By Justin Pearce D.C. | Millpond Integrative Health and Wellness Center
It’s only been in recent years that the human digestive system has begun to get the attention – and credit – that it deserves. While there is still a long way to go, many of us have come to a new understanding of the complex role the digestive system plays in health and well-being.
For many years, nutritional advice has focused on eating the right things for heart health, to reduce cancer risk, to support strong bones, to keep your eyes healthy, and so on. It’s only recently that we have begun to talk about diet and nutrition as it relates to the health of the gut itself, and more specifically, the health of the organisms that reside there.
It’s estimated that some 300 to 500 different bacterial species, about 2 million genes, comprise the human gastrointestinal microbiota. The number of bacteria within the gut is about 10 times that of all of the cells in the human body.
Before birth, a baby’s intestinal tract is sterile. During birth, and soon thereafter, colonization begins, during feeding and through contact with the people and environment around the child. By age 3, a toddler’s microbiota resembles that of an adult. One interesting question being pursued right now is whether a disruption in this early microbiota development may play a role in illness later in life.
Once the gut microbiota is developed, it remains relatively constant throughout life. That’s not to say it can’t be disrupted. It can, and one of the most obvious disrupters is antibiotic usage. Where we once believed that the gut recovered quickly from antibiotics, we now know those effects are long-term. Further, we know antibiotics given to livestock show up in our food and thus affect our own gut health.
What we have come to understand is that the food we eat plays a HUGE role in our overall health. But here’s another bit of disturbing news: bacteria found in the small intestine can travel to other organs in the body, set up shop and cause problems. This is known as intestinal hyperpermeability, or leaky gut.
Leaky gut symptoms
Symptoms can range from mildly annoying to miserable. On the annoying side, we have bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, rashes, and joint pain. On the miserable side, are sleep difficulties, fatigue, asthma, inability to concentrate and autoimmune conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and multiple sclerosis.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 24 million Americans have an autoimmune disease. No one is suggesting that every case of autoimmune disease is directly tied to leaky gut, but there is growing evidence that it, along with the Standard American Diet (SAD), play a role.
What’s SAD? It’s a high-calorie, low-nutrient, highly processed food diet. Pretty much what you get from every fast-food drive-thru. It’s low in fiber, vegetables and antioxidants and it does nothing for the good bacteria in your gut (the ones that line the gut and protect the mucosa). It feeds the bad bacteria, weakening the lining and allowing leaky gut.
Are you worried?
If your meals are mostly SAD, you should be. While we may not know everything our guts do for us, we are beginning to appreciate how important gut health is to the immune system, mental health, and preventing or limiting chronic disease. Interestingly, the things that are good for your heart and bones, for cancer prevention, and just about every other system in your body, are also good for your gut.
At Millpond Integrative Health and Wellness, we specialize in helping our clients achieve optimum wellness. Our gut health restoration program consists of three phases, typically over the course of 75 days. The program focuses on healing the gut, clearing debris, and rebuilding a healthy gut microbiota.
To find out more about our innovative program give us a call at (859) 219-0617. We invite you to schedule a free consultation to learn more about our program. Millpond is conveniently located at 3650 Boston Road, Suite 188, Lexington.