Many times when I talk to people about how important gut health is and how it impacts the brain, people will say they don’t have gut issues. And then they’ll go on and talk about achy joints, eczema, an inability to focus and pooping only every 2 days except when they drink milk and then they can’t get off the toilet.
I hate to break this to you America, but most of you have a damaged gut and you don’t even realize it. Just because some health problems and conditions are COMMON, doesn’t mean they are NORMAL. And the best way to work your way back to health is to understand what a truly healthy gut does and how it functions.
The digestive system starts at the mouth and ends at the anus – it includes the stomach, the small intestine and the large intestine (colon). And it can’t work without help from the liver, the gall bladder and the pancreas.
The purpose of the digestive system is to break down the food you eat, deliver nutrients from that food to the blood for transport to the cells and then excrete the waste product. To do this efficiently and as designed, the body needs enzymes, ‘good bacteria’, bile and acid.
One very important component of gut health are the villi which line the walls of the small intestine. These are the gatekeepers of digestion – they make sure only completely digested materials move from the small intestine into the bloodstream. If the villi are weak and damaged, food proteins leak into the bloodstream causing an immune response and then subsequently, inflammation. The body sees these ‘escaped’ proteins as invaders – much like a virus or bacterial infection. Once the body starts an immune response to the invader, the body goes into overtime to try to heal itself. But it thinks it’s fighting a virus, not food. And we keep eating the food and the body keeps fighting. And if this goes on long enough, autoimmune disorders soon follow because chronic inflammation in the body is not a good thing. If this process happens in babies and developing children, developmental disorders often occur.
In order to maintain gut health and decrease gut wall permeability, bacteria that work FOR YOU are required. Just as you need a good soil for a garden to grow, our probiotic bacteria need a good terrain to grow and thrive. There are many things in our modern world that decrease the numbers and vitality of our gut bacteria. These include: antibiotics, environmental toxins, chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, glyphosate, artificial colors and preservatives, medications – just to name a few.
Now, just make things more interesting –Gut microbes are necessary for normal central nervous system maturation and impact neural circuits controlling motor and behavior functions.
**If you have a child with neurodevelopmental issues, this last statement should be VERY IMPORTANT to you**
Recent studies show gut flora contributes to neurotransmitter pools and helps regulate the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) which is important for dealing with of stress. Stress itself is known to reduce populations of beneficial gut microbes. Chronic stress impairs gut barrier function leading to intestinal bacterial cell wall breakdown. Increased intestinal permeability has now been linked with chronic depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, ADHD, and OCD.
If all disease begins in the gut, then health begins in the gut. It’s time to start honoring our physical bodies by providing it with loving care in the form of quality whole foods, keeping toxins and artificial ingredients out and building a healthy and diverse microbiome.