Health Begins In The Gut
By: Yufang Lin, MD • Posted on February 24, 2022
“Death begins in the colon” is a popular saying that has been attributed to Greek physician Hippocrates and more recently the Biology Nobel laureate, Elie Metchnikof. As an integrative medicine specialist, I am privileged to be working with patients who have complicated medical conditions, and I find this statement very insightful. Most patients with chronic health issues often have preceding gastrointestinal issues.
How Gut Health Impacts the Whole Body
Most people consider the function of gut primarily rests on digestion and absorption of food, as well as elimination of waste product. Research shows that a person’s gut health is far beyond the gastrointestinal tract (GIT).
The anatomy of gut lining:
- It is a thin membrane made of cells that are zipped together by tight junction proteins.
- This membrane when flattened and stretched out is about the size of a tennis court to double tennis court. This far surpasses the surface area of one’s skin or lungs, and one can consider the GIT the primary interface between our body and the rest of the world.
- If the tight junction become loose, then the intestine become “leaky” or have “increased permeability”, which allows intestinal content (such as bacterial fragment and partially digested food) to leak across the membrane.
To counter these irritants, our immune system mounts an inflammatory response which can contribute to local GI symptoms such as nausea, pain and irregular bowel movement. Since our GIT is connected to the rest of the body through the nervous system, immune system and circulatory system, GI inflammation can lead to or aggravate existing inflammation in the rest of the body (aka “systemic inflammation”). Gut inflammation has been shown to contribute to the following conditions:
- fatty liver
- autoimmune conditions
What is the connection between the gut and the brain?
Recent studies also confirm there is a bidirectional connection between brain and gut. This Brain-Gut Axis explains why some people, when nervous, feel the need to use the bathroom. Similarly, when the gut is unhealthy, it contributes to irritability, anxiety, depressed mood, altered social behavior and increase risk for cognitive dysfunction.
What is the gut microbiome?
- The microorganisms in the gut lining, along with their genes and metabolites, are collectively known as the gut microbiome.
- The health of gut microbiome is also critical for our health, as they help digest fiber, produce vitamins (especially vitamin B12, k2, and biotin), protect gut lining and support a healthy immune system.
- Dysbiosis, a state of imbalanced gut microbiome, is associated with poor digestion and poor absorption.
- In addition, dysbiosis coupled with constipation can lead to excess hormone re-absorption from the gut, contributing to hormone imbalance.
- Women with excess estrogen balance may complain of heavy period, fibrocystic breast, and moodiness with menses.
So how do you keep your gut healthy?
- Start by eating a whole food diet that consists of plentiful vegetables, moderate fruits, healthy protein and healthy fat.
- Eat fiber rich food and drink enough water to promote healthy bowel movement.
- Eat fermented food daily to support a healthy gut microbiome.
- Get enough sleep and exercise regularly.
All these steps can support a healthy gut and healthy you.
Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be in Charge!
- Yufang Lin, MD
- Bischoff et al. Intestinal permeability- a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC Gastroenterology 2014, 14: 189.
- Obrenovich, M. (2018). Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain? Microorganisms, 6(4), 107. https://doi.org/10.3390/microo...
- Li C, Gao M, Zhang W, Chen C, Zhou F, Hu Z, Zeng C. Zonulin Regulates Intestinal Permeability and Facilitates Enteric Bacteria Permeation in Coronary Artery Disease. Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 29;6:29142. doi: 10.1038/srep29142. PMID: 27353603; PMCID: PMC4926221.
- Collins, S. M., Surette, M., & Bercik, P. (2012). The interplay between the intestinal microbiota and the brain. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 10(11), 735–742.
- Kelly, J. R., Kennedy, P. J., Cryan, J. F., Dinan, T. G., Clarke, G., & Hyland, N. P. (2015). Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 9(October).
About Yufang Lin, MD
Dr. Yufang Lin, MD, FACP, FAAP, ABIHM, ABOIM, believes in the intrinsic healing power of the human body and, to treat disease, we need to look at the root cause and driving factors. Using an integrative approach of nutritional guidance, stress management, herbal support, supplements (if appropriate), energy medicine, exercise, and other mind/body modalities, she partners with patients to create a personalized treatment plan that empowers one to achieve the health and wellness that we all deserve.
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