Digestive Health with Clinical Nutritionist, Shawna Kunselman, MSACN
Research over the past 2 decades is finding that most chronic health conditions begin with the health of our digestive systems. An unhealthy gut contributes to disorders such as diabetes, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis. There is growing evidence that our gut microbiome (balance of good and bad bacteria) can even contribute to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease as well.
So, what makes the Gastrointestinal (GI) system so crucial?
The GI system digests nutrients from foods to utilize for energy growth and cell repair. Nutrients are broken down into carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are carried through the blood to cells throughout our bodies. This bacteria influences the intestinal immune responses and is critical for maintaining metabolic balance. Vitamins and Minerals are cofactors for enzymatic reactions and metabolism and all of these nutrients are precursors to neurotransmitters. In fact, the greatest concentration—up to 90% of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that stabilizes our moods) is in the digestive tract. Just as a small example, most B vitamins (which the majority of people are deficient in) is mandatory for the body to produce serotonin. The GI tract is now being referred to by many experts as the “second brain”, as it contains hundreds of millions of neurons—even more than the spinal cord peripheral nervous system.
70%-80% of our immune systems lies within our digestive tract. It is our physical barrier of defense against harmful bacteria, viruses, etc. With this close link between the digestive tract and our immune system, if the GI is not well maintained it can lead to a host of health issues and multiple auto immune diseases. Intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) is recognized as a leading contributor to multiple diseases such as autoimmune, cancer, autism, diabetes and even heart disease.
What is Leaky Gut?
As mentioned, the intestinal wall is a first line of defense for the immune system. If the cells of the intestinal wall become weak, waste and foreign matter (toxins, yeast, bacteria, etc.) are able to pass out of the bowels and into systemic circulation. The damaged microvilli inhibits specific digestive enzymes from breaking down foods for needed nutrients in the body. Undigested foods also “leak” through the intestinal wall. This increased permeability of the intestinal wall leads to the escape of specific materials which then triggers an inflammation. This chronic inflammatory reaction is what eventually leads to disease.
What are some of the symptoms of leaky gut?
Symptoms of “leaky gut” (intestinal permeability) vary from person to person. The chronic inflammation can settle in various places throughout the body causing an array of different symptoms. Common symptoms associated with leaky gut are:
• Multiple food sensitivities—a sign that your body is creating a response to everything you are eating.
• Multiple nutritional deficiencies—a sign that there is improper breakdown and absorption of the foods you are eating.
• Skin rashes—your body is trying to dump the released toxins through your largest organ—your skin
• Chronic diarrhea and constipation—signs of inflammation of the intestinal walls
• Frequent illness—poor immune system resulting from your body being in constant immune response with its own body and unable to tend to the constant bacteria and viruses encountered day to day
• Headaches, brain fog, memory loss and chronic fatigue—signs of inflammation and toxin buildup
• Cravings for sugar (carbs), gas, bloating and anxiety—signs of Candida (yeast overgrowth) in the gut caused by the leaky gut
All of these symptoms can lead back to one thing---a constant inflammatory state in the digestive tract which is allowing the flow of undigested particles through the blood stream. If leaky gut is not taken care, chronic disease as mentioned earlier can erupt.
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