On last week’s “Wellness Wednesday,” we reintroduced one of my favorite topics – no, not the spine, or the nervous system, or even exercise. We’re talking about the “gut,” that often-misunderstood part of your body between your ribs and your hips.
You might remember that, even though we call it your stomach, your stomach is just one small part of a complex biochemical machine in that space. It’s not even the first part of your digestive system.
Digestion requires nearly a dozen different organs to operate in a seamless choreography with each other – you are probably familiar with most of them: the stomach, the intestines, the liver, the pancreas, the gall bladder. You might not know what they all do, but if you stayed awake during sixth-grade health class, you know they’re all important. If you have diabetes or hepatitis you are all too familiar with them.
The Mystery Organ
One organ most people don’t understand lives inside the gastro-intestinal tract. It is not an organ, per se, but a vast community of trillions of bacteria that operate together like an organ. This bacterial colony is also known as the “gut flora” (largely because this colony functions like algae, which is both a bacteria and a plant) or the “microbiome.” By some estimates, at any given moment, 70% of the cells in your body are operating in your GI tract.
While breaking down food into nutrients is one function of the system, there are others. This microbiome communicates with the brain along a phone line called the “vagus nerve.” It’s why you experience some of your emotions in your gut, and not all in your brain. It also forms a defense against the overgrowth of bad bacteria
The microbiome, as we discussed before, is also the centerpiece of your immune system. As you digest food, the microbiome separates the cells into appropriate departments for the next step on their journeys: nutrients move on to the blood stream to be sent around the body, waste moves into the colon for elimination, and toxic invaders are isolated purged through various systems. It also recognizes cells that come in through the blood stream or absorb through the skin and other tissues.
But what happens when it fails?
When Your Defense System Is Compromised
When your gut flora gets overwhelmed by toxic invaders, billions of cells die, the lining of your colon gets burned or scarred, your immune system is compromised, and your body redirects a large part of your energy to the fight. You probably know that feeling of exhaustion that overtakes you when your body is under attack from the inside. Last week, we talked about some of the common items that attack and destroy your gut flora.
When your gut microbiome is compromised, you are at higher risk of developing diseases like diabetes, colon cancer, gastroenteritis, and Chron’s disease, as well as a host of diseases you might not have associated with the gut: allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, and even HIV.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you probably had a red flag go up as you read this list of diseases – most of them are also on my list of types of inflammation. When your gut flora are under attack, it plays out in a different sys all over the body. Knowing how to make the connection between these seemingly unrelated issues can help you make better-informed health decisions.
What About Celiac Disease?
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and allergies. The more people manifest symptoms, the greater the awareness, and the more common the false information.
According to WebMD, “Celiac Disease…is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten. Gluten is a form of protein found in some grains.” Most people know the gluten part of the equation, but not everyone knows that celiac disease requires a genetic susceptibility, and according to an article in Paleo Magazine:
“Less than 10% of people with the genetic predisposition to develop Celiac Disease when exposed to gluten.”
How is it possible to carry the genetic proclivity for Celiac Disease and not manifest the disease? By maintaining a healthy gut flora. As an adult, you can follow the tips we shared last week to protect your microbiome, and over time, the flora will grow back.
If you have children with the genetic susceptibility, you can take steps to protect them, but there are a couple of important things to consider. For instance, the first two years of life are a time of amazing growth and development in the gut flora, after which, it tends to stabilize.
“Exposure to gluten at 6 months of age was more likely to trigger the development of antibodies than exposure at 12 months – suggesting that certain periods of microbiome development may be more likely than others to result in disease when an environmental trigger is present.”
That’s important to know because it tells us there are things we can do to protect our kids and ourselves. We don’t have to yield to disease just because we might have a genetic tendency for it. We can make lifestyle choices that promote good health in that all-important gut flora. If you missed the list I published last week, I encourage you to read it, but here is a quick summary:
- Avoid Antibiotics
- Avoid Prescription Drugs
- Avoid Processed Foods
- Avoid Empty Foods
- Eat Organic
- Drink Filtered Water
- Fight the Flu Naturally
- Stay Calm
If you want to live a long life of good health, protect your gut. I just showed you how.
I want to say a special word of thanks to everyone who joined us for last week’s “Fundamental Foods Dinner.” As always, we had a terrific time, enjoyed some great-tasting, health-promoting foods, and had a great discussion. We’ll have another one in February, so if you live in the Naples area, protect the date. I’ll publish the date next week. I promise it will be a great night of food, fun, and learning.
Thank you also to everyone who takes a few seconds each week to share this blog on social media. We were hoping to grow our Facebook family to 600 in 2016, and we charged all the way to 650! That’s a testament to YOUR commitment to getting the word out about good health. Let’s keep growing!!
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING; at the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas