A healthy gut is key to a well-functioning, disease-free body. And yet, not everyone has one. In fact, just 10 years ago, only 1 in 10,000 people were diagnosed with digestive disorders (such as diverticulitis, constipation, diarrhea, food allergies, and more). Today that number is 1 in 500! Even if you aren’t one of those 500 people suffering from digestive diseases, you may still be suffering from poor digestive health. Hippocrates, regarded as the Father of Medicine, believed that “all diseases begin in the gut.” If that is the case, learning about your gut and how to keep it healthy is more important than ever.
Many people think of the gut as the stomach, but the gut – or gastrointestinal tract – comprises a large, sophisticated system that begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. Digestion is the complicated process that happens to food between the entry and exit points. Let’s take a trip down the digestive tract by following the route a potato chip takes.
When the potato chip hits your mouth, the salivary glands release saliva containing enzymes to lubricate and start chemically digesting the chip, while your teeth get to work smashing the chip into manageable pieces. It’s yummy (but just for a few short seconds!)
As soon as the potato chip is potato chip mush, your tongue pushes it to the back of the mouth where it is swallowed down into the esophagus. The esophagus releases mucus to lubricate the former potato chip and muscles push it down to the stomach.
If you’ve already eaten half a bag of potato chips, the stomach might have to store it until the next part of your gut is ready to receive it. (You can always eat faster than your intestines can digest it.) Meanwhile, glands in the inner stomach wall are releasing enzymes, hormones, acids and other substances, collectively called gastric juice, that further dilute the potato chip mush and kill off the majority of the chip’s bacteria. Muscles in the outer stomach wall start to contract, creating gentle waves that help mix the potato chip mush with the gastric juice. The potato chip is no more … it is now a substance called chyme.
From the stomach, the chyme is pushed into the small intestine, a narrow tube about 6 yards long. As it enters the small intestine, it is greeted with bile from the gallbladder which is essential for digesting the fatty content of the potato chip. At the same time, enzymes from the pancreas flow in to further break down the chyme. The small intestine also has a special function in distributing the nutrients around the body. Here protein, fat and carbohydrate are broken down into amino acids, sugars and fatty acids which are absorbed into the blood stream. Can you guess where that former potato chip is headed? Your fat cells, no doubt!
Whatever is unabsorbed by the small intestine is dumped into the large intestine, or colon. During the next 3 to 10 hours, it extracts salt and water from the solidifying contents, while trillions of colonic bacteria ferment unabsorbed sugars, starches and proteins into short chain fatty acids which may be used as energy. What’s left over is feces. It’s what the body doesn’t want or need. In this scenario, your feces has become a potato chip sausage. (Here are 4 good reasons to limit potato chip eating)
The gut is a precisely balanced system with enzymes, hormones, receptors, neurons and acids all working in harmony. Add to that the average 3.5 pounds of bacteria that are doing their specialized jobs in the digestive system. What can go wrong? Lots. Poor food choices, viruses, parasites, caffeine, alcohol, antibiotics, chemicals like chlorine in our water and bad bacteria all contribute to disrupting the precise workings of the digestive system. Because 70% of our immune system is located in our gut, gut imbalances have been linked to hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, rosacea, and other chronic health problems.
The microorganisms in your gut have bad reactions to such disruptions. A proliferation of “bad” bacteria, fungi or other pathogens is the result. These bad guys produce toxins which can weaken your immune response. They also interfere with the proper absorption of nutrients into your bloodstream. Damage to the gut from any of the sources listed above can also lead to increased permeability, or “leaky gut.” Instead of food being broken down, absorbed and eliminated, partially digested food can now cross through the damaged area of the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream directly. This initiates an inflammatory response in the body and the release of stress hormones. One of these stress hormones, cortisol, starts to impair the body’s immune system. This can lead to a host of issues that seem unrelated to the gut, such as allergies, skin conditions, and stubborn weight gain.
It sometimes seems that the gut has a mind of its own. That’s not far from the truth. Ever had a “gut feeling”? Ever anticipate an event with “butterflies in your stomach”? Have you ever gotten a stomach pain from an antidepressant targeted for your brain? The reason for these common experiences is because the brain that’s in your skull is interconnected with the brain that’s in your gut. When one gets upset, the other does too.
The gut system boasts over a million nerve cells responsible for sending and receiving messages from the main brain. And just like the brain, the gut contains a plethora of major neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine and nitric oxide. How we feel emotionally can influence the sort of symptoms we get: perhaps when we’re nervous, we get diarrhea; anxiety has been linked to irritable bowel syndrome. It’s easy to see how poor digestion can actually cause neurological, mood and other psychological disorders.
If you get diarrhea every time — and only when — you eat a calzone, chances are that a food sensitivity is to blame, rather than an unhealthy gut. But if diarrhea is your constant companion, an unhealthy gut might be the culprit, along with these other enduring symptoms:
- Digestive issues like bloating, gas, constipation
- Anxiety / depression / mood swings / irritability
- Skin problems such as eczema or rosacea
- Autoimmune disease
- Frequent infections
- Poor memory and concentration
We are extremely confident in our Gut Health Test as a means of determining how balanced your digestive system is. By evaluating targeted biomarkers, the GI Efects Comprehensive Stool Profile reveals hidden conditions often overlooked by other stool tests. When the lab results come in, we will schedule a consultation with our physician. Although the lab results are presented in an understandable way, a personal consultation is the best way to get the most information from your test.
Learn more about what your results can tell you.