You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your gut, unless it is causing you discomfort. I certainly wasn’t thinking about my gut when I was eating fast food and drinking sugary pop. But when it started causing me problems, I started to notice.
We often focus on the things we see on the outside, or think about heart health, or cancer prevention; the poor gastrointestinal tract doesn’t get much attention. The gastrointestinal tract, or the gut, is tied to every aspect of your health. I hope with that in mind, you will start giving it some more love. Here are some reasons why.
- is the initial contact between the outside world and your internal environment. It is the gate keeper for what enters your body.
- health is necessary for the health of all other areas of your body.
- provides a home for a multitude of organisms that help maintain immune balance and make nutrients available to the rest of your body.
- keeps microorganisms in balance, so you don’t get sick.
- breaks down and assimilates carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals so your body can use them to function optimally.
- disposes of toxins and other nonessential elements to keep your body running in tip-top shape.
- regulates body composition to help you maintain a healthy weight.
Let me give you a brief explanation of some gut functions to help you better understand its importance.
1. The Gut Is The Gate Keeper
The gut runs the entire length of your body from your mouth to your anus. It functions to digest, break down and absorb food. It is actually considered to be outside of the body because it is open to the external environment at each end. This is, of course, different from other systems in your body. Two areas where this gate keeper is keeping you healthy include the mucus layer and the tight junctions of the intestine. The mucus layer in the intestine contains immune cells and proteins with antimicrobial activity against bacteria, viruses and fungi. These both provide a protective layer against bacterial invasion. In addition, there are tight junctions in the intestine that allow for nutrients to pass but prevent larger molecules into the bloodstream preventing inflammation that could occur in any area of the body from your gut to your joints to your brain.
2. Healthy Gut = Healthy Body
Just one way to think about how a healthy gut equals a healthy body is to address the importance of nutrients for cellular function. It is crucial for your body to digest and assimilate the food you eat. This is the process of absorbing vitamins and minerals and other components from your food within the gut. Just two examples of nutrients for important cellular function include B vitamins needed for energy production, and antioxidant vitamins (vitamins E or C among many others) to protect against damage to your DNA. Every whole food you consume contains a multitude of nutrients that allow your body to function optimally. Without not only intake, but absorption of those nutrients, dysfunction will arise.
3. The Function of The Gut Microbiome
There are anywhere from 500 to 1,000 different species of bacteria in the gut. The gut microbiome plays a role in several functions including carbohydrate digestion, development of the immune system, synthesis of vitamins, storage of fat, and defense against infections. Though the human genome remains stable throughout life, the human microbiome is affected by your diet and lifestyle. Research published in the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice in 2012 supports that a high-fat, high-sugar diet will significantly alter the composition of the gut microbiome within 1-3 days. Sorry to say that reverting to the Standard American Diet on vacation or on the weekends may actually be impacting your healthy gut you nourish so well the rest of your days. And ultimately may be impacting the important functions that are associated with a healthy gut microbiome.