Our gastrointestinal (GI) systems are among the most sophisticated networks in our bodies. The work that's done by our “gut” goes far beyond digestion and is powered in part by naturally-occurring bacteria that must remain in balance in order to work efficiently. An imbalance in these “flora” is called gut dysbiosis, which can trigger a myriad of health issues. Serenity Health Care Center, in Waukesha, WI, can help you achieve GI balance and lead a healthier, happier life.
Your Second Brain
We all know the expressions “my gut tells me,” or “I have a gut feeling.” There's more going on here than just words. The gut and the brain are connected to each other with a dizzyingly complex network of neurons and chemicals called the “brain-gut axis.” This axis puts the GI system not only in direct, constant communication with the brain, but also with our central nervous system, which is run by the brain and the spinal cord.
In fact, our enteric nervous system — enteric is the clinical term that relates to the intestines — is frequently thought of as our "second brain" by medical professionals. This intelligence in the gut is so powerful that it can even operate independently of the central nervous system. Processes like digestion, signals regarding hunger, and continence are communicated automatically and independently in our bodies, thanks to the enteric nervous system. Their work is as involuntary as our breathing and heartbeat.
A Garden of Physiological Delights
The GI tract can not only be compared to a brain—it can also be thought of as a garden. More than 100 trillion microscopic organisms live in this GI garden. They have plenty of living room; the GI tract covers more than 200 times the surface area of the skin, which is the largest organ in our body. Collectively, these organisms are referred to as “microflora.” There are more than 400 strains of flora in our GI tract.
In order to maintain healthy bodily processes, our microflora must maintain a critical population balance, just as any garden requires, to remain productive and to sustain. It's a tough act to achieve. Some flora are responsible for allowing wanted energy into the body, such as nutrients from food. Others are responsible for keeping bad things out of our system, such as harmful pollutants and substances from the outside world. Still, others collectively send signals to the brain that have a tremendous impact on mood, sleep, fatigue, and anxiety.
What Is Gut Dysbiosis?
Gut Dysbiosis is the clinical term for an imbalance in the GI tract's microflora. For reasons that are usually instigated by outside factors, such as diet, stress, or physical environment, the fragile ecosystem of the microflora becomes compromised. When that happens, a broad range of health problems is the potential result. These problems can manifest themselves immediately, such as a temporary stomach ache, or begin a damaging process of decline in our immune systems.
In mild cases, like a bout of minor food poisoning, the body's microflora can quickly re-adjust themselves to a normal balance. In more drawn-out circumstances, brought on by outside factors such as poor dietary habits or unhealthy lifestyle choices, dysbiosis has a more gradual, though no less harmful, effect.
In addition to tangible “stomach” problems, the GI tract sends distress signals to the rest of the body. These neuro-electro-chemical alarms can have a profound effect on our physical and mental state. At best, they compromise wellness; at worst, they can lead to serious disease.
More Than Just GI Health
Good gastrointestinal health has both immediate and indirect impact on our bodies. Most obviously, our GI system's ability to properly digest food and absorb nutrients, and its ability to eliminate waste and toxicity are something we (hopefully) experience every day.
Good abilities here make up two of the four pillars of GI health. The other two pillars may be more subtle but are just as critical to our well-being. They are the balance of microflora in the GI system, and the “gut integrity” of the barrier membrane that protects the GI system from harmful substances that enter the body.
Naturally, these four pillars are responsible for the healthy workings of our nutrition, digestion, and elimination. However, because the GI system is so finely attuned and so deeply connected to the brain and the central nervous system, any aberrations in one of the four pillars can cause health problems that seemingly have nothing to do with the “stomach.” Most notably, they can affect our immune system, which has the huge task of continually fighting off disease and keeping the entire body healthy.
What Are the Effects?
An imbalance of microflora has an outsized effect on GI health and our overall well-being. When microflora populations become compromised, the problems usually show up first in the logical regions of the digestive system. Frequently seen diseases include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and Crohn's Disease, among others.
Other health issues that have been linked to gut dysbiosis include:
- Mood disorders
- Skin diseases
- Too many others to name…
What's the Remedy?
The most immediate treatment goal for gut dysbiosis is to correct the populations of the different microflora in the GI system. This can be accomplished through changes in diet or by dietary supplements. Your care professional can best advise which way is best for you, but both methods will involve two ideas that are essential for GI health:
Probiotics are “good bacteria” that can restore order and consistency to the microflora in the GI system. Probiotics are found naturally in fermented foods. Some common foods that people find helpful for probiotic purposes include yogurt, pickled vegetables (pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee), kefir, and kombucha. Some (though not all) cheeses, such as cheddar, gouda, and mozzarella can also serve probiotic functions.
Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that not only help healthy digestion directly. They also encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the GI system. Prebiotics are often found in root vegetables, such as onions and chicory. Garlic also has powerful prebiotic qualities, as do vegetables such as asparagus and leeks, and fruits, such as bananas and apples. Whole grains, such as barley and oats, are also prebiotic boosters.
Your care professional will discuss your condition, your diet, and your lifestyle before making recommendations on how to combat gut dysbiosis and restore microflora balance, including dietary modifications and/or supplemental pills.
How Can I Get Started?
The first medical theorizing on the value of probiotics is over 100 years old, and was focused on Bulgarian peasants who lived exceptionally long, healthy lives — eating fermented foods. Modern research on the gut-brain axis is relatively new but extremely compelling. Science has now proven that maintaining good GI health is among the strongest steps a person can take toward overall health and prevention or mitigation of disease.
It's important to have expert guidance when determining a course for these steps. Many people who've heard something about probiotics run to the drug store for a bottle of pills, take the wrong dosage, have a bad digestive experience, and then shelve the idea of probiotics — to their own disadvantage.
For experienced, knowledgeable hands that can help you optimize your GI system, contact the Serenity Health Care Center, in Waukesha, WI, for a consultation.