Yes, it may feel like all of a sudden, every man and his dog is talking about gut health. Truth be told though we’ve been a bit slow on the uptake though as it was well over 2000 years ago that Hippocrates famously touted, “All disease begins in the gut,” yet it’s really only been in the last 20 years that we’ve started to appreciate this futurist and his health theories. It’s taken the last 2-3 years for the conversation itself to start to become mainstream.
Fortunately, over the few decades more and more research has shown us that gut health is in fact a crucial component for our overall wellbeing and can affect everything from our digestion to our mental health. In fact, poor gut health contributes to a wide range of diseases including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorder, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.
“Hold up, seriously?” you ask
Yes, seriously. All of the diseases when we dive into the clinical signs and indicators, “poor gut health” seems to be at the crux of these modern diseases.
We’ve also learnt that some of the biggest offenders to our gut health are our diet, our stress levels, toxins, medications (antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs) and interestingly, how we are born.
Now if you’re following the bread crumbs here it sounds an awful lot like our modern lifestyle seems to offset our gut function which can then play out as a host of modern-day health challenges. “Could poor gut health really be why we are seeing epic numbers of adults and children suffering with allergies, asthma, neurodevelopmental issues, autism, mental health issues and metabolic disorders?”
Sure, gut health isn’t the only bodily organ or system involved when we are talking about autism or any of the previously mentioned health challenges, but the more we examine the communication pathways of the body it certainly seems that the gut plays a stand out leading role.
As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” and the gut is both intelligent and well connected.
The gut houses approximately 80% of our immune system and also has intricate relationships with the hormone system of the body (endocrine system) and our central nervous system. With this close proximity comes an amazing connection between the gut and the brain that is bidirectional and known as the Gut Brain axis (GBA). The problem lies herein though when one system becomes taxed and compromised, other systems become severely strained and with time they begin to function poorly.
Did you know that you have more neurons (nerve cells) in your gut than you do in your spinal cord?
This collection of neurons is known as the enteric nervous system. This means that the gut can initiate reflexes in the complete absence of input from the brain or the spinal cord, this is why the gut is now called the second brain.
Did you know that 95% of your feel-good hormone serotonin is manufactured in our gut?
This is why more and more clinical studies on depression and anxiety are measuring gut function.
I hope you’re starting to appreciate that the human gut is far more heroic and noble then a mere poop machine folks! This give credit where it’s due!
The GBA Axis
This GBA axis is comprised of three systems:
- the intestinal barrier and immune system
- the endocrine (hormone) system,
- the nervous system which includes the enteric, parasympathetic (relaxation, digestion, metabolism), and sympathetic (fight or flight).
The GBA involves complex crosstalk between these three systems and it is this direct and indirect communication that creates a spiral of effects throughout the body and why gut health is so pivotal.
For more information on gut health, what derails it and how we can mend it – see related blogs below.
Related Blog List
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
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