It has been said that the digestive, or GI (gastrointestinal), tract is the crux of all healing – that, no matter your ailment/illness/disease, unless your digestion functions properly you cannot heal. Clinically, we see this all the time in naturopathic practice. Most of the NDs I speak to agree that the first step in most treatment protocols is healing the gut – headaches, depression, autism spectrum disorders, fibromyalgia, cancer and many things in between benefit when digestion is working well.
Why is it that fixing the GI tract helps all of these conditions? There is a close link between the digestive tract and the rest of the body, including the brain. Consider these facts:
- The digestive tract is one of the main routes of detoxification for the body (our detox routes include breath, sweat, urine and feces, with the later two being most important). When our digestion isn’t moving properly, toxins are allowed to accumulate and be reabsorbed into the bloodstream and the tissues, causing an array of consequences. One of the common complaints is “brain fog” or faulty short term memory. Cleaning up the digestive tract so that these neurotoxins can be released is crucial and often brings back mental sharpness.
- Over 100 trillion bacteria call the digestive tract home. Keeping these guys happy, and making sure we have an appropriate balance between “good” (commensal) bacteria and “bad” (potentially pathogenic) bacteria is extremely important. Some of the byproducts of the bacteria in our gut can have far reaching effects on the immune system and on the clarity of mental functioning.
- About 60% of our entire nervous system is contained within the digestive tract. When you think ‘nervous system’ the first areas that come to mind are often the brain and the spinal cord. However, the enteric nervous system of the GI tract is much larger and very influential on physiology of the whole body. Irritate the bowels, irritate 60% of the nervous system. Keeping things calm down there is a necessity in any neurological condition like MS or Alzheimer’s.
- Well over 95% of the serotonin produced in the body is generated in the digestive system. Serotonin is the body’s “feel good hormone,” partly responsible for the regulation of appetite, aggression, mood, sexual behaviour and sleep. This is why conditions like anxiety and depression can be much improved by increasing the digestive functions.
Whew. Considering all of these things together, it becomes quite clear that the functioning of the digestive tract can have huge effects elsewhere in the body. If you have a health concern, be sure to tell your ND of any GI complaints: gas, bloating, reflux, cramping/pain, constipation, or diarrhea. Often, very minor adjustments to diet and a few supplements can have noticeable effects.
Heal the gut, heal the body. New mantra?