Your guts and digestion.
Good gut health is vital to your wellbeing. If your digestive system is working well, you’ll feel nourished, energised and balanced. However, if your guts and digestion are compromised, you may suffer from a number of issues, such as discomfort and bloating through to more serious issues, such as gallstones and malnourishment.
In the following article we aim to explain more about your guts, your digestion and digestive issues. We will also look at some of the ways you can test for a variety of issues, gain relief from a number of symptoms and work to rebalance your gut and improve your digestion.
Starting at the beginning, what exactly are your guts?
Your gut system is made up of a group of organs which sit below your diaphragm.
These organs include: the liver, spleen, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon and rectum.
Your guts work as an integrated whole.
- When they’re all in sync and operating correctly, there’s a balance and flow to your digestion. You are able to fully extract the nutrients you need to flourish.
- When one part of your gut system is not functioning properly, it has a negative knock-on effect.
Looking after your gut health is not only vital for your digestion and physical wellbeing, it’s also paramount for your emotional balance.
Homeopaths, and doctors of traditional Chinese Medicine, believe that your organs represent emotional states. The inference being that somebody with an inflamed organ, will have compromised emotional health.
In this article we are taking a close look at digestion, and the various systems and organs which contribute to it.
Digestion in more detail.
Food is fundamental and we need it to fuel our bodies for energy, growth and repair. Our digestive system takes the food and drink we consume and converts it into its simplest forms – glucose (sugars), amino acids (that make up protein) and fatty acids (that make up fats). This broken-down food is then absorbed into the bloodstream and the nutrients are taken to each cell in your body.
A huge number of microbes, such as bacteria, live in your large intestine and in some forms in the rest of your digestive system. These bacteria play a key role in your digestive health. And did you know, the exact types of bacteria in your system are unique to you. Many factors influence the type of bacteria in your digestive system – your diet and lifestyle, where you live, your general health and what medications you are or have taken.
So let’s look at the digestive journey.
Digestion starts in your mouth as your food is ground up by your teeth and moistened with saliva who’s enzymes start to break down carbohydrates into sugars. Once swallowed, muscular contractions of your oesophagus massage the food down into your stomach.
The stomach ‘churns’ the food to help break it down mechanically as well as chemically using stomach acids that break down the proteins and allows Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C to be absorbed. Once your food is mixed with the enzymes and the acids, it turns into chyme. Chyme is a thick semi fluid mass of partially digested food. This is then squeezed through into the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum.
Once in the duodenum, the food is mixed with more digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver. Food is then squeezed into the lower parts of the small intestine. In total the small intestine is a long tube of around 24ft long! Not so small then really! From here nutrients pass into the bloodstream.
Whatever is not digested through this tube is pushed into the large intestine, and on into the colon. Ultimately this creates a stool, which is then excreted.
Sounds simple doesn't it, but there are many things that can disrupt this vital journey and we'll be looking at some of these over the next few days.
The digestion ‘circle’.
Good digestive function can be compared to a complete ‘circle’.
- Each organ needs to operate well in order to keep the ‘circle’ complete.
- For example, good small intestine function creates good liver function, which creates good gallbladder function, which in turn promotes good spleen function.
- Each system, and its efficacy, impacts your digestion.
- The circle is broken when one organ’s system is imbalanced.
- An imbalance can occur for a number of reasons, including allergies, parasites, poor food choices or excessive medication.
“When a client comes to us with gut or digestive health issues at The Maas Clinic, we focus on identifying which organ system, or which systems, aren’t operating well, to begin to unpick a client’s individual digestive health problem.”
Now let's talk about the lesser-known heroes of your digestive function.
Aside from your small and large intestines, there are a number of other organs which play an important part in your digestive function. The ‘unsung heroes’ of your digestive function include the following three organs:
Your liver is an incredible organ. It can rebuild your body, as well as detoxify it. That’s why it’s called your ‘live-r’, because it quite literally keeps you alive!
The liver is your body’s ‘sorting office’, checking what’s good, what’s not good, and what’s toxic to you. If something is toxic, your liver will burn it off. If something is good — proteins, vitamins, minerals — your liver will start to use it.
Your liver will store the things you need, and start to build other proteins and hormones your body will use too.
Your gallbladder works hand in hand with your liver.
As Healthline shares: Your gallbladder is a four-inch, pear-shaped organ. It’s positioned under your liver in the upper-right section of your abdomen.
The gallbladder stores bile, a combination of fluids, fat, and cholesterol. Bile helps break down fat from food in your intestine. The gallbladder delivers bile into the small intestine. This allows fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients to be more easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
Gut and digestive issues
Some common gut and digestive issues we treat at The Maas Clinic:
- Wind and gas
The spleen is your repository for red blood cells. It will provide an extra burst of red blood cells if you’re in an environment with low oxygen levels — when climbing a mountain for instance.
Your spleen is also a filter for old dead red blood cells.
Red blood cells have a lifespan of around 120 days, they then get recycled. Old dead red blood cells are broken down and sent to the liver. The liver then uses those ingredients to make bile.
Gas! Not pleasant but it is informative.
Non-smelly gas is hydrogen based, meaning that there is an overabundance of hydrogen causing bacteria in the small intestine. Smelly gas is methane-based, it usually causes constipation and can lead on to sugar imbalances and weight gain.
What are some of the biggest contributors to problems with a person’s guts and digestion?
There are two major players. Sometimes people suffer from one or the other, often it’s both.
- people’s response to foods, and whether they’ve got hidden allergies or not.
- people’s responses to parasites and other invaders.
In rare cases people may have suffered a large trauma to their guts, by way of an accident or similar.
What does the term ‘leaky gut’ mean?
Leaky gut is a colloquial term for a small intestine which isn’t working properly and is spilling proteins and other nutrients prematurely into the blood stream.
Did you know? The medical term for ‘leaky gut’ is intestinal permeability.
- Intestinal permeability occurs when the barrier of your small intestine has been breached.
- This breach may be down to bacteria drilling down into your pipe’s barrier, or fungus rooting down into the substrata.
Intestinal permeability is a common condition we treat people for at The Maas Clinic. As with all of our clients’ problems, we aim to get to the root cause of a person’s ‘leaky gut’, in order to devise a treatment plan which promotes good long-term health. In the case of ‘leaky guts’, we remove any bugs which are causing the membrane breach, replace missing enzymes in the small intestine, and repair the colonic membrane. We make sure that our clients’ pipe is sealed and working properly again.
How can Functional and Integrated Medicine be used to treat gut and digestion issues?
- Functional Medicine is diagnostic. It is about figuring out what’s going on, on a cellular, organ and hormone level.
- Integrated Medicine is about creating the translatable behaviour changes which will positively impact the client. Included in this is exercise, nutrition, lifestyle, sleep and community.
You can learn more about the fundamentals of Functional and Integrative Medicine in our introduction to the topic.
How do you test for problems with the guts and digestion?
Here at The Maas Clinic we like to use DNA testing to analyse bacterial counts, parasites and fungi.
How do you test for food allergies?
We ask for an IgE and IgG test. Both tests are for food sensitivities. Your naturopath or Functional Medicine practitioner should be able to organise an allergy panel for you. Normally test results take 7 – 10 working days to come back. These will normally be emailed directly to you.
- IgE refers to an immediate allergy response that lasts between 1 – 2 days.
- IgG is an allergy response that can last for anything up to 21 days. It can however last as long as 60 – 90 days.
Are there any foods which are best avoided?
Broadly speaking, giving up wheat and dairy for a period of time (a month or so) can be helpful, since they are two of the most bacterial-breeding food groups.
Bio-hacks to improve your gut health and digestion.
Improve the quality of your sleep.
- You have 7 – 8 hours every night which you can use to your advantage.
- Lowering the temperature of your bedroom can help improve sleep quality.
- Try tracking your sleep using an Oura Ring (a Maas Clinic favourite!)
- Improve the oxygen levels and quality of air in your room by using a Somac unit.
Try Meditation and Mindfulness.
- Our brain, just like any organ, needs to go through periods of rest and relaxation, so going alpha is really important. Meditation and mindfulness will do that.
- You can try using a meditation app such as headspace.com, calm.com, wakingup.com
- Finding an activity which is meditative for you, like walking, doing crafts or gardening.
Take supportive supplements.
- Magnesium – as it supports the movement that that food along your gut as it gets digested
- Melatonin – as it boosts immunity and reduces inflammation
Limit stimulants including:
And finally – be patient, it takes time to heal your gut.
At The Maas Clinic we are interested in your long-term health, and so we devise treatment plans and programmes, which get to the root cause of your problem. We don’t just treat the symptoms.
We will suggest a nutrition plan which reflects the results of your allergy panel test.
Often we will suggest eliminating aggravating foods for 60 – 90 days. We then encourage re-testing to see how your gut has healed, and to ascertain if there are any remaining irritants or allergies which are worth avoiding long-term.
Though it takes time to heal your gut, the ongoing benefits of doing so are huge.
- Improved absorption of nutrients and electrons
- More energy and vitality
- Less gut discomfort and stress
- Better emotional stability
- The ability to enjoy food again
“I started a programme of diet changes and stuck to it for some months, but I am now fixed. I’ve found the perfect balance and am insanely healthy."
We are passionate about unpicking our clients’ health concerns and it is our number one focus to help our clients to achieve their optimal health.
If you are suffering from a gut or digestion issue, we can help.