Defining The Gut
Our path of digestion is the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract includes the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. The casual term, “the gut” is often used in reference to just the small and large intestine.
The small intestine, responsible for absorbing water and nutrients, connects the stomach to the large intestine. The small intestine is also responsible for introducing the digestive enzymes from the pancreas and liver into the gut. This process is followed by moving the food (chyme) into the large intestine.
Any remaining water and nutrients are then absorbed from the chyme in the large intestine. The large intestine is also home to arguably the most important part of the gut: the gut microbiome.
The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is a pocket of bacteria located in a section of the large intestine called the cecum. There are up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, all of which play a different role in the body.
The Importance of the Gut & Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome can improve brain health in a number of ways. Certain species of bacteria help produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone). In fact, 95% of serotonin is made in the gut. Therefore, the gut microbiome does not just aid in the process of producing necessary chemicals in the brain, it also helps improve your mood and mental wellness.
A recent study of 1,500 people found that the gut microbiome played an important role in promoting “good” HDL cholesterol, which helps remove other and potentially harmful forms of cholesterol from your arteries and bloodstream. The study also found a reduction in blood triglycerides, which are types of blood fat that can contribute to heart disease when their levels are too high. Additionally, Lactobacilli, a gut microbiome bacterium, can help reduce “bad” cholesterol when taken as a probiotic, lowering your risk for heart disease.
The gut makes up approximately 75% of the immune system. A crucial aspect of the gut’s role in immunity is due to the presence of beneficial bacteria, or microflora, which colonize in the mucosal lining of the intestines. The microflora in the gut form a barrier that protects against invaders by competing with harmful bacteria and viruses. These microflorae communicate with the immune system, prompting it to attack bad bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, and to prevent more bacteria from taking up residence. When these microflorae are not thriving within the gut, immunity is greatly compromised.
Learn more about the importance of the gut microbiome here
What Is IBS & How IBS Affects The Gut
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common disorder that affects the lower gastrointestinal tract. This condition has been shown to affect women at a higher rate than men. IBS is also known by a variety of other names including spastic irritable colon, mucous colitis, and spastic colitis. A common symptom of IBS is abdominal pain, which may feel like cramping. In addition to cramping, patients with IBS typically experience at least two of the following:
- Relief after a bowel movement
- Changes in the frequency of bowel movements
- Changes in the appearance of stool Other common symptoms include:
Symptom flare-ups are a minimum of three months, occurring at least three days per month. The symptoms of IBS vary in severity and duration from patient to patient. Only a small percentage of people with this disorder experience severe symptoms.
Although all of these symptoms of IBS are understood, it is still unclear exactly what causes IBS. It is speculated to be caused by a variety of factors including genetics, environmental influences, underlying infection, and diet, but the answer is still unknown.
Some experts believe that patients can experience the same symptoms associated with IBS but have different root causes. There is some speculation that people with this condition may have a more sensitive small intestine and/or colon, eliciting strong bodily reactions to normal digestive activity.
Improving The Health of Your Gut
Unfortunately, oftentimes a digestive problem is not detected until disease is diagnosed or the onset of severe symptoms appear. This can cause systematic strain on the body due to the fact that our digestive tract plays a very important role within our immune system as it wards off harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Our digestive health constitutes 75% of our immune system for fighting off disease. Poor digestive health not only diminishes the ability to fight disease, but it can also affect the function of your metabolism, which is needed for maintaining a healthy weight. The digestive system is also responsible for the absorption of food nutrients and vitamins, which our body requires to maintain optimal health. Moreover, scientific evidence indicates that our digestive system has a role in balancing our moods, the ability to handle stress, obesity, cholesterol levels, and heart dysfunction. IBS will always need to be managed and although there is no cure for the condition, some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle, and stress. More severe symptoms can be treated with medication and counseling.
Holtorf Medical Group physicians are trained to recognize digestive problems and implement effective treatments, which may include dietary changes, supplements, or other digestive aids. If you believe you have a digestive problem, contact us to speak with a team member today.