Nov
20

What you ought to know about your body


This is the first article in a series of six by Lauren Kress. Lauren is excited to join the team at Hygiology to share insights from the health and medical sciences, to empower and promote informed, healthy lifestyle choices. 

.

“The constancy of the internal milieu is a necessary condition for a free life” – Claude Bernard (19th Century French Physiologist)

.

Developing a fundamental understanding about the body empowers us. It builds an awareness, so we are more receptive to the signals our body sends. When things get out of whack, we can be proactive.

.

The topics we cover will assist you in understanding how the body maintains homeostasis. This is the process by which the body’s constancy is kept in check so it can function at optimal levels. The series will cover:

.

  • Digestion – how it interacts with the outside world to get what the rest of the body needs to function and protects it at the same time.
  • Acute and chronic inflammatory response – how our body responds to this in an attempt to maintain homeostasis.
  • Stress – we consider the neurochemistry of “good stress”, “bad stress” and the long-term consequences of chronic stress.
  • Liver health – how the liver plays a central role in ensuring our body receives what and helps to regulate our hormone levels.
  • Skin health – how it can inform us of our internal health, and how we can protect and repair our outer layer.
  • Tying it together – “How do we live a longer, happier, healthier life?”

.

Why is a healthy digestive system so important?

.

Digestion plays a key role in enabling our body to maintain homeostasis. We need our digestive system (or gut) to function properly so bad things are kept out and good things are let in. Our digestive (or gastrointestinal) tract is a key protective barrier between the outside world and ourselves and is part of our body’s first line of defence. The amount of good bacteria and bad bacteria in our gut, known as the body’s microbiota or intestinal microflora is an integral part of the overall state of our body’s immune system.

.

Homeostasis requires a gut impervious to bacteria, fungus, unprocessed food and other foreign pathogens and toxins that wreak havoc. An increase in gut permeability, often referred to as “leaky gut” gut, is a condition where the gut becomes inflamed and porous to nasties in the outside world. When toxins begin to pass through the gut wall and into the body’s bloodstream they cause damage to our tissues and organs. In the short term this causes us to feel unwell via a range of inflammatory responses. If this condition is left unrecognised and untreated it will result in long-term exposure to these toxins that have been associated with diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.

 

.

The state of our intestinal flora contributes to our gut’s ability to protect our body from pathogens and toxins via a number of mechanisms. Studies have shown that the use of prebiotics and probiotics help to recolonise the gut with good bacteria whilst also inhibiting the growth of bad bacteria colonies. For example, promoting the growth of Lactobacillus via prebiotic consumption in humans has been shown to significantly inhibit the growth of Clostriduim perfringens, one of the most common causes of food poisoning (Gu, Yang, Jiang, & Chang, 2003). Improving our intestinal flora can also help to regulate the body’s ability to cleanse itself of waste products and improve gut integrity through a decrease in gut permeability.

 .

Our digestive tract is also the primary mechanism by which we obtain life essentials – water, minerals and nutrients including fatty acids, carbohydrates and amino acids. Of course, we also need our gut to absorb nutrients across its membrane so blood cells can deliver these to the rest of our body. Whilst eating a well-balanced, healthy diet is an important part, disruption to the function of our gut may mean we’re unable to absorb nutrients properly.

.

Common problems with digestion centre around (1) gut permeability and (2) gut malabsorption.

.

1. Gut Permeability – When bad things get in.

Along with imbalances in our intestinal flora, common causes of increased gut permeability, or “leaky gut” include certain dietary choices, chemicals from medication, infection, some vitamin and mineral deficiencies – in particular Zinc and Vitamin D which are important for maintaining gut integrity, stress, hormone imbalances and autoimmune conditions (Siv & Marie-Louise Johansson, 2011). For more info on this check out an easy to understand overview by Dr Flannery

.

2. Malabsorption – When the good things don’t get through .

Digestion starts as soon as you take that delicious bite of juicy steak or crunch your way through an apple. The process of chewing or “mastication” is an important part of breaking down our food and something often neglected.

.

Many of us don’t chew our food enough, forcing our digestive system to work harder. After swallowing, our food enters a highly acidic environment (low pH of 1-2). Digestive enzymes breakdown the food so the goodies and water are readily accessible for our digestive tract. Here they are “let in” to the bloodstream via absorption through the walls of the small and large intestine.

 .

Many of us have a stomach environment that isn’t acidic enough to breakdown our food for optimal absorption. This condition, known as hypochlorhydria, can be caused from a number of things including medications (eg. antacids and antibiotics), Helicobacter pylori infections, irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases including celiac disease and inflammatory bowel diseases. This condition has been linked with malabsorption of important minerals and nutrients including iron, calcium, copper, zinc, vitamin B12, folic acid and proteins. (Harris, et al., 2013; Sipponen 2010).

.

Getting your gut back on track

.

There are a number of simple and effective ways to optimise your digestive function. 

1. Be aware of the symptoms that indicate poor digestion. In the case of leaky gut symptoms include cramping, diarrhoea, bloating and nausea (Lamprecht & Frauwallner, 2012). The cluster of problems associated with low gut acidity include regular acid reflux after eating, feeling unwell after eating protein-rich foods such as red meat, and bloating and gas production (burping and farting) after a meal.

.

2. Remember that your gut is an important, integral part of your immune system. If you feel unwell, sleepy or “foggy”, experience hayfever and/or common allergies, joint inflammation and other illness-related symptoms after eating certain foods, being on a course of medication, contracting a gut infection from overseas or experiencing a particularly stressful event, these could be signs of an underlying issue of your gut, a primary gateway into your system. We will revisit some of these themes in this series and begin to understand how the gut-brain and gut-immune axis form an extensive network within our body.

.

In the meantime, here are some tips we have for helping you to recognise and alleviate digestion-related problems. If you think you may be suffering from any of these problems be sure to seek appropriate care from your healthcare practitioner.

.

  • Listen to your body. If you feel unwell after a meal, consider what you ate. You may have a sensitivity to this food that is causing your gut to become inflamed and “leaky”.
  • Chew your food. One of the quickest and easiest ways to take a big load off your digestive tract is to chew your food so that it is a liquid before swallowing.
  • Test for low stomach acidity. Take 15-20mls of apple-cider vinegar 5-10mins prior to eating a meal. If you have an optimal pH level in your stomach you may get a small amount of reflux after eating. If you aren’t secreting enough acidity you will probably find that you feel more comfortable after a meal and suffer less reflux or no reflux at all.
  • Avoid drinking with meals. If you have low stomach acidity, water or other beverages will decrease the acidity of your stomach. Avoid or limit drinking half an hour before and after a meal.
  • Test for food-allergens. If you notice that you feel particularly unwell after certain foods avoid them for three or four days and see if you feel better. Then try a small bit of the suspected culprit and see if the symptoms come back. You can also get lab tests to see if you are sensitive or allergic to anything. Common food sensitivities that relate to increased gut permeability are associated with gluten and dairy products. Both of these foods contain “exorphins*” which can also cause temporary cognitive impairment or feelings of “fogginess”.

.

* Exporphins are peptides derived from outside the body. They have an action like morphine if they are able to pass through to the bloodstream. They are associated with a number of detrimental biochemical processes and are also known to cause sleepiness and temporary cognitive impairment (Reichelt & Knivsberg, 2003).

.

References

Harris, P., Serrano, C., Villagran, A., Walker, M., Thomson, M., Duarte, I., et al. (2013). Helicobacter pylori-associated hypochlorhydria in children, and development of iron deficiency. J Clin Pathol., 66(4), 343-347.

Lamprecht, M., & Frauwallner, A. (2012). Exercise, Intestinal Barrier Dysfunction and Probiotic Supplementation. Medicine and sport science, 59, 47-56.

Reichelt, K. L., & Knivsberg, A. M. (2003). Can the pathophysiology of autism be explained by the nature of the discovered urine peptides? Nutr Neurosci, 6(1), 19-28.

Sipponen, P., & Härkönen, M. (2010). Hypochlorhydric stomach: a risk condition for calcium malabsorption and osteoporosis? Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 45(2), 133-138.

Siv, A., & Marie-Louise Johansson, H. (2011). Effect of Lactobacilli on Paracellular Permeability in the Gut. Nutrients, 3(1), 104-117.

 .

Other Useful Links:

http://drbenkim.com/articles-chew.html

http://drflannery.com/ten-things-that-cause-leaky-gut/

http://scdlifestyle.com/2012/06/hypochlorhydria-3-common-signs-of-low-stomach-acid/


Leave a Comment