Hippocrates said that “all disease begins in the gut. Whilst this isn’t 100% true (think of genetic disorders), I do believe that it is almost correct. I have a very big interest in gut health in my work, not least because I suffered with problems for many years myself, but also because I am yet to see a client who comes to see me who hasn’t got gut health issues to some extent (even if they are blissfully unaware of them!).
From skin disorders to auto-immune issues and from weight problems to thyroid diseases, and from allergies to immune dysfunction, the gut is pretty much always implicated somewhere in the picture. And once we spend some time healing the gut, a lot of symptoms can and do start to ease, if not completely vanish!
But what exactly do we mean by the gut? Is it the stomach, the intestines, the bowels...?
The gut (digestive tract) is the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the back passage (anus). Along the length of the gut are located ‘accessory’ organs (including the tongue, salivary glands, liver, pancreas and gall bladder), which release enzymes and acids in order to help break down the food we eat, so that we can absorb necessary nutrients.
Over the last few years, new research has uncovered a new area of interest which appears to be unbelievably important – the gut microbiota.
The microbiota, formerly known as gut flora, consists of tens of trillions of micro-organisms in the form of good bacteria, fungi, viruses and yeast and all of these known as microbes, inhabit our intestines. It is now becoming clear that they are of incredible importance, as they interact with each other, the food we eat, and other body systems. And each microbiota environment is as unique as our finger prints… In fact, the gut isn’t just an organ system of the body, it is actually an ecosystem in its own right too, and the microbiota is the gut’s brain!
When the microbes of the gut are in perfect balance, with the right amount of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, the gut is a harmonious place. The microbes aid our digestion; help us to absorb nutrients, to break down toxins, to make certain vitamins and to help our immune system. And believe it or not, they also have an impact on our moods! When out of balance though, the microbes can have the absolute opposite effect and cause lots of problems and discomfort.
And there are many things that can affect our gut health, far more than you may have imagined! Many people know that antibiotics affect our gut health and balance by not only killing off the bad bacteria in the gut, but also destroying the good bacteria. But did you know that whether you were bottle or breast fed has an impact on your gut microbiota? Or that how you were delivered into the world plays a part too? Did you know that age has an impact? And that stress plays a big part in altering your gut balance? Add to this poor diet, environmental toxins and infections and you can see that this incredibly important ecosystem can be vastly different between each of us, and that it can improve and deteriorate at many points during our lives.
What is a healthy (and unhealthy) gut?
Ok, so let’s look at what we actually mean by a healthy/unhealthy gut. A healthy gut shouldn’t regularly suffer from bloating, gas, pain or irregular bowel habits. We all get this occasionally due to something that we consume that perhaps we shouldn’t have, but if you get any of these regularly, this would suggest that you may have gut issues. The amazing thing is that so many people live with bloating, gas and pain on a regular basis and convince themselves that this is the norm… and it really isn’t.
‘Going’ shouldn’t be a pain either! Once or twice a day is optimal, and texture and formation is important. If you’re unsure, take a look at the Bristol Stool Chart here: http://www.sthk.nhs.uk/library/documents/stoolchart.pdf. And the time it takes from eating to passing is estimated at 24 hours (though this can vary from individual to individual).
Don't miss Part 2 of Gut Health where I look at what it means to have a healthy gut, and practical ways in which you can improve your own gut health.
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