Understanding Gastrointestinal Health

What Are My "Gut Feelings"Telling Me?

Healthy gastrointestinal function is critical to overall health, a fact long recognized in Ayurvedic medicine (from India) as well as Chinese medicine and other traditional healing systems.

The gastrointestinal GI) tract consists of a tube running from the mouth to the anus about 15 feet long. Along with contributing organs including the liver, gallbladder and pancreas. Because of the anatomy created by the fingerlike projections in the small intestines, called villi, the total absorption area is about the size of a tennis court!

Healthy function of the entire body depends on a critical balance of incoming supportive nutrients along with production of digestive acids and enzymes, as well as the vital role of friendly, helpful bacteria in the GI system.

Each part of this tube has a different function. Most people associate the organs involved only with the "mundane"tasks of digestion and elimination. However, whatever effects gastrointestinal health also effects immune system function, nervous system function, as well as hormonal function throughout the body. It is really our first immune system and our first nervous system!

You have "gut feelings"because the GI tract is loaded with neuron cells that release the same neurotransmitters found in your brain: serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and nor-epinephrine. Greater than 70% of the body's serotonin is made in the gut, not in the brain!

Anything irritating or harmful in the GI tract will send a message through its nervous system contributing to you feeling irritated, angry, anxious, or depressed. On the other hand, substances that are nourishing, calming, soothing and healing to the gut will help you feel calm, relaxed and happy. The GI tract also responds to external stressors and our own emotional states. When you have a "gut feeling,"pay attention!

In addition to neurotransmitters, 80% percent of our immune system cells line the gastrointestinal tract, creating a protective, impermeable barrier. Damage by unhealthy bacteria, viruses, parasites, alcohol, caffeine, excess sugar, anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, as well as many food substances (of which we are unaware), will activate the stress and immune response mechanisms in the body.

In turn, this immune activation may lead to distant, or systemic (whole body) symptoms and diseases which may not seem to be related to the GI tract at all these may include unexplained infertility, arthritis, heart disease, skin diseases, allergies, etc. (See Inflammation and Auto-immune disease.)

Damage increases permeability of the GI tract, often referred to as "leaky" gut syndrome. Rather than foods and/or toxins being appropriately broken down for absorption or elimination, undigested food proteins/toxins/bacterial chemicals "leak" through the damaged barrier directly into the blood stream. These food intolerances create inflammation and stress hormones in an "alarm" response for the body, tax its detoxification abilities, and can lead to auto-immune diseases.

The answer is to heal the GI tract through the 4R's of gut health while at the same time supporting detoxification and eliminating food toxins.