The importance of a healthy gut

photo (16)Let’s think of the gut as our protector or barrier. I’m sure many of you have heard how important a healthy digestive system is, but do you know exactly why?

Naturopaths have long known the huge importance of a healthy gut, there is a famous naturopathic saying that we all abide by, “when in doubt, treat the gut”. Our digestive tract begins in our mouth and extends all the way down to the anus. Lining our whole digestive tract is a huge network of mucous membrane lining, or as I like to think of it, our internal skin! Just as our skin on the outside protects us from everything on the outside such as weather, infection and decreasing exposure to heat, toxins and physical injury, the internal mucous membrane lining in our gut serves the same purpose internally. This integral lining basically keep things that should be kept in the gut such as stomach acids, partially digested food, enzymes and potential allergens inside the gut, so to it keeps things out of the gut that are housed in the rest of the body.

When this lining remains in tact, its happy days for the rest of the body. However, when this lining becomes damaged due to infection, some medications and drugs, smoking, alcohol, processed foods, stress and nutritional deficiencies, what was a lovely, protective barrier, begins to break down. Inflammation and irritation from these triggers causes small “holes” to appear in the lining, thus becoming permeable. This is known as “leaky gut”. As the name suggests, the brick wall, is now a net and those things in the gut like acids and more dangerously, proteins found in food, begin to leech out into the blood stream where the immune system picks up that there is a foreign invader in the blood, setting off a cascade of immune reactions resulting in more inflammation, allergies, intolerances, dysbiosis of gut flora and immune dysregulation.

Stress is the biggest cause of gut ulceration as to are bacterial overgrowths. There are enormous amounts of research going on as to the huge importance of healthy gut flora or good bacteria are to the entire body.

Research shows links between poor good bacteria levels in the guts and chronic disease, auto immune disease, cancer, infection, mood and mental health. Even more so, leaky gut is linked with food allergies and intolerances. Think about it. Actual particles of food are making their way out of the digestive tract and into your blood stream, this is not normal, and accordingly, the body’s reaction is to let you know all about.

There are certain nutrients that we know are important in the maintenance and repair of the gut lining including zinc, vitamin A, glutamine and of course, the correct ratio and strains of good bacteria for you. Undetected and untreated gut infections and paratises are often culprits for leaky gut and the myriad of problems that ensues.

As with anything where you want to see long term change and imporvement, healing the gut is never a quick process. It involves eliminating trigger foods to give the digestive system a rest, incorporate gut healing nutrients, reinoculating the bowel with the appropriate bacteria and addressing subsequent nutritional deficiencies that occurred as a consequence of the damage in the first place. This is not stuff to be doing DIY, this is stuff to discuss with you natural health care professional. In the interim, as always, clean diet with low process foods, bone broths and home-made stocks and soups for gut healing qualities and fermented food to stimulate good bacteria production.