That Gut Feeling: Your Digestive Tract is a Marker for Health
Words: Lisa McConnell, Nutritional Therapist
Photos: Photo Source: Lauren Mancke
While most of us do associate our gut health with a sense of well-being, our perspective may be limited to the more obvious connections between ill-health and gut ecology when there is something clearly wrong e.g. when we have food-poisoning, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach aches, cramps, food sensitivities, bloating, flatulence or acid reflux/indigestion.
We may also make obvious aesthetic connections and be aware that belly fat is not only displeasing to the eye, but also unhealthy. At some stage, most of us will even have alluded to a vague emotional link when we refer to our ‘gut feeling’ about something, without realising how deep that connection goes.
Conversely however, many are likely to misinterpret the signals the body is sending us when we experience chronic and/or systemic pain, skin issues, compromised immunity, hormonal imbalances, depression, auto-immune conditions and neurological conditions (such as Multiple Sclerosis, Type-1 Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis) to name a few.
On that note, most of us are likely a bit squeamish about one of the most apparent indicators of gut health - our bowel motions. However, drawing attention to changes in appearance and frequency may well pay dividends in the end - a wealth of information on the state of our guts can be told from our daily poops.
HOW TO BETTER ACQUAINT YOURSELF WITH YOUR GUT
1. Book a consultation with a qualified / recommended nutritionist
2. Consider investing in a home water purifying system
3. Consume gut-boosting probiotics and fermented foods
If healthy, we start fending off would-be invaders (such as food allergens) by coating them with mucous, so they just slide through the system without the chance to get a foothold. If that doesn’t work, the next stage is a bath of hydrochloric acid (yes, the corrosive stuff you put in your swimming pool) designed to neutralise ‘nasties’ and break down our food to release the nutrients. Next stop is the ideally-impenetrable gut-lining: however, this border can become porous from alcohol consumption, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory use, gluten, inflammation, and also after intense sports.
Then, it can let invaders slip through the cracks in a state termed ‘leaky’ gut. If this border is breached, the army of immune-cells that defend us (80% of our immune-system sits in the gut) can get indiscriminately trigger happy and start firing at will to halt everything slipping through the cracks and migrating further into our inner sanctum. The immune-system’s default response is an inflammatory one which, if it gets out of hand, can contribute to inappropriate destruction and pain.
The intestines, where our nutrients are absorbed, are also home to several systems with multiple functions: the gut microbiota or “gut flora” is home to approximately a thousand bacterial species and 3 million kinds of genes. Almost two thirds of that flora is unique to you alone - it’s like your own ID card.