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7 Reasons that Your Health Begins in Your Gut

March 7, 2018

 

How healthy is your gut? You cannot go too long researching into health without seeing something about a connection with the gut, especially the friendly bacteria that live within it. Study after study has demonstrated that our microbiome -- especially that in the gut -- plays a key role in our overall health. Therefore, it is essential to keep those little guys healthy and happy -- and in the right balance! But there are more than just your commensal bacteria in your gut determining your overall health; you also want to have a healthy digestive system.

 

When your gut becomes imbalanced, whether due to dysbiosis in the microbiome, inflammation in your gut lining, or something else, then it can impact your overall health. Most people think that gut issues only present as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, or one of the other telltale signs that your GI tract is just not happy with you. However, evidence points to gut disorders contributing to many seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as neurological and psychological disorders (including headaches and depression), susceptibility to disease, skin issues, and more.

 

So, when you are looking to get healthier, mitigate a health condition, or prevent developing one, you always want to start by taking a good, long, hard look at your gut health. Want to know why? Check out the following connections between your health and your gut.

 

When your gut becomes imbalanced, whether due to dysbiosis in the microbiome, inflammation in your gut lining, or something else, then it can impact your overall health. Most people think that gut issues only present as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, or one of the other telltale signs that your GI tract is just not happy with you. However, evidence points to gut disorders contributing to many seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as neurological and psychological disorders (including headaches and depression), susceptibility to disease, skin issues, and more.

 

So, when you are looking to get healthier, mitigate a health condition, or prevent developing one, you always want to start by taking a good, long, hard look at your gut health. Want to know why? Check out the following connections between your health and your gut.

 

Digestion and Absorption

 

 

 

One of the first reasons to turn to your gut when you are looking to make healthy changes is that this is where you digest and absorb your food. Even if you eat the healthiest diet filled with vegetables and fruit, you might still experience health problems if you are not digesting and absorbing the nutrients found within.

 

Food brings you the nutrients you need to survive and thrive. To get the most out of it, you must break down the food particles into the individual nutrients and then transport them into your body. Digestion of your food is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of the food itself that occurs through your chewing and the mechanical movements in your stomach, as well as the work the hydrochloric acid, bile, and digestive enzymes perform in your stomach and small intestine.

 

Once you have broken down the food, it must be transported into your body to work. For most foods, the small particles are absorbed in the small intestine. From here, many nutrients travel to the liver to then get packaged into their active forms to act on the body. Some particles, including certain vitamins, simple sugars, glycerol, and amino acids, might go directly into the blood to head to the area they are wanted. Fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins are transported through the lymph system.

 

So, what happens if you have an issue with your digestion, such as low hydrochloric acid or a lack of enzymes? Or what if you have an impaired small intestine? All of a sudden, you are not breaking down and absorbing your nutrients. This could lead to nutrient deficiencies, even if you are consuming adequate -- or even more than adequate -- levels. A prime example is celiac disease. Patients with celiac disease have impaired villi in the small intestine, which are the cells that absorb the nutrients. This leads to impaired absorption, which is why many with untreated celiac disease suffer from multiple deficiencies.  

 

To sum up, if you are not getting your nutrients, even if you put them into your mouth in any form, then you cannot and will not thrive. Deficiencies could manifest as a variety of symptoms, depending on which nutrients are low:

 

  • Fatigue

  • Dry skin

  • Brittle hair and nails

  • Neurological disorders

  • Impaired cognitive thinking

  • Poor memory

  • Lack of concentration

  • Weight gain

  • Excess weight loss

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Infertility

  • Ammhorea

  • Irregular periods

  • Frequent cold or flu infections

  • Muscle weakness

  • Anemia

  • Vision problems

  • Osteoporosis or other bone problems

  • Heart arrhythmia

  • Restless leg syndrome

  • Anxiety or depression

 

Therefore, you must have a stable and healthy gut in order to get the most out of the foods you eat!

 

Inflammation

 

 

Studies point to the potential role of chronic inflammation in a myriad of chronic disease, including:

 

  • Heart disease

  • Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Diabetes

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Cancer

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Obesity

 

Some gut disorders are directly related to inflammation in the gut, such as the aptly named category of inflammatory bowel diseases that include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. This inflammation can impair digestion and absorption, causing the issues discussed above. However, gut inflammation does not always stay within the gut; the inflammation can become low-grade systematic inflammation to wreak havoc elsewhere in the body.

 

The biggest culprit in gut-related chronic inflammation is LPS, or lipopolysaccharides, which are also called endotoxins. They come from the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria in the gut and trigger immune responses, including inflammation. These are the proinflammatory type of bacteria you do not want to be dominant in your microbiome. LPS-causing bacteria tend to thrive when you consume a low-fiber, highly processed diet, especially one high in unhealthy fats, which is typified by a Western-style diet or standard American diet (SAD diet).

 

Studies have shown that high levels of LPS in the gut can pass into the blood, triggering inflammatory responses in other areas of the body, leading to chronic low-grade systematic inflammation. This even has its own name: metabolic endotoxemia. LPS have been linked to most of the chronic diseases listed above.

 

Therefore, you want to keep a handle on your gut to reduce the chance that you trigger systematic inflammation that could lead to other health problems. One way to do so is to create a balanced microbiome with a higher number of commensal bacteria through eating a healthy diet high in fiber and supplementing with probiotics as needed.

 

Oxidative Stress

 

Oxidative stress and inflammation are closely related, with excessive oxidative stress often triggering inflammation. Thus, it's not surprising that excessive oxidative stress has likewise been linked to a long list of chronic disease, including:

 

  • Alzheimer's disease and dementia

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Psychological and neurological diseases

 

Many body processes create what is colloquially known as free radicals. These are charged particles, generally containing oxygen. Examples superoxide anion radical and hydrogen peroxide and the hydroxyl radical and NO (ROS and RNS). Despite their negative reputation, these charged particles do have some key roles to play, such as acting as signaling molecules. The body has a natural antioxidant defense system that keeps these in check so that they do not become damaging.

 

When your level of oxidative stress overtakes your total antioxidant capacity, then these free radicals can damage cells, causing an array of outcomes. Most commonly, the alter lipids which can lead to dysfunction in the membrane permeability of cells, trigger premature cell death, or damage DNA or protein synthesis. Thus, it is essential that you have oxidative balance, and one study found that those with the greatest balance between antioxidant capacity and oxidative stress have a lower risk of mortality.

 

Where does the gut fit into this? For one, dysbiosis has been linked to an increase in oxidative stress. In one mouse study, the mice fed a high-fat diet, the increase in harmful bacteria such as E. coli and enterococcus had a positive association with oxidative stress markers. There was also a high positive correlation between total antioxidant capacity and lactobacilli, the commensal bacteria, and a negative correlation with enterococcus and E. coli bacteria.

 

There is also a link between oxidative stress and inflammatory bowel disease, with some evidence that there might be a causal relationship, with excess oxidative stress contributing to the pathogenesis of IBD. Constipation and suboptimal functioning of the colon might also lead to oxidative stress as well. The mucosal integrity of the gut lining is also susceptible to oxidative stress damage, which could lead to degeneration of the intestine and subsequent issues, including chronic inflammation.

 

Immune System

 

 

The gut plays a key role in a healthy immune system. In fact, roughly 70 percent of your immune system is developed in the gut. Just think about it. In addition to your skin, your gut is the main way that you are exposed to the environment (in this case food and beverages), which could have any number of pathogenic viruses or bacteria. You must have a strong defense system ready to counter anything that might not be beneficial or you end up susceptible.

 

An important component of your immune system is the gut associated immune system, or GALT. This incorporates things like IgA secretion and certain immune regulatory cells to fight against any potential antigens that come through the gut. The gut has something known as Peyer's patches, which are specialized lymphoid follicles in the small intestine. Within these areas are adaptive immune cells, including T cells, naïve B cells, and dendritic cells. There are also other elements of the immune system in the gut ready to respond to attacks from foreign invaders, including cytokines and chemokines.

 

Your microbiome also plays a key role in your immune system. By having a good proportion of commensal bacteria, you leave less room for pathogenic bacteria to settle in and cause problems. They act as one barrier to incoming pathogens. In one study on mice, germ-free mice (or those without a microbiome) had reduced capacity to fight against a pneumonia infection. It also impacted the ability of the immune cells in the lungs to function adequately and increased liver and hepatic injury compared to controls. Additionally, the microbiome interacts with the GALT, producing benefits to the overall immune system, including helping to regulate the immune system.

 

If your gut starts to break down, then you could become susceptible to pathogenic viruses and bacteria. Alternatively, you could have a dysfunctional immune system that might trigger a problem, such as an autoimmune disorder. This also triggers inflammation, which could lead to one of the chronic disorders associated with chronic inflammation discussed above. Those with a healthier gut will also have a healthy immune system, protecting them against the latest virus or bacteria making the round infecting people.

 

Increased Risk of Autoimmune Disorders

 

In addition to your basic immune health, your gut also plays a role in your susceptibly to autoimmune disease. Studies have pointed to the triangle of triggers for autoimmune disorders:

 

  • Genetic predisposition 

  • Leaky gut or intestinal permeability

  • A trigger

 

The trigger could be any number of things, including stress, environmental toxins, hormonal imbalances, and a viral or bacterial infection. You greatly reduce your risk of developing an autoimmune condition even if you have the genes and encounter a trigger when you have a healthy gut. However, if you have what is known as intestinal permeability, then you are at a much higher risk of developing it.

 

So what is intestinal permeability? This occurs when the tight junctions between your intestinal cells become dysfunctional and do not block out as much as they should. This allows larger molecules to pass through into your bloodstream that might be seen as invaders, activating your immune system. This increases your chance of developing an allergy or intolerance to food. Furthermore, some of these molecules might be similar to your own cells, leading you to develop immune cells that attack your own cells in the form of an autoimmune condition.

 

Neurotransmitters

 

 

Neurotransmitters are key messengers that transport information from your brain to the rest of your body and back. Surprisingly, a significant portion of these is made in your gut -- not in your brain. The gut bacteria synthesize certain neurotransmitters, including serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. In fact, about 95 percent of your serotonin comes from your gut. From there, it works on you ENS, or enteric nervous system, which is the one that controls your gut, as well as acting as a paracrine hormone. Thus, it acts more locally and on your peripheral organs rather than your brain. The other neurotransmitters synthesized in your gut work similarly.

 

Although these neurotransmitters might not actually make it to the brain, they do have a significant impact on your mood and other things controlled by these neurotransmitters. Studies have found that gut issues and mood disorders interrelate, and there is no clear-cut method that it begins in the brain or the gut. In some people, gut issues might contribute to neurological or psychological conditions, while in others, the psychological issues might lead to gut issues. The neurotransmitters synthesized in your gut also play an important role in communicating and regulating body processes outside of the gut, so you want to ensure you have the right balance for your health.

 

Thus, if you experience dysbiosis or other gut issues that impact the synthesizing of the neurotransmitters in the gut, it could lead to far-reaching problems that might present as a neurological or psychological disorder rather than a typical gut issue. Maintaining a healthy microbiome is a first step in maintaining your brain and psychological health.

 

Toxins and Detoxification

 

Lastly, your gut plays a role in your ability to detoxify. We live in a toxic world, surrounded by chemicals and pollution. On top of that, you constantly create byproducts of your metabolic processes that must be processed and eliminated, such as your hormones. Your body must detoxify and eliminate these products, or it can cause a lot of problems. Studies have linked toxins to a variety of chronic health problems, including:

 

 

Your body has its own detoxification system set up, and as long as you support it and do not overtax it, then you should be able to handle getting rid of the toxins. However, to really do so, you must be able to eliminate the toxins. The way to get rid of these toxins after they have undergone the detoxification or biotransformation process is through your urine, sweat, and feces.

 

So, if you do not have regular bowel movements or another type of gut dysfunction, then you could end up with these toxins continually cycling in your body, causing more problems. You might find that the toxins get reabsorbed in the colon, especially in cases of dysbiosis. They might even be more toxic at this point, causing worse problems then when you were first exposed. It just makes sense; if you cannot get rid of the toxins, they will just stay in your body wreaking havoc, so you need a healthy gut.

 

Conclusion

 

As you can see from this overview, your gut plays an essential role in many aspects of your overall health. This only begins to scratch the surface on the importance of your gut to the rest of your body. Researchers point to a gut-brain axis, gut-brain-skin axis, gut-liver axis, and a gut-kidney axis, and gut health might also play a role in your hormones and the health of your HPA axis.

 

Think of your gut as your foundation; if it isn't healthy, then it is only a matter of time before other aspects of your health start to break down. That is why I will always talk about gut health with clients, even if they do not present with the typical gut issues. Many other health problems become much easier to deal with once this foundational component of health is balanced and restored.

 

This blog gives you just a snapshot and overview of these connections. If you want to know more, then watch this space, as we will go dive deeper into each of these connections, as well as other components of health, chronic disease, and nutrition, in the future.

 

You might be left wondering what you should do. Our next blog will go over some practical tips on how to restore your gut health and prevent issues from arising. If you want more guidance, schedule an appointment with me to discuss your situation. We will come up with a tailored plan of action to restore your gut and get you on track towards your health goals!

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