Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gastrointestinal Health - More Than Just Digestion

The digestive tract is a very important system in the body and has many critical functions. Many problems in other body systems can be traced to problems found here. Some important components of GI health are: Digestion, Elimination, Microflora Balance, and Gut Integrity. 70% of immune system function takes place in the G.I. tract.

Maintaining proper barrier function prevents food particles and microorganisms from passing through the gut wall and entering the blood stream or lymphatic system.

“Leaky Gut leads to Leaky Brain” and indeed problems such as “brain fog” and joint pain and irritability can be related to digestive problems like yeast overgrowth, hypoglycemia, food allergies and nutritional deficiencies.

These types of problems affect the production of gut neuropeptides which are small molecules that carry information. These neuropeptides allow the release of chemicals in the brain. A great book that addresses this topic is "Molecules of Emotion" written by Candace Pert who received her PhD at Johns Hopkins University and has served in positions at NIMH and Georgetown University. In this book Dr. Pert coined the term “bodymind” which really explains the complex relationship between the brain, all body systems and mental state.

One of the important functions of the GI tract is to take in food items, break them down into their usable components (such as lipids, carbohydrates and amino acids from proteins) and allow absorption of these nutrients. It also serves as a barrier to prevent the absorption of large foreign proteins. So in a simplistic sense, the gut disassembles the foods we eat into functional nutrients, which are absorbed through the selectively permeable membrane that is the intestines and all non-usable compounds are expelled from the body in the form of fecal material. Leaks in this membrane allow those foreign proteins to penetrate the gut wall and escape into the body where they set up various inflammatory reactions and cause food allergies.

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