The Gut: The Foundation Of Your Health
When we talk about the gut, we are generally speaking about the two most common organs involved in digestion, the large and small intestine. But the gut actually encompasses the entire gastrointestinal tract including the mouth, stomach, and rectum. While digestion may be its major function, this article will go into detail about why the gut is so much more than this and how our general health is directly related to the state of our gut.
On an initial visit with a patient, the large and small intestine are two of the most important organs that I examine for proper function. This is because these organs are involved with so many so many different systems in the body, and though they may seem unrelated to the patients’ symptoms, in reality they may driving the problem.
There is a saying in the health care community that our gut makes up over half of our immune system, or that over half of our immune system is in our gut. While I don’t know accurate this number is, or which saying makes more sense, it gives you an idea of how important we consider gut health when addressing the immune system.
The thymus and spleen are our two major immune system organs, but rather than think of them as the cause of an immune system reaction, we need to think of them as the response instead. In other words, the thymus and spleen will only be overactive if there is something causing them to be. We do need to treat and calm a stressed immune system but first we need to find what is driving it. The problem often stems from bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections, airborne or food allergies, heavy metals, and autoimmune conditions. And where do we find the majority of these conditions? The gut.
Your large intestine harbors the vast majority of the body’s microbes, AKA the good bacteria your body needs to fight off invaders (those infections), digest food, influence neurotransmitters, and convert certain nutrients into absorbable forms our bodies can use. If the gut has a lack of good bacteria as a result of an antibiotic or medication or harbors an environment where bad bacteria can proliferate due to a poor diet (bad fats and sugars), bad bacteria can take over as the dominant strand. This leads to a dysbiosis – an improper ratio of good to bad bacteria in the gut. Inflammation soon follows as infections are allowed to emerge as the apex predator of the new ecosystem that is your gut. A condition called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can also occur where excessive amounts of bacteria push their way into the small intestine, where they should never be, and wreak havoc in the form of inflammation, bloating, and diarrhea. Patients often have multiple chronic infections that have gone unresolved for years which leads to an overworked and dysfunctional immune system. Poor health develops as a result causing multiple unrelated symptoms that can lead doctors down rabbit holes without success.
Autoimmune responses often originate in the gut, especially for disorders such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. Even conditions such as Hashimoto’s of the Thyroid can often be traced here due to a leaky gut or food sensitivity. Leaky gut is a term used to describe a porous gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Our GI lining is selectively permeable, meaning that it keeps certain things in (digested food, bacteria) and allows certain things out (water, minerals) to be absorbed back into the body. If there is enough irritation to the wall of the GI tract due to excessive inflammation, this selective permeability will begin to falter, and unwanted compounds may begin to leak out. As mentioned earlier, inflammation can result from gut dysbiosis, food sensitivities, and infections, but we can also add stress to that list as well. Once a leaky gut has been established, certain proteins and bacteria may be allowed to escape back into the bloodstream where they do not belong.
Our immune system has this amazing ability of being able to distinguish between self and non-self. If this were not the case, our body be constantly attacking itself and that doesn't make much sense. So, what triggers our immune system to become confused and believe our joints or thyroid are just as threatening as a foreign virus? For some people, when proteins such as gluten or casein are present in the bloodstream, the immune system does not recognize them as self, and attacks them. The problem is that this leaky gut is never fixed so these attacks keep happening over and over again. The body has another amazing ability where once it recognizes a foreign invader (gluten/casein/bacteria) it will remember these intruders the next time they appear so it can quickly coordinate a future attack if they ever reappear. The pitfall of this is that proteins such as gluten and casein look almost identical to certain tissues in your body that the immune system is unable to distinguish between. Great for Covid-19, bad for your thyroid. Once the immune system creates these antibodies, an autoimmune disease will result, and the destruction of your body’s tissue will occur. Great effort must be made to eliminate the food allergy from the diet, normalize the guts environment, heal the gut lining, and calm the overactive immune system.
Another saying in the health care community is that our gut is our second brain. This is due to the fact that the lining of our gut houses the enteric nervous system (ENS). The enteric nervous system is completely separate from our central nervous system (CNS) (brain, spinal cord) but is able to communicate with it via the vagus nerve. The ENS and CNS are constantly communicating with each other about the state of the body as the ENS relays information such as nutritional status, immune response, and hormonal and neurotransmitter levels. In fact, over 95% of your serotonin and 50% of your dopamine are produced in the gut. No one is quite sure how much these neurotransmitters in the gut can affect the neurotransmitters in the brain, as these neurotransmitters are unable to cross the blood-brain-barrier, but we know that the two nervous systems are constantly talking and trying to find balance. Clinically, we find that healing the gut can produce profound changes in memory, anxiety, depression, and overall mood. And although the final forms of most neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine cannot cross the blood-brain barrier themselves, their precursors such as choline and L-dopa can. The gut influences the brain, and the brain influences the gut, and if the gut is in shambles most likely your brain is too.
Treating the gut is often the first thing that needs to be addressed when treating patients, but it is not a quick fix. Every patient is different, and the severity of dysfunction determines how deep the practitioner needs to dig in order to find what is truly going on. Layers may be needed to be peeled back to find deeper lying infections even after previous infections had been found and dealt with. Supplements are often needed in the form of herbs to treat infections while nutritional supplements will help to build the gut back up, heal the gut lining, and normalize the environment. One of the most important things to consider when treating the gut is diet. Not only is the diet usually poor, but it has been poor for so long that the body has learned to compensate with a suppressed gut, suppressed nervous system, and suppressed brain. If you have been dealing with multiple unrelated symptoms that have confounded you or your doctor, your gut might just be trying to tell you something, literally. Reach out to a professional in your area to get started.
Disclaimer: Dr. Bill Schuler is a licensed Chiropractic Physician and Applied Kinesiologist in the state of North Carolina. Information on this website is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute (i) medical advice or counseling, (ii) the practice of medicine including psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy or the provision of health care diagnosis or treatment, (iii) the creation of a physician patient or clinical relationship, or (iv) an endorsement, recommendation or sponsorship of any third party product or service by the Sponsor or any of the Sponsor's affiliates, agents, employees, consultants or service providers. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly.