Word is getting out that gut health is important to our entire body. But for many folks hearing all the talk about the gut-brain connection, gut-autoimmune connection etc. etc., the dots are still fuzzy. My intention with this post is to hopefully give you that “a ha” moment in understanding some basic concepts about the GI tract’s intimate connection to the rest of the body.
I’m a visual person and I learn best by seeing what I’m learning. Isn’t a picture worth what, oh, a thousand words? For some of us, it's worth even more. When I give powerpoint presentations, my powerpoints have lots of colorful images. And usually, the attendees are quite appreciative. Although some people are wordsmiths and love to read, proportionally, the portion of the brain devoted to word processing is much smaller than the portion devoted to processing images. So, for most of us, pictures really are worth a thousand or so words.
So, let's talk about the gut—body connection--here's the nutshell version. Food contains nutrients, right, and phytochemicals that benefit the body. But if we take a closer look, the quality of the food we eat impacts our health, in part because of the food's intimate proximity to the GI tract as it takes its ride from mouth to anus.
Here are the important parts to remember: The GI tract houses over 70 % of our immune cells.
Combine this with a partially permeable membrane in the small and large intestine,
plus the direct entry of the liver’s portal circulation into the small and large intestine;
and you have three big reasons why the quality of our diet can be the difference between health and disease: immune cells, permeable membrane, and the circulatory system. Keep in mind, the gut mucosal membrane is supposed to be permeable—in part, it helps us absorb nutrients but trouble can start when the membrane becomes excessively permeable.
Add the vast microorganism community who live throughout our gut and now we have the potential for many, many interfaces. The balance of these microorganisms probably orchestrates much of the activity throughout our body. The quantity and type of organisms depend on their location, function and ph of the organ they live in. Many factors can disrupt this microflora balance.
For all of my clients, regardless of the reason for their appointment, I show them an enlarged, colorful image of the GI tract and explain these “ basics” and the intimate connection between our immune system and circulatory system. It usually leaves an impression-and an initial understanding of why all the fuss about gut health.
Is it any wonder now why the body can have a negative response to certain ingredients in processed foods and even to certain ingredients in healthy foods? Let’s face it, all processed foods contain some “foreign ingredients” to the body. Food additives, thickeners etc.-- ingredients that the FDA generally recognize as safe are not “natural” to the gut. They did not exist hundreds of years ago when it was just man and the land. I don’t think evolutionary man’s GI tract was made to consume these ingredients over and over. When we do, there is always the possibility that they could trigger a “reaction” or intolerance with enough exposure, depending on the health of the individual. The body has a tremendous ability to "filter" out many unfavorables, but it does have a threshold depending on our genes and amount of exposure before the cup runneth over.
My gut microbiome interest has taken me on a journey throughout the body but the gut-body connection most under the radar, despite perhaps having the greatest research, comparatively, is the gut-heart connection. The gut microbiome affects our cardiovascular health you say? Remember, direct access to our circulation and our liver widely opens the door to diabetes, fatty liver disease--anywhere our vessels may lead.
Yes, there is a bit more to it. No doubt, the body is complex, but understanding this basic set up in the gut- with its large number of immune cells, permeable membrane, access to the portal circulation, and immense presence of microorganisms makes it easier to connect the gut to our heart, brain, immune system and virtually every system in our body.
Four key ingredients to the Gut/Body connection
Large presence of immune cells
Access to portal circulation