The gut is often overlooked, but did you know that it is crucial to our well-being? It is a complex ecosystem that plays a role in our overall health. How so? Allow us to explain.
Why is the gut important?
We sat down with our very own Dr. Denise Marie Herrera- Lavilles, a Functional Medicine physician, to understand the importance of the gut. “The gut is central to all our physical, mental, and emotional functions,” she says. “It is where all the food that we eat is broken down and converted into the nutrients that our cells, organs, and systems need to function properly.”
Now we know why an unhealthy gut can wreak havoc on our health. Here’s what happens when you have an unhealthy gut. “Typical symptoms may include bloating, indigestion, heartburn, changes with your bowel movements like constipation or diarrhea,” says Dr. Denise. “But continuous gastrointestinal problems can lead to other conditions that we might not immediately connect right away to the gut.” To name a few of those conditions, gut issues can lead to skin conditions like eczema, anxiety and depression, weight issues, hormonal imbalances, cardiovascular disease, dementia, frequent illness, or infections.
How the leaky gut is making us sick
You may have heard of the term “leaky gut.” The medical term for it is increased intestinal permeability. Basically, it is a condition wherein your endothelium, the cell layer that determines what should and shouldn’t go inside the body, has been damaged. Think of it as a coffee filter with holes. Because it’s compromised, the stuff that shouldn’t make its way into the body such as partially undigested food, bugs, and fungi are able to make their way inside thereby triggering inflammation and changes in the gut flora. This, as you know, can cause a gamut of symptoms and diseases.
But what can cause a leaky gut in the first place? Leaky gut syndrome may be caused by the following:
- Poor nutrition (inflammatory diet)
- Certain medications (e.g. proton pump inhibitors, antibiotics, NSAIDs) Prolonged stress
- Too much or too little movement Chronic inflammation
- Genetic predisposition Alcohol use
- Sleep deprivation Immune dysregulation
Signs you may have a leaky gut
If you want to improve your gut health, it’s important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Here are some signs that you may have an unhealthy gut:
- Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation Food allergies/intolerances
- Brain fog
- Skin problems Mood imbalances
- Hormonal imbalances Chronic fatigue Autoimmune diseases
The brain-gut connection
Now let’s get into the brain-gut connection. The brain and the gut are more interconnected than you think. Did you know that gut imbalance can make you more prone to anxiety? As they say, “fire in the gut, fire in the brain.” If you have inflammation, parasites, intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or dysbiosis, any of these may produce an inflammatory response that may affect your brain. It’s necessary to heed the crosstalk between the gut and the brain. The enteric nervous system—an intricate network of nerves and neurons—extends throughout the digestive tract.
By communicating the brain in our head, it influences our mental health.
When your gut is in trouble, it talks to your brain. Conversely, when your brain is troubled, it sends signals to your gut as well. Your stomach distress may either be the cause or product of your state of mental health. No wonder there are expressions like “there are butterflies in my stomach,” “gut-wrenching experience,” and “go with your gut”. This proves that the gut works beyond digestion.
The next time someone says that what you’re feeling “is all in your head”, you’ll know better. The lowly gut is a main player after all. What happens in the gut does not stay in the gut because it influences our overall well-being including our mental health condition.
When it comes to anxiety, the same thing is true. With Root Cause Medicine, we ask, “Why are those neurotransmitters going haywire? Why are they going out of balance?” In this sense, we will examine the gut-brain connection as well.
Restoring your gut health
Gut dysregulation can have a profound impact on our brains. The microbes in our gut influence our mood and support our minds. Therefore, fixing the gut paves the way for improving mental health. And as we’ve mentioned earlier, it can lead to hormonal imbalances, skin issues, cardiovascular diseases, and infections. It has an impact on your overall well-being. So how do we support your gut so it can support your health? Remember the 5Rs.
- Remove – Rest the gut and eliminate inflammatory triggers.
- Replace – Check if you need any digestive support (enzymes, bile, acid).
- Repopulate – Introduce food items and beneficial bacteria to rebuild the gut flora.
- Repair – Provide nutrients for healing and repairing the gut mucosa. Rebalance – Allot
- time for the restorative process. Continue with your healthy lifestyle to keep your gut healthy
Tips on taking care of your gut
We now know just how important the lowly gut is. It can be overwhelming to think of ways to keep our gut healthy but we can start small. Dr. Denise leaves us with these simple tips:
- Choose whole foods over processed foods. The more colorful, the better. Chew your food well and be mindful of your portions.
- Be consistent with your mealtimes.
- Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and breathe for better management of stress.
- Check in with your healthcare team.