Written by Dr. Kai Herman
Our ability to properly digest (break down food), absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste & toxins, greatly impacts our health on many levels, both physically & mentally. These are the main functions of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. Signs of chronic GI dysfunction include: painful & excessive gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and irregular bowel movements (diarrhea, constipation or both). Many people deal with such symptoms on a daily basis and are unaware that chronic GI distress compromises the health of our entire body. Below, are a few ways an unhealthy GI can impact other aspects of our health.
1. Immune system: a significant portion of our immune system resides in the gastrointestinal system. The immune cells in our gut, play an important role in protecting the body from foreign invaders and infections. An “unhappy” gut, causes constant, low-grade immune activity and local inflammation of the membrane lining the GI tract. When the walls of our digestive lining are chronically inflamed from long-standing digestive issues, the function of the local immune system is impaired. Many people who have chronic digestive issues also struggle with chronic allergies and/or frequent colds & susceptibility to other infections, signs that one’s immune system is functioning sub-optimally.
2. Brain chemistry & mood: an unhappy gut can also contribute to unhappiness in general. Important nuerotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain), most notably serotonin, are generated in our digestive tract and sent through the blood stream to the brain. When gut function is impaired, this can result in lower serotonin levels. Serotonin is our “happy” neurotransmitter and is typically low in individuals who suffer from depression. Additionally, building blocks for other chemical messengers in our brain come from the GI tract. Glutamine, found predominately in our small intestine, is a precursor to GABA, a “relaxing” neurotransmitter. Individuals suffering from anxiety, often have low GABA activity in the brain.
3. Skin health: the health of our skin is dependent upon the functioning of our GI tract. Healthy skin growth requires a steady supply of skin-specific nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins: A, C, & E. If one is unable to properly digest fats, as evidenced by diarrhea after consumption of fatty foods, absorption of fat-soluble nutrients is often impaired, leaving the skin without the nourishment that it needs to regenerate optimally. Additionally, when elimination of waste and toxins through the GI tract is impaired, which occurs with chronic constipation, the skin is forced to pick up the slack. Since this is a less desirable detoxification outlet, the effect of toxic build-up appears in the skin, often resulting in unwanted symptoms, such as acne, rosacea, chronic redness & dryness.
Gastrointestinal function is at the crux of our health. As a naturopathic doctor, I prioritize improving GI health in an effort to have the greatest impact on holistic health. Make an appointment with your Elixia practitioner to address symptoms of chronic GI distress today to help optimize mood, vitality, and physical appearance.