Most people think of their digestive system as being its own entity, completely separate from other functions in the body. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The human gastrointestinal (GI) tract is intricately connected to every system in the body.
In fact, scientists and health professionals who study the GI system often refer to it as “the second brain” because of its profound influence on the entire body, including our cognitive/emotional well-being, immune functioning, and metabolic health, amongst other things.
The Gut Microbiome
Our gut hosts trillions (yes, TRILLIONS) of microorganisms, collectively known as our microbiome. That may sound bizarre, but our resident microbiota (when plentiful and balanced) actually keep us healthy and resilient. It’s only when our microbiome is disrupted and/or lacking in diversity that we experience systemic problems.
This imbalanced state is known as dysbiosis, and it can be caused by a range of factors, including acute or chronic infections, stress, toxins, poor diet / nutritional deficiencies, medications (especially overuse of antibiotics), and genetics.
How an Altered Microbiome Contributes to Disease
Research shows that impaired intestinal microbiota not only contribute to gut diseases (IBS, SIBO, Ulcerative Colitis etc), but are also “inextricably linked to metabolic disorders and even brain dysfunction”.
Specifically, it’s well-established that people with IBS and other bowel issues exhibit higher-than-average rates of anxiety and depression. According to the director of Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, “for decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to (GI) problems. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around.”
This is also true for immune function and inflammatory diseases. Studies show that when mice are raised without exposure to microbes (aka, “germ-free”), they not only have an underdeveloped microbiome, they also consistently exhibit reduced numbers of immune cells. Furthermore, the absence of microbiota was found to make them more susceptible to infections and less efficient at absorbing nutrients.
Considering that 30-40 percent of the population has functional bowel problems at some point in their lives, these are extremely relevant findings.
In short, dysbiosis is not the sole cause of disease, but it is a major contributing factor for some of the most prevalent diseases, including autoimmune disorders, depression/anxiety, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, atopic conditions (allergies, eczema etc), and even cancer.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Body
How does one maintain a healthy gut? Here are our top picks and tips:
- Minimizing your exposure to toxins (i.e. quitting smoking) and reducing stress are critical to gut health.
- Stay hydrated
- Introducing probiotics into your daily routine can help ensure that your gut has a consistent source of beneficial microflora. We recommend Integrative Therapeutics Probiotic Pearls. (available at all B12 LOVE Lounge locations)
- Gut supportive botanicals can help soothe a distressed or inflamed GI system. We love Thorne GI-Encap for its simple, yet effective formula. (available at all B12 LOVE Lounge locations)
- Digestive enzymes, such as Integrative Therapeutics Similase, assist in the digestion of macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and fiber. (available at all B12 LOVE Lounge locations)
- Natural anti-inflammatories: (available at all B12 LOVE Lounge locations)
- Last but not least, eating a diet* rich in fiber, micronutrients, and ‘good’ fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, fish etc.), while also reducing your intake of sugar and processed foods is key.
That said, even a strong gut only absorbs roughly 50 percent of the nutrients from food (and most of us don’t get that much!). That’s where supplementation with certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids can be helpful.
- MIC (Methionine, Inositol, Choline)
- All B vitamins – Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Pyridoxine, Biotin, Folate, and Methylcobalamin (B12)
*Always consult your doctor before undergoing an Elimination or other therapeutic diet.