Digestion and Leaky Gut

            Our health depends on our digestion. We are not only what we eat but also what we digest and assimilate. “Having a healthy gut means more than simply being free of annoyances like bloating or heartburn! It is absolutely central to your health. It is connected to EVERYTHING that happens in your body.” Dr. Mark Hyman, MD.

Digestive system works from “north” to “south”. There is a lot that can go wrong in between each stage of digestion. Here is the basic overview. The digestive system is the group of organs that break down food in order to absorb its nutrients. The nutrients in food are used by the body as fuel to keep all the body systems working. The leftover parts of food which cannot be broken down, digested, or absorbed are excreted as bowel movements (stool). (1) “The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal tract—also called the GI tract or digestive tract—and the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. The hollow organs that make up the GI tract are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are the solid organs of the digestive system.” (2)

The liver is responsible for a lot of critical life functions, like detoxification and protein synthesis, but it also plays a very large role in the digestive process. It produces bile, a soap like substance that emulsifies dietary fats such as butter, olive oils, and coconut oil, so we can digest them and assimilate them into our body’s cells and tissues. The gallbladder stores bile and releases it based on the signal from the brain that communicates how much bile is needed to properly break down dietary fats. You cannot assimilate dietary fat or fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K without your liver or gallbladder. (3) The most common disfunction with the liver and gallbladder is disruption of communication involving the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK). If things don’t work properly, you may even develop gallstones. Fats are supposed to be digested by bile salts and pancreatic lipase in the duodenum, which is the top part of the small intestine right after food (chyme) leaves the stomach. Fat in the chyme stimulates the release of CCK, which stimulates the gallbladder to release bile. Additionally, when we have poor quality fats in our diets, the bile becomes viscous. With a low-fat diet, the release of bile is not stimulated which causes the bile to become old and viscous. The gallbladder tries to release bile but is unable to contract and do so. (4)



What happens next you might ask? You will eventually develop “leaky gut”, otherwise known as increased intestinal permeability. Undigested foods, including fats and not fully broken-down proteins can pass into your bloodstream. Remember that in a healthy gut, the lining of the intestine allows nutrients to pass through while keeping bacteria, viruses and other pathogens away from your bloodstream. Once, undigested food particles, bacterial toxins and germs pass through the “leaky” gut wall and into the bloodstream, they can trigger the immune system and cause persistent inflammation throughout the body. This can be a start of many health problems like food allergies. “80 percent of your immune system is in your gut, improving digestive function is the first step to calming systematic inflammation. When your digestion is working smoothly, without irritation, and your bowl transit time is healthy, your body’s ability to maintain heath is optimized and your immunity to infections improves.” Diane Sanfilippo Practical Paleo

Here are the signs that you might have leaky gut:

*Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

*Food allergies or food intolerances

*Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, ADD, or ADHD

*Mood imbalances such as depression and anxiety

*Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, or eczema

*Seasonal allergies or asthma

*Hormonal imbalances such as irregular periods, PMS, or PCOS

*Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease

*Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia



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