“All disease begins in the GUT” - Hippocrates
This was said over 2500 years ago by the Ancient Greek Physician Hippocrates who is widely noted as the father of medicine. Whilst he didn’t have the data we have now to back this up, even back in BC it was understood that the GUT had a primary role in illness and disease. The science and data we now absolutely confirms this with 90% of our digestive tract lying in the GUT, 80% of your immune system and 90% of your serotonin- our happy hormone- produced there. There is absolutely no way that your GUT is isolated from what is happening with your wellbeing. The reason GUT health is such a hot topic of discussion is simply because people are becoming more aware and therefore actually paying attention to their GUT and the symptoms it’s screaming at them. There’s been such a huge shift to feeling your best that people are actually tuning in and taking action against feeling bloated 6 out of 7 days a week.
Just because you’re eating all the spinach in the world doesn’t mean you’re absorbing all the magnesium, iron and B vitamins from it
So the idea that the GUT is central to wellbeing isn’t new, with continued research into this theory we can conclusively state that your GUT impacts your mood, energy, skin and your ability to gain or loose weight by controlling what macro and micronutrients your body is actually absorbing in accordance with your microbiome. Some links are still being researched and are relatively new, like your GUT’s impact on your brain. What we know so far is that your GUT and brain communicate to one another through what is referred to as the microbiota-gut-brain axis in a bi-directional way that involves the Enteric Nervous System. This means that things like stress can impact the gut by releasing stress hormones or sympathetic neurotransmitters that alter GUT microbial composition and can cause things like ‘stress belly’. Increased stress hormones and uncontrolled inflammatory responses are evident in patients with depression and anxiety which has been shown to play a role in the pathogeneses of these conditions. At the moment, research is being conducted on how GUT health can impact conditions like ADHD – so stay tuned!
1 in 5 women report IBS symptomology
50% of Australians report digestive complaints annually
65-75% of the world’s population has some degree of lactose intolerance
Common symptoms that are a sign your GUT might need some TLC are pretty obvious. First would be inconsistent/altered bowel motions. Maybe you frequently have diarrhoea, or one day you do and for the next three you’re blocked up. Bloating, cramping, overtly gassy – any common IBS symptoms. Other signs can be more vague – not being happy with your skin regardless of how much money you spend on skin products. Constant fatigue, moodiness and also an inability to shift weight can all be linked to GUT health.
So what is your GUT? There’s a common conception that your GUT is you stomach but it actually encompasses a lot more. Our GUT is made up of our oesophagus, then the stomach, small and large intestine as well as being accompanied by the liver. Another big miss conception is about where these organs sit within our body – especially the stomach. Your stomach actually starts just below your left nipple and ends at the bottom of your right ribcage, a lot higher then people assume. Our digestion process starts as soon as you start chewing food which begins the breakdown of food by your teeth and also salivary enzymes, you swallow your food which travels through your oesophagus into you stomach where some gastric juices keep breaking things down further and then into the small intestine where the breakdown continues with eventual absorption into your bloodstream to your liver which helps sort the energy you’ve gotten from the food to where it needs to go, with some passing through to your large intestine. So that’s the step by step process how how our food moves through our GUT. Sounds pretty straight forward but where we run into problems is when our digestion is impaired – wether that be from a deficiency in certain nutrients, bacteria and enzymes or due to inflammation caused by intolerance.
One of the most common intolerances seen in today’s age is lactose intolerance. It’s estimated that 65-75% of the world’s population has some form of intolerance. And this intolerance can present itself differently person to person as it’s actually more of a deficiency than an intolerance. It’s caused by a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks lactose down. You might have enough of the enzyme to break down some cheese and crackers, but not enough to breakdown a cold rock ice cream. The majority of the population are born with enough of this enzyme to breakdown their mother’s breast milk – a pivotal component for survival as a baby, but also in building up a strong microbiome. Only a very small percentage of babies are born without the enzyme. As we age we naturally start to lose the quantity of this enzyme because as mammals, which is what humans are, we don’t need our mother’s milk anymore. So it’s a very natural evolutionary process to become lactose intolerant later in life. So what about calcium for strong health bones?
You reach your peak bone density mass by the age of 25
This again helps to back up why we loose the enzyme as we get older. Once you hit 25 calcium is still important but that’s to ensure you maintain peak bone density. You won’t actually increase it. And you can get calcium from SO many other sources that aren’t dairy – these things include seafood, leafy green vegetables and legumes. If you can digest dairy without any digestive or skin complaints then absolutely go for it, it’s just not your only option where calcium is concerned. Fructose malabsorption, potentially one that not everyone will have heard of. Fructose malabsorption is a congenital inability to metabolize fruit sugar, and just like lactose intolerance is quantity dependent - but unfortunately a lot harder to manage. And that’s because fructose is in a lot of things in different quantities. For example, avocado but also onion. Onto gluten intolerance and coeliac disease. Now there is a BIG difference between the two.
Gluten intolerance is difficulty digesting wheat and grain products
Coeliac’s disease is a complete inability to digest wheat and grain products
Gluten intolerance is difficulty digesting wheat and grain products – similar to a lactose intolerance it means you have a not ideal digestive experience after consuming these products – some cramping and altered bowel motions are most common. Coeliac’s disease is a complete inability to digest wheat and grain products. The inability to digest these products results in undigested particles entering other areas of the body which causes a negative immune response. The symptoms for Coeliac’s can include the cramping and altered bowel motions but also some much more severe ones – fatigue, memory loss, complete lack of energy. If you are a Coeliac you cannot eat these products – if you do you are risking some nasty side effects in how you feel but you can also cause irreversible damage to your gut as it can lead to leaky gut disease due to those indigestible particles breaking their way through your GUT into your body. Leaky gut means that when you eat – whether it’s gluten or not, parts of your food end up outside of your GUT in other areas of the body causing a huge amount of inflammation.
IBS isn’t an intolerance, syndrome or disease – it’s a symptom
Notice IBS isn’t on the screen – that’s because IBS isn’t an intolerance, syndrome or disease – it’s a symptom. Of course you will have an irritable bowel if you eat dairy 5 x a day and are lactose intolerant! So the next time a doctor tells you - ‘you just have IBS’ politely say ‘why’ and get them to investigate more and find to the cause. Or if you feel like you might have one of these intolerances but aren’t sure – it’s something I can definitely help you with in clinic. Onto our microbiome – what an absolutely fascinating part of the human body.
Our microbiome on its own can weigh up to 2kg and contain over 100 trillion bacteria cell. Your GUT microbiome contains more than 1000 difference species of bacteria
To put that into perspective, 1gram of faces (poo) contains more bacteria than you do human cells. We aren’t just born with this immense system; we have to build it. And it takes about 3 years to do so which is why babies ideally love chugging down on breast milk because you’re actually passing on some of your own micriobiome bacteria to bub. So the healthier mum is, the healthier your baby is. Now not everyone can breastfeed and that’s fine, there are a lot of other ways to help bub build a healthy micriobiome and if that’s an area relevant to you we can definitely have a chat about that too. Our complex huge system of bacteria controls how we digest food – it helps process indigestible food products, generates energy for the GUT, produces vitamins and breaks down toxins – which can include medicines, trans fats and synthetic products.
Each individual has their own micriobome make up – it’s like a fingerprint
Scientists are routinely finding more and more different types and links between the percentage of some of these strands and certain illnesses such as ADHD. So which ones are good and bad. There is no conclusive answer to that – when our GUT health is impaired its because we have an imbalance in the bacteria. Each one has specific roles to play in the GUT, if we’ve got more of one and not enough of another then our GUT is out of balance and therefore so is its ability to function optimally. For example the bacteria Bacteriodetes breaks down carbohydrates by extracting all the energy it can from the food source, normally it does this to manufacture enzymes (B7, Vitamin H). If you don’t have enough this results in feeling lethargic, decreases immunity and increases cholesterol as these vitamins it normally produces are needed for energy production and the management of cholesterol levels. But, too much of this bacteria and it produces fatty acids out of carbohydrates to feed its want to create B7 and Vitamin H.
These different balances in bacteria is how two people can eat the exact same amount, type and brand of chocolate and absorb a completely different amount of energy – or calories from it
This is how our GUT heath can impact our weight. If you have tried absolutely everything – food and lifestyle wise – and are struggling to shift excess weight, there is a good chance it’s time to turn to the GUT. As discussed above, an imbalance in bacteria can cause your body to absorb max calories. An imbalance can also cause inflammation which replicates infection in the body. It can impair thyroid function which results in slowing down your metabolism. It can also affect your appetite through the Gut Brain Axis – the bacteria in abundance will crave certain foods – like carbohydrates and will then reward you for eating it and giving it what it wants – it might shoot you a nice dose of that feel good serotonin – 90% of which is made in the gut, which in turn encourages you to eat more of it.
The only bad bacteria is the one that makes you sick – so salmonella and parasites. Salmonellea needs at least 10 000 to 1 million bacteria cells to cause a negative affect but that’s only 1/5 grain of salt so not much at all. The best way to avoid it is to practice good food hygiene. Parasites need medical attention so going to a comprehensive GP that will do a stool analysis to identify the strand and treat accordingly which can sometimes be in the form of a pretty aggressive treatment plan. If that happens definitely see a Nutritionist or a Naturopath post treatment because parasites and unfortunately the medical treatment for them can cause some damage to the GUT that will need healing with the support of nutritional supplementation or herbal medicine.
So practicing food hygiene is a great step to supporting our GUT. Some other ways include the below - these are going to support digestion and GUT health but also just general overall wellbeing. When our digestive process is working optimally it makes a huge difference to other areas because literally your entire body needs your GUT to absorb and produce the things it needs to function.
· Eat balanced food in appropriate portions
· Eat good bacteria!
Prebiotics: leeks, asparagus, artichokes, onion and garlic
Probiotics: soy sauce, kombucha, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt
· CHEW your food - it makes it easier to be broken down as it continues through your GUT
· Remove intolerances – yes cheese is nice but having stomach cramps and running to the bathroom isn’t so just stop doing it
· Constipated? Increase your fiber intake by consuming wholegrains alongside increasing your water intake to help push food through your digestive system
· To kick start digestion in the morning, consume lemon and/or apple cider vinegar in warm water before breakfast – this helps to regulate the pH levels of your GUT as well as sending a little wake up signal to your bacteria to get ready for breakfast to come along soon
· Manage stress - I say manage because it’s not possible to eliminate all stress. So get into the practice of doing some deep breathing, meditation, journaling, floating – whatever you need to take a breath and slow down those stress responses