All About the Gut: Everything You Need to Know About Digestive Health

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Originally Posted April 2018
Updated April 2019

The systemic reach of the gut means that it has the potential to cause significant damage to important areas such as the brain, immunity, and nutrition if it is not properly cared for and protected. Therefore, it is critical to support healthy gut function by learning about its many intricacies and effective methods of keeping it working at its best.

What is The Gut?

Simply put, the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), also known as the gut, is a long tube that is contained within the body. The gut can be broken down into different sections including the mouth, esophagus, intestines, stomach, and anus.

It may not be immediately apparent, but the gut is exposed to the external environment via the mouth, with the rest remaining coiled inside the body. As food and other substances enter the GI tract through the mouth, they pass through the multiple regions of the gut to be digested, absorbed, or removed.

Is Bacteria Bad?

Many wrongly believe that all bacteria are bad. However, the body could not survive without the aid of bacteria that live on the surface of the gut. These beneficial bacteria destroy and prevent the colonization of harmful substances including invasive strains of bacteria and fungi. If the balance of good bacteria is lost, known as dysbiosis, there are many serious conditions that may develop.

Antibiotics are a common treatment method for dysbiosis. However, even though antibiotics kill harmful bacteria they also destroy good bacteria. If the good bacteria are not restored after antibiotic treatments, there is greater risk of developing further gut issues. To limit this risk, it is always best to use antibiotics in tandem with probiotics.

Learn more about how antibiotics affect gut health here.

Digestion and Absorption

Without energy the body cannot function. To acquire energy the body absorbs nutrients from the surrounding environment in the form of food.

When any food is ingested, it passes through the gut to be broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream where it is then transported and utilized by the appropriate system.

The gut contains a semipermeable barrier known as the gut lining that is critical to nutrient absorption and protection. When the gut is not capable of proper digestion, large molecules and partially digested food can harm the intestinal lining and leak into the bloodstream, also known as leaky gut syndrome. This causes an immune response that may result in symptoms such as inflammation, discomfort, brain fog, etc.

Immune responses such as diarrhea or vomiting indicate that the gastrointestinal portion of the immune system is actually working correctly. The body’s defenses attempt to expel or remove offending organisms as fast as possible often resulting in vomiting or diarrhea. Gas, bloating, and constipation are other triggered immune responses that attempt to expel offending organisms from the body.

Food Allergies and Immunity

Food allergies and sensitivities are also related to gut function. There are two types of food allergies: IGE and IGG.

IGE allergic responses are immediate and typically cause symptoms such as swelling, hives, and anaphylactic shock. The other type of allergic reaction, IGG or food sensitivity, is more insidious and generally does not present symptoms immediately.

In the case of IGG reactions, food particulates or substances that the body cannot correctly digest may damage the stomach lining and escape into the bloodstream. When these substances leak into the bloodstream the result is often systemic immune response. Common symptoms include bloating, headache, acne, or difficulty thinking clearly. Because symptoms are relatively nondescript and take a longer time to develop it can be difficult to narrow down the source of the issue.

Some of the most common IGG triggers or food sensitivities are gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, and corn. Typically, those with gut issues benefit from limiting their intake of foods such as these, which can damage the stomach lining and trigger immune response.

Gut Health Recommendations

One of the premiere methods of supporting greater gut health is through diet. Optimizing diet by removing harmful substances and incorporating more beneficial foods can allow for gut restoration and greater functionality. Difficult-to-digest foods can tear the intestinal wall resulting in the escape of toxins and other potentially harmful particulates into the bloodstream. Regular consumption of hard-to-digest foods can lead to chronic inflammation resulting in the development of serious conditions such as chronic disease and autoimmune dysfunction.

Learn about how poor gut health can cause autoimmune disease here.

By eliminating foods that cause damage to the gut and continually trigger immune responses, gut health, and thereby total wellness, may be improved. Decreasing consumption of carbohydrates and processed foods, gluten, and refined sugars relieves stress on the gut allowing it time to regenerate and stabilize.

In addition to eliminating certain products, there are other practices that should be incorporated into your diet to further support gut function.

  • Eating a large of amount of healthy protein, which is needed in the creation of immunoglobulins, bones, tendons, and tissue, is less stressful on the gut and promotes greater bodily wellness.
  • Consuming healthy fats that are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the digestive tract is also another way to relieve intestinal stress.
  • Eating more green, leafy vegetables that are nutrient dense and increase production of healthy anti-inflammatory substances.
  • Purchasing and using probiotic supplements and fermented foods such as yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi are excellent ways to improve healthy bacteria levels within the gut.

I Can Feel It in My Gut

The gut is a highly integrated system that can impact nearly every system in the body. Being well-educated on the gut’s influence is an important part of maintaining overall wellness.

By taking the appropriate steps to support gut health you can improve numerous bodily functions such as mood, immunity, and brain function. Support your health by supporting your gut!

For even more information, watch as Dr. Evans further explains digestion and the importance of gut health.