Gut is such an inconsequential word for such a critical part of all-encompassing good health. Scientifically, the gut is the term for the alimentary canal (gastro-intestinal tract) from the pyloric opening between the stomach and duodenum and the anus. The entire gastro-intestinal tract maintains a defensive posture in that it provides a barrier between itself and the internal environment of the rest of the body.
The gastro-intestinal tract, then, is scientifically referred to include the stomach, small intestine and large intestine, but much needed help comes from other organs and systems. Digestion and absorption could not be complete without the help of the brain, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spinal column, central nervous system, immune system, lymphatic system, and cardiovascular system. It is far more accurate to say that the entire body plays a part in digestion, absorption, and elimination.
You are what you eat, digest, absorb, and eliminate.
Restoring the gastro-intestinal tract—which includes the restoration of digestion, absorption and elimination—is perhaps the most critical step in any quest for health. The gastrointestinal tract is the system of the body that metabolizes, absorbs and carries nutrients to support every single organ and system of the body. Where would you get the nutrient precursors required for micro-processing in the brain, not to mention nutrients for natural detoxification without the digestive process? Where would you get amino acids and essential fatty acids to stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent catabolism (breakdown) of lean muscle mass? Improper digestion and absorption can also upset the pH level of the body, which is critical to life itself.
Even if you ingest a good diet, you may still have more toxins than the body’s systems can handle. We are exposed to foreign chemicals from our food, water, and air in the form of pesticides, antibiotics, herbicides, food coloring, additives, preservatives, hormones, nicotine, caffeine, and drugs. In addition, antibiotics, prescription and over-the-counter drugs place extra demands on the body, as well as contribute to an already toxic overload. Chemicals in the diet, as well as a poor diet, stress the liver creating severe congestion, and compromise the body’s main organ of detoxification. Further, a typical American diet does not contain sufficient nutrients to support the natural detoxification process.
A toxic gastro-intestinal tract is a favorable environment for parasites, fungus, yeast, bad bacteria, virus, and other organisms to build and prosper. As these organisms feast on the fermented and putrefied food, end-products in the intestinal terrain, they create their own metabolic waste, which further burdens the body’s detoxification processes.
Other Body Burdens
Finally, detoxification cannot perform effectively when cholestasis, the ability of bile to be cleared through ducts in the liver, is impaired. A healthy functioning liver and gallbladder are challenged by pregnancy, gallstones, alcohol abuse, anabolic steroids, and various chemicals or drugs, including birth control pills. One of the liver’s key jobs, through its methylation pathway, is to convert and properly dismantle estrogen, otherwise excess estrogen can also cause cholestasis. Not just the hormone estrogen, but estrogen mimics, also called xenoestrogens, can be found in meats, dairy products, plastics, pollutants, pesticides, and body lotions and creams. These substances look like estrogen to the body and the liver tries to process them as such, further burdening the process of detoxification.
It is rare that proper digestive function can be completely restored without embarking on an appropriately applied detoxification program. Many diseases such as the inflammatory bowel diseases of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, spastic colon, diverticulitis, and celiac sprue have a clear connection to the gut and digestive function. However, diseases such as depression, anxiety, headaches, and fatigue are not so obviously connected to gut health. If gut function is ignored or looked over in an attempt to heal or cure any of these so-called mental health conditions, the chances of eradicating that illness is very unlikely.
The research is quite overwhelming implicating “leaky-gut syndrome” in any variety of health issues ranging from arthritis and anxiety to erectile dysfunction and shingles. This particular aspect of gastro-intestinal barriers to recovery is a term which refers to small and large intestine permeability or intestinal hyper-permeability. Complex protein structures called “tight junctions” are responsible for maintaining the seal of the entire intestinal tract. Fiber is a great example of a nutrient needed to make SCFA (short-chain fatty acids) which in turn make butyrate to help seal these tight junctions.
There are a variety of ways you can tell if you are experiencing leaky gut. The easiest way is simply based on your symptoms. You likely have leaky gut if you suffer from fatigue, exhaustion, depression, or anxiety coupled with any of the following:
- Chronic use of medications, aspirin, acetaminophen, NSAIDS, corticosteroids, antibiotics
- Poor diet, including alcohol excess
- Infections from parasites, virus, bacteria, or fungus
- Gut problems like GERD, IBS, IBD, gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- Food sensitivities, allergies, or asthma
- Chronic insomnia or sleeplessness
- Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, arthritis, etc.
Restoring the terrain of the gastro-intestinal tract is the most health-promoting first step that you can take.