Have you heard the statement, “all disease begins in the gut?”
The sentiment is often attached to a physician of Ancient Greece, Hippocrates who practiced over 2500 years ago. This is one of our strongest tenants in Naturopathic Medicine. Regardless of the health concern burdening the patient, we are always considering that status one’s digestive capacity and the “terrain” of the digestive tract.
More recently, this has become a topic of interest in rheumatology. A lead investigator out of NYU Longone University, Gregg Silverman M.D., has been studying the relationship between gut ecology and the autoimmune disease Lupus. Another rheumatologist Elizabeth Volkmann M.D. has studied the relationship between gut ecology and Scleroderma.
This is an exciting and constantly evolving sphere of medicine. New publications surface frequently looking at the relationship between microbial balance, the state of our intestinal barrier, immunity local to the gut and the initiation and perpetuation of arthritic and autoimmune diseases.
The genesis of the neighborhood and the function of our good tenants
Your digestive tract houses three to five pounds of bacteria. Trillions of bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms. Some biologists have stated we may be more bacteria than human!
The bulk of the neighborhood is formed at birth as the newborn exits the vaginal canal, interfacing with the vaginal flora. Essentially, the child is inoculated by mom’s vaginal flora. It is this flora that the child grows and develops with.
That extra three to five pounds better be worth it, right!?
It most certainly is, acting as a hormetic stress healthily regulating our immune system. Additionally, our good tenants mitigate the effect of bad bugs that we are inevitably exposed to through food and water. Another major function is the production of short chain fatty acids that fuel our intestinal cells and Vitamins that support our nutritional status.
Disruption in the neighborhood and bad tenants!
There is a long list of insults that disrupt balance in the neighborhood but some of the most common include:
- Diets high in sugar or processed carbohydrates
- Food poisoning
- Recurrent antibiotic use
- Long term use of medications used to treat heartburn or GERD
These factors alter the balance of good tenants to bad tenants, resulting in inflammation, susceptibility to impaired nutritional status and often gut specific symptoms, including:
- Food intolerance
- Excess bloating or gas
- Vague abdominal pain
- Nausea and appetite loss
- Loose stools or constipation
- Fatigue or cognitive impairment after eating
Longstanding disturbance and perpetual inflammation is thought by some investigators to lead to a phenomena called “leaky gut” or hyperpermeability of the intestinal lining. This phenomena allows for translocation of antigens from the intestinal environment into systemic circulation, triggering systemic inflammation. This ongoing phenomenon is the basis for the development of chronic systemic complaints and some autoimmune disease. There is nothing worse than really bad neighbors!
Maintaining healthy gut residents
Maintaining a healthy ecosystem in the gastrointestinal tract is critical for your health, wellbeing and prevention of disease. In some cases, we need to investigate further and provide interventions that clear out the bad tenants, but more conservative measures that can be tried on your own include:
- Minimizing your intake of processed food and sugar.
- Eating the rainbow, several servings of colorful vegetables daily.
- Eating fermented foods (kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, etc).
- Using antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.
- Avoiding long term use of medications like Prilosec unless medically necessary.
- Practicing good oral hygiene and hand washing.
- Being careful when eating or drinking while traveling.
- Taking a digestive enzyme and probiotics, our favorites here and here.
Talk to a doctor
Please talk to your doctor first before starting any new supplements or if you want more information on how to maintain a healthy gut.GET IN TOUCH