The lining of our digestive system comes into direct contact with our environment every day: the food we eat, the beverages we drink, supplements or prescriptions we take, and any toxins we consume in the process. And because the lining of our gut is only ONE cell thick, gut damage, digestive issues, and ‘leaky gut’ syndrome are becoming more and more common as the insults of our unhealthy diets and lifestyles add up.
Our gut is also where *billions* of mutually beneficial microbes live, called the microbiome. This colony of microbes:
improves our digestion and gut motility
produces vitamins and short chains fatty acids (vital fuel for colon cell health)
enhances toxin metabolism and immune function
is weight and mood regulating
protects the gut lining
prevents pathogens and bad bacteria from taking over and making us sick
The bottom line: Gut health has a MAJOR influence on our overall health & mental wellbeing. Take care of your gut and your gut will take care of you!
Some Helpful Things to Know
Your microbiome is highly reactive to incoming “information” and is constantly shifting and changing based on what you are consuming day-to-day.
Dysbiosis: The growth of potentially harmful microbes over their beneficial counterparts, the changes in metabolic activities of the microbiome overall, and/or overgrowth of microbes in areas of the GI tract where they shouldn’t be are all forms of gut microbiome dysbiosis. (One example of dysbiosis: LPS (lipopolysaccharides) are undesirable gut bacteria promoted by diets high in fat and sugar and low in plant-based fiber that damage your gut. LPS can then enter the bloodstream via a leaky, damaged gut leading to mitochondrial damage, fatigue, allergies, insulin resistance, chronic systemic inflammation, enhanced cardiovascular risk, etc.).
Gut Lining Damage: the surface of your gut looks like a grass field of microscopic, finger-like projections (villi) that are responsible for absorbing nutrients broken down by digestive enzymes. Villi can be damaged by toxins in our food, dysbiosis, infections, gluten, and inflammatory diseases of the gut. When villi are so damaged they are no longer able to do their job, you end up with nutrient deficiencies, poor digestion, GI symptoms, chronic inflammation, and poor overall health.
Leaky Gut: tight junctions form between each cell lining your GI tract that prevent large particles of food or other molecules from entering the bloodstream. This forces digestion to be a tightly regulated process where nutrients and food particles are shuttled through the cell walls by very specific pathways. However, these tight junctions can open up under certain conditions: stress, toxin exposure, injury, surgery, and eating gluten allowing large food particles, chemicals, and other molecules into your bloodstream. Your immune system is then forced to manage these particle invaders, which can lead to immune overactivity that damages tissues and organs all over the body and contributes to autoimmune disease.
Skin Issues: The gut lining is also made from the same type of cells as your skin (epithelial cells), so there is often a correlation between diet, an unhealthy gut, and skin conditions like acne, eczema, and dermatitis.
Gut-Brain Connection: The cells lining your gut and the microbiome both produce neurotransmitters (chemical messengers of the nervous system) & other beneficial brain compounds just like the brain does, influencing both the brain and gut function. If your gut health is compromised, your mental health will be negatively impacted, too!
Common Signs and Symptoms of Poor Gut Health
GI symptoms: abdominal pain, bloating, excessive gas, belching, constipation/diarrhea
Brain symptoms: brain fog, trouble concentrating, memory loss
Body symptoms: fatigue, pain in joints, skin irritations (eczema, acne, dermatitis), chronic inflammation, recurring yeast infections
What to Avoid To Prevent Dysbiosis and Gut Damage
Diets high in refined carbs and sugar
High fat or high protein diets/meals can cause bad bacteria to flourish in your colon :(
Diets low in plant fiber and phytonutrients - your microbiome’s two best friends!
Dietary and environmental toxin exposure, including artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and additives
Antibiotic use, antimicrobial herbs/supplements, antimicrobial soaps and cleaning products
GI infections: food poisoning, traveller’s diarrhea (e.g., salmonella and E.Coli), and parasites
Proton-pump inhibitors (e.g., Prilosec, Nexium) and NSAIDs (e.g., Advil, Motrin)
C-section delivery and lack of breastfeeding as an infant both predisposes you to dysbiosis
Acute or Chronic Stress (life stress, surgery, injury, etc.)