Didn’t see that coming?
I know, it sounds weird. What about your immune system? Or your brain chemistry? Or anything else?
Your gut’s important because it plays a huge role in your overall immune system, your brain chemistry, and just about everything else inside you. They work together to keep your health stable.
So let’s talk about your intestines!
It’s part of your digestive system, more specifically the small and large intestines. Your gut maintains around 4 to 6 pounds of bacteria, containing over 400 species and 100 trillion cells – more than the rest of your body combined. Turns out, your gut contains the most life in your body and you are more bacteria than anything else. Your gut also eliminates around 3 pounds of toxins per day (imagine what happens when your unhealthy gut stops eliminating the toxins it’s supposed to!)
That much bacteria working together provides amazing protection from disease and toxins. However, unhealthy gut bacteria can also be the largest source of toxins in your body, leading to virtually every psychological, neurological, and autoimmune disease or dysfunction known to man.
According to Dr. Kyle Christensen’s book Healing @ Home: Allergy Elimination (he’s a practicing naturopath of nearly 30 years), improper gut care causes autism, memory problems, allergies of all kinds, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, depression, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, and much , much more.
The gut is an insanely complicated part of our bodies (what part isn’t?) that provides more functions than I could possibly describe in an article – and many more functions that nobody probably even knows about yet.
We talk about the ocean floor being so undiscovered and misunderstood, but what about our own bodies? Weird to think about.
Anyway, I’m going to group the main functions of the gut into two parts in order to try and keep this simple. The first is that your gut maintains flora, or bacteria. The second is that the lining of your gut acts as a barrier to keep toxins out.
Gut Bacteria – The Secret to Health
So far, we’ve talked about excreting toxins, insane amounts of bacteria in your intestines, and that you can become psychotic by not keeping a healthy gut flora.
I totally bet you woke up this morning just hoping you could read about this stuff. Is it scary that I do? That’s the healthy food researcher coming out in me, I guess. Nerd.
Anyway, your gut bacteria help form and maintain your immune response, and also helps prevent excessive immune response (the definition of an allergy). In fact, these bacteria promote immune maturation not only in your gut, but also throughout your body.
Like most people, I thought your gut was your gut, and basically kept to itself. Mounting evidence shows the reverse to be true – it likes to stick its nose in everyone else’s business and impacts vital functions in your body.
Scientists performed a study to compare the differences between mice with healthy gut flora and mice with no gut flora.
(That reminds me of Erin’s favorite joke: What do you call a furry test tube? A rat!)
The mice without the gut flora were shown to
- Have decreased heart output.
- Have irregularities in their nervous system.
- Have altered appetite control (leading to food disorders).
- Have irregularities in their bodies’ stress response (leading to mood disorders).
- Require more calories to maintain body weight.
Clearly not ideal.
If you’ve been around the health world (or been watching commercials on ESPN), then you know that probiotics can help your digestive system. Pro- means “good” and -biotic refers to “bacteria”.
We’ll get to probiotics in a minute.
Of course, you’ve also heard of antibiotics. With anti- meaning “against,” antibiotics are designed to destroy bacteria in our bodies. That can be a very good thing, as antibiotics have saved countless lives from bacterial infections.
However, we’ve taken that to a level far beyond what they should be used for – leading to things like antibiotic resistant bacteria or super bugs. Sounds cool!
We use antibiotics for simple treatments as well as for purely preventive measures without considering the devastating effect these have on our gut health.
[box type=”info”] In fact, our love affair with antibiotics causes destruction so severe that we pass poor gut health down to future generations.[/box]
A woman takes birth control, which is known to have detrimental effects on the gut.
Her poor diet (processed foods, GMO’s, toxins) has a further antibiotic effect, and in fact fuels the growth of bad bacteria (from Dr. C’s Healing @ Home: Allergy Elimination – one of the best books I’ve ever read… and no, that’s not an affiliate link).
When she’s ready to have a baby, her gut is severely compromised.
Babies inherit the gut health of their mothers, leading to health problems upon birth, including bacterial infections. These bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics, exacerbating the poor gut health. This leads to issues such as ADHD, autism, depression, OCD, and many other neuro-psychological disorders.
We’ve been conditioned to see our young children with appalling disorders and curse our bad luck or genetics. But, if it were plain bad luck, then why are all of these conditions becoming epidemic in America? Topic for another day 🙂
But wait… so the gut affects brain function? What the what? Let’s cover that next:
- The father of modern psychiatry, Phillipe Pinel, stated in 1807 that “the primary seat of insanity generally is in the region of the stomach and intestines.”
- Other naturopaths have commented that long before patients develop psychotic systems, they exhibit digestive problems and other systems of gut dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance in the gut).
- In a recent study performed by UCLA, scientists measured increased brain function in patients after ingesting probiotics. These doctors also stated that “time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with the gut.”
In other words, smart doctors who have treated patients their whole careers have noticed an obvious connection between gut health and mental disorders. This goes back even as far as Hippocrates stating that “all disease begins in the gut.”
Bad gut = bad brain.
Here’s another fascinating connection between overall health and gut bacteria: the majority of children and adults with neurological and psychiatric conditions have a pale complexion.
This happens for a few reasons. Gut flora synthesizes many nutrients for your body, including vitamin K, pantothenic acid, folic acid, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and various amino acids and proteins.
It just so happens that these are the same vitamins your blood needs to be healthy. When your gut bacteria get decimated by antibiotics or a poor diet, a damaging type of bacteria takes it place.
These bad gut bacteria steal iron from you to survive.
Poor blood health + iron deficiency = the makings of anemia.
Which gives you a pale complexion.
[box type=”bio”] It’s interesting how many “incurable” diseases or disorders are caused by gut dysbiosis… and that they can be fixed by healing your gut.[/box]
Your gut bacteria is like grass on a field. If you remove the grass, the underlying soil becomes exposed to the elements. Wind and water will erode the soil and the sun will cause it to dry out and crack.
When we’re stripped of our gut bacteria, the underlying intestinal walls become exposed, and can even crack.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a segue.
Lining of the Gut – The Great Wall of China
The lining of your gut is a front-line defense against toxins in your body.
Your gut digests food – obviously – and helps separate important nutrients from the toxins that need to be expelled. This barrier in your gut must be maintained properly or all kinds of nastiness is released into your body.
You see, healthy gut bacteria maintains the intestinal wall, keeping unwanted house guests out and letting the right stuff in.
When we (which is like 99.99% of America) don’t maintain our gut, undigested food particles can more easily punch their way through the gut wall and infiltrate the rest of your body.
[box type=”warning”] Undigested foods particles putrefy, ferment, and turn rancid. They deposit themselves in the soft tissues of your body, causing fatigue, headaches, constipation, gas, colon problems, excess fat, and cardiovascular disease.[/box]
When your gut becomes more permeable than it should be, it’s known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. That’s associated with colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and candidiasis.
Foods that get through the gut wall also trigger the immune response, which is one of the main reasons that people develop food allergies. Let’s say a partially-digested molecule of peanut gets through and your body reacts to this thing that shouldn’t be there. The next time you eat a peanut, your body may recognize this as a toxin, causing an allergic reaction.
Toxins in our blood can also penetrate the blood-brain barrier, further causing more psychological disorders. Often what happens is that we eat dairy or gluten-containing foods. These contain very large proteins in them, which are a bit harder to digest. They bust their way through the walls in undigested forms called gluteomorphin and casomorphin (which have similar structures to opiates).
These molecules are very commonly found in the urine of patients with schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, depression, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Those large proteins breaking through the wall is also the reason many people swear that they are intolerant to dairy and gluten, when often it’s as simple as an unhealthy gut. With a healthy gut you can digest these proteins normally, providing you with many healthy nutrients.
What Causes Poor Gut Health and How Do We Fix It?
I’ve mentioned so far all the apocalyptic outcomes of not maintaining your gut, but how does it get this bad in the first place?
We’ve talked about antibiotics already, and I’ve implied that a mother’s diet needs to be healthy in order for her child to be born with healthy gut flora.
Processed foods, pesticides, tap water, plastics, a lack of probiotics in our diets, improperly prepared grains, toxins from store-bought personal care products and cleaners, avoiding saturated fats and cholesterol, and many other factors compromise gut health.
Those are all topics for another day… you’ve had to sit through enough to count as torture J
Let me just leave you with some hope. The nasty diseases that I’ve talked about are ALL curable by healing your gut.
Since it’s the health center in your body, getting it back on track might be the single most impactful and important thing you’ll ever do.
You can get your life back.
Come back next Tuesday, and I’ll explain how to heal and maintain your gut! Now that I’ve said the word “gut” 62 times in the same article, let’s close.