortable and can greatly affect your quality of life – even though we do our best to laugh it off.

As you can see it’s a pretty complex process, there are lots of steps that can go wrong and a whole host of reasons things go haywire. The old adage “you are what you eat” has a good point, but in this instance “you are what you absorb” is much more appropriate. For me personally it took getting really unwell to put all of my symptoms together and take action. Food is such a part of life it’s hard to give some of your favourite things up. Embarking on a gut healing journey also requires a fair amount of patience and dedication. But with all the amazing research that is being done it’s not too hard to find the information and support you need.

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