G.I. Health or all about our “guts”

The small intestine cross section

So what is the big deal with our “guts”.  Our Gastrointestinal system is getting a lot of press lately.  I have seen more commercials lately about pro-biotics and immune system health.  Wow!  What use to be considered “fringe” medicine (such as pro-biotic supplementation) is now so recognized its on commercials.

Have you ever wondered such questions as:  do I need to buy pro-biotics, what are pro-biotics,  do I get them in my diet, or why are they good for me?  Perhaps you have wondered are there things I do that affect the populations of bacteria in my guts, and should I care?  What other things does the intestinal system affect?  These are some good questions many people are asking, so let’s address them.  

What everyone seems to at least know about our guts is that we eat the food, we process the food, and remove the waste.  Beyond that; we might have not given it a second thought.  The more we know about how our body works, the more we can plan an active role in the preservation, and enhancement of our health.

The “guts” are everything.  Simply put, we can’t have a healthy body with a sick gut.  We can not be fully functioning healthfully with out an optimally healthy GI system.  Do your guts make you feel like the walking dead?  When I see commercials these days for the latest Zombie movie, I think to myself “walking dead from too much processed food”.   Food plays such an integral part of health, much more than to fill our hunger and calorie needs.

Food plays such an integral part, for instance it can enhance or inhibit our Neurological – (our nerves), endocrine – (our hormones), and immune system – (our ability to fight off disease).  Can food create disease, you bet.  Food is a translational message.  What does that mean?  Food is positive information or disinformation-creating disturbances of physiology and therefore dis-ease, or health.  Food can also affect our mood.  If we can enhance our health, and our mood with food choices, wouldn’t you want to know how?

One of my favorite educators on health matters Dr. Jeff Bland, whom recently explained in his Functional Medicine Update; our GI system goes beyond it’s functions in processing our food.  It is pleiotropic in nature, from the Greek word meaning more.  It plays a major role in our immune system among other things.  It makes up 50% of our total immune system.  It secretes 70% of our antibodies, which creates our defense mechanism, and is high in density of neurological compounds.  For many people this is a new thought to them; that there are neurological effects in our GI system.  What does that mean?

Dr. Gershon in his book, The Second Brain, informs us that neurotransmitters (chemicals in the body that send messages in the body), in the brain have an effect on gut function, hormones, and gut modulators, all of which influence the nervous system.   Dr. Gershon likes to say that our gut should be referred to as our first brain, because of it’s influences on the nervous system.

Can we make the leap to say that what we eat can directly influence our mood?  Yes we can.  This takes us back to my statement earlier – should I care?  If I can influence my mood, positively or negatively just from what I eat, that makes my choices very powerful indeed!  Should I choose the “put me in a slump, with a side of irritability”, or the “brain fog, with a side of depression for lunch”?

How does this all work?  The gut mucosa (the lining of our intestines on the inside), samples our environment with food.  Food is a factor that affects our guts micro biota (the bacteria living inside us).  Bacteria – good and bad – have dietary preferences as well.  they may flourish in certain dietary environments.  We generally have 4 to 5 pounds of bacteria connected to the body GI mucosa.  There is no magic barrier that keeps good bacteria in and bad bacteria out.  They flourish as a result of the food environment that is created.  The balance can be shifted from good to bad as a result of our choices.  It’s like a crowded movie theater – if all of the seats are taken up by the good bacteria – there will be no room, or environment that the bad guys will want to take up.

There are different types of bacteria; some good, some bad – such as parasites, and some just in co-habitation.  As the parasites increase at the cost of the friendly bacteria, they release pro-inflammatory chemicals.  These messages influence our immune system.

We can modify or modulate our populations of bacteria by our food preferences.  Foods such as alcohol, drugs, high sugar, and low fiber influences the population, as you can imagine in a negative way.  Don’t forget these bacteria are living things.  They eat, they poop, they die.  They have a dietary preference as well, or rather they thrive or die off in certain dietary environments.  Our  bodies thrive or get sick in our inner environment as well.

It has been studied that a healthy environment of the GI system can lead to proper weight control.  It doesn’t stop there however.  The GI environment can help to stabilize blood sugar, blood lipids, and brain health.

Cheap pro-biotics from the corner drug store will likely give you what you paid for.  Consider making the choice for quality products that have a good track record, have been kept cold, and fresh – never on the shelf for long.  I have my preferences after years of using and promoting pro-biotics.  Don’t forget as well that good quality Kefir, Sauerkraut, and other fermented products are good ways to obtain beneficial bacteria.  Once established in the gut, feed them fiber from good quality fruits and veggies, avoid the foods mentioned above that kills them, and you should have a healthy flourishing gastro intestinal system. 

Set a realistic goal to begin to make good choices in your diet to influence your overall health for the better.  Now you know specifically, another reason why good food is good for you.  Sometimes the more we know the better we stick to our good health goals.  At least begin and end every day with something nourishing, instead of processed dead food.  Your guts will thank you in more ways that you might imagine.