Hippocrates said, “all disease begins in the gut.” We are only more recently finding out through research, just how right he was. Your gut is much like your second brain, so you need to listen to it.
Digestion begins in the mouth with chewing and saliva. Then food moves through the esophagus and into the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter is what helps keep food from the stomach from moving back up into the esophagus. The stomach is the main work-horse of digestion, including contractions, proteins and acids. Some digestion continues in the small intestine, but mainly it is where the bulk of nutrient absorption occurs. Whatever was not absorbed in the small intestine will move into the large intestine, where a little bit of absorption of certain nutrients will take place. The large intestine is also home to most of the healthy bacteria that lives in the digestive system. The colon is mostly responsible for absorbing the last bit of water and salt from the solid waste before it is eliminated from the body.
Digestion and Gastric Emptying Overview
There are two types of digestion, mechanical and chemical. Mechanical digestion is the more physical part of digestion, which includes chewing/mastication, contractions in the stomach, and peristalsis (contractions in the intestines). Chemical digestion includes the part of digestion when juices, enzymes and acids come into play. This includes saliva in the mouth, acids in the stomach and enzymes in the intestine. The gastric emptying of nutrients happens at different rates, depending on the type of macronutrients. Carbohydrates will move through the stomach and into the intestine to be absorbed the quickest. Protein is the next to be emptied from the stomach and into the small intestine. Fats take the longest to move through the digestive system.
Microbiome and GI distress Overview
The microbiome is made up of trillions of naturally occurring and healthy microorganisms; they out-number cells by 10 to 1. These “healthy bacteria” play a vital role in the human body, including making up a large part of the immune system. Adequate populations of healthy bacteria help protect the body from other invasive microorganisms, as well as produce some essential nutrients as a biproduct. GI distress can come from a variety of issues and reactions including allergies, sensitivities, intolerances, leaky gut, irritable bowel. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of potential GI distress. Common symptoms include constipation/diarrhea, nausea/vomiting, excess gas, bloating, fatigue, upset stomach, lack of appetite, acid reflux, heart burn, etc. If you notice any of these symptoms happening on a regular basis, discuss your symptoms with your physician or gastroenterologist, as there are tests that can be done to look for dietary issues.
Why is it important
The gut and digestive system can be both an indicator and a determinant of health. Therefore, it is incredibly important to both listen to it and to take care of it. The intestines/gut make up a large and important part of the body’s immune system. This means that if things aren’t working properly, it can cause the immune system to become compromised. Many people get so used to living with symptoms of GI distress or poor gut health, that they often don’t recognize the issue. Also, because the importance of gut health is still a newer field of study, it is often not recognized by general physicians either. However, tests and awareness have been improving in recent years, leading to more accurate diagnoses of gut irregularities. One of the best things that anyone can do to protect their health is to learn to recognize symptoms of GI distress or poor gut health and to be their own advocate when speaking with physicians.
i. The first step is always to be aware of what the possible signs and symptoms are of GI distress or poor gut health.
ii. Familiarize yourself with the possible symptoms and watch for them throughout the day.
i. Create a gut journal
ii. This should be in conjunction with your food journal. While noting what you are eating and drinking during the day, also take notes of any symptoms of possible GI distress that may come up throughout the day.
iii. Do this for multiple days and watch for any patterns or associations with certain foods you may be eating.
i. If you are experiencing any signs and symptoms of GI distress/poor gut health, get it checked out. A good preliminary assessment is the small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) test.
ii. You can always start by talking with your primary care doctor, but it is always a good idea to consult a specialist, like a gastroenterologist.