Digestive Health Begins with the Gut Flora (Microbiome)
There are more bacterial cells in the human digestive tract, than there are human cells that make up the human body.
Human cells make up only 43% of the body's total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists consisting of bacteria, viruses, fungus and parasites. Understanding this hidden half of ourselves – our microbiome – is rapidly transforming our understanding of diseases from allergy to Parkinson's.
Over the last 20 years, science has discovered that our gut flora, also known as the microbiome, plays a key role in maintaining gut function and integrity.
So it should be no surprise that digestive problems, dysbiosis or imbalances in the gut flora can contribute to a wide range of diseases including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorder, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Gut health literally begins from within the womb.
Unfortunately, dysbiosis and digestive problems begin as early as birth for anyone living the modern world.
Factors that impact gut health include:
- Cesarean Section Deliveries and Formula Feeding
- Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
- Diets that consist of highly refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
- Diets low in fermentable fibers
- Toxic foods including commercialized wheat, industrial seed oils and animal products
- Chronic Stress and Lack of Rest
- Chronic Infections including viruses, bacteria and parasites
Digestive Health is Your First Line of Defense
Everything that passes through your digestive tract is actually outside the body.
From the mouth to the anus, the digestive tract is a long tube that prevents foreign invaders and harmful substances from entering the body cavity and bloodstream. Much like your skin, the digestive tract acts as a protective barrier from the outside world.
The human digestive system is basically a hollow tube that passes from the mouth to the anus.
So anything that goes in the mouth and isn’t digested will simply pass right out through the end.
And this is important because it serves as one of the primary functions of your gut: to prevent foreign substances from entering the body.
Treatment for chronic disease usually begins with addressing the gut.
Certainly, leaky gut and imbalances in the gut flora can manifest with all sorts of digestive problems including bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, cramps and heart burn.
But many more people never experience symptoms whatsoever.
At least not in a digestive sense.
Rather, symptoms can show up as serious health problems that include heart failure, depression, brain fog, eczema/psoriasis and other skin conditions, metabolic problems like obesity and diabetes, allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.
To adequately address these conditions, you must rebuild healthy gut flora and restore the integrity of your intestinal barrier.
The 7 Primary Gut Pathologies that Cause Digestive Difficulties
1. Low Stomach Acid
Stomach acid serves three main functions: the breakdown of food, absorption of nutrients and protection against pathogens.
This is why it’s so important to slow down when you eat.
I promise, your food is likely not mobile, so don't eat like it's running away from you.
Eating slow improves nutrient absorption and chewing helps your stomach to break food down in smaller particles to improve nutrient absorption.
Low stomach acid creates a vicious cycle of poor digestion, chronic gut inflammation, small intestinal bowel overgrowth, leaky gut, elevated stress hormones and lowered nutrient absorption.
2. Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth
SIBO or small intestinal bowel overgrowth is when you have an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.
SIBO is frequently implicated as the cause of chronic diarrhea and malabsorption.
Patients with SIBO may also suffer from unintentional weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and osteoporosis.
Other symptoms of SIBO include: nausea, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, joint pain, fatigue, rashes, acne, eczema, asthma and rosacea.
3. Gut Infections including viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Infections such as latent viral infections, parasites and bacteria wreck havoc in your digestive system.
At any point in time, 33% of the population has a parasite with absolutely no clue.
Common parasites include Cryptosporidium parvum, Blastocystis hominis, Dientamoeba fragilis, Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, roundworms, hookworms and pinworms.
4. Dysbiosis & Fungal Overgrowth
Dysbiosis is a term indicating an imbalance of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract.
It's what happens when you don’t have enough of the good bacteria to fight the bad bacteria.
This is why Probiotics are so important for your gut health. When you don’t have enough probiotics, other bacteria, viruses and fungus can then flourish.
When we talk about dysbiosis or a disrupted gut microbiome, what we're typically talking about is a situation where there's an under representation of benefical bacteria and over representation of harmful bacteria.
This is when yeast or candida can get out of control and flourish; causing all sorts of problems including inflammation and tissue damage.
5. Food Intolerance & Sensitivity
All of the pathologies listed above will eventually lead to immune dysfunctions.
This is when your body begins to think that certain foods are harmful and it literally rejects them, causing you all sorts of symptoms.
Gluten, Corn, Soy and Dairy are some of the most commonly discussed examples.
Celiac disease used to be fatal, before we knew that wheat gluten was causing it.
And non-celiac gluten sensitivity, even though it’s typically looked at as being less serious than celiac disease, can have very serious complications including ataxia, which is a form of paralysis, and other neurological problems.
Other food intolerances, like to dairy products for example, may not be as severe as gluten intolerance, but they can cause chronic low-grade inflammation, intestinal permeability, which can then lead to antibody production to everything from the joints (Rheumatoid Arthritis) to the myelin sheath destruction (Multiple Sclerosis) in the brain, and certainly over time can lead to some very serious pathologies and disease.
6. Intestinal Permeability
It’s estimated that 80% or 8 out 10 of you reading this have some form of leaky gut. Remember, your gut's primary function is to serve as a barrier between the outside world and your body.
It would do an amazing job of that if it wasn't for the modern lifestyle that we have adopted.
These factors lead to abnormalities in the GI tract, compromise the integrity of the gut barrier, increase the entry of undigested food particles into your body which then activates your immune system.
This entire process leads to inflammatory cascades that contribute to devastating autoimmune conditions.
7. Autoimmune Conditions
There are many autoimmune conditions that I could discuss that relate to digestive health.
However, the two most common in the gut specifically include inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), also known as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis.
The difference between these two is that ulcerative colitis is restricted to the colon or rectum, whereas Crohn's can occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract and can affect all layers of the GI tract.
Gut health may be one of the most under-appreciated components of overall health and wellness in our current medical model.
It's no secret that many conventional medical treatments even contribute to gut health dysfunction and micriobiome imbalance.
It’s amazing how many different conditions can be affected by problems such as gut dysbiosis or leaky gut.
I hope article has helped to teach you more about gut health and how to holistically think about gut function.