“The digestive canal represents a tube passing through the entire organism and communicating with the external world, i.e. as it were the external surface of the body, but turned inwards and thus hidden in the organism. “- Ivan Pavlov
The GI system anatomically is inside the body but it is our interface with the environment so functionally you can consider it outside of the body. The gut decides what comes in and what stays out. The gut is a circular tube starting from the mouth and ending at the anus, stretching 20-25 feet. The surface area of the gut and thus our interface with the environment is the size of a tennis court.
Proper GI function is a complex process that requires a plethora of hormones, neurotransmitters, digestive and pancreatic enzymes, cofactors, and good bacteria. The gut is central to good health and provides more functions than most people realize:
- Digestion and absorption: most people understand that one function of the gut is to break down foods and absorb nutrients.
- Immunity: the gut provides 70% of our immune function and contains trillions of “good” bacteria which help control the “bad” bacteria, parasites, and viruses from causing disease.
- Detoxification and elimination: the gut is integral in neutralizing the many toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis including preservatives, pesticides, hormone-like substances, and heavy metals. The nutrients that our gut absorbs are required for the liver’s detoxificaiton pathways. The “good” bacteria also assists with detoxification and elimination.
- The “second brain”: the gut’s neuroendocrine system contains more nerve cells than the spinal cord and has a nervous system that functions independently from the brain. The gut contains as many neurotransmitters as the brain and contains ninety five percent of our serotonin so calling the gut our “second brain” is fitting.
“Clearly the gut is an extraordinary organ, which in fact is probably why it has a mind of its own.” Michael Gershon, MD (The Second Brain)
Diseases/conditions associated with poor gut health include not only gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome but also arthritis; autoimmune disease; cancer; allergies and asthma; dermatalogical conditions such as eczema, rosacea, seborrhea, acne; neurological conditions such as autism, ADD, dementia, and depression; and nonspecific symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. Work on healing the gut and often these conditions improve and sometimes are resolved.
Steps to a healthy gut:
- Avoid high sugar foods and refined carbohydrates
- Avoid medications (if possible) that affect gut health such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, acid blockers, and steroids. Always consult your doctor before stopping medications. Work on healing the gut first then consider tapering off medications under the supervision of your physician.
- Lower stress with relaxation techniques and/or controlled breathing (see The 8 Foundations of Health)
- Eliminate food triggers: Consider food sensitivity testing such as ALCAT or try an elimination diet
- Eat a diet high in fiber: veggies/fruits, beans, nuts/seeds, whole grains
- Consider taking supplements:
- Probiotics (to re-establish gut flora) such as Xymogen ProbioMax DF
- Omega 3 (to reduce inflammation) such as Xymogen Omega 820 or OmegaPure Liquid
- Digestive enzymes (to aid digestion) such as Gastracid
- Zinc/glutamine (to heal) such as Xymogen GlutAloeMine, GI Protect, or PepciX
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