As a physician trained in functional medicine, Dr. Jeff considers all aspects of a person’s health by assessing the function of each body system. Our body has eleven systems and they are all interconnected. For example, a poorly functioning circulatory system can bring about a sluggish lymphatic system. Our symptoms may originate elsewhere, in a completely different body region than what we’d expect. This interconnectedness is why it’s so important to look beyond the one body system that we assume is the culprit. Looking at other body systems can reveal the true cause behind our symptoms so we can effectively treat (or even reverse) them.
Most of us are familiar with the various symptoms we associate with our digestive system. We all know that person who has a “sensitive stomach” or who lives in the bathroom after Mexican night. However, there are other symptoms related to poor digestion that are usually not associated with digestion at all. Symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, joint pain, anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorders, and dry skin or rashes, can all stem from a compromised digestive system. Let’s take a look at how this is possible.
How It’s All Connected
The health of our digestive system depends on the strict balance of trillions of bacteria that live in our large intestine. A healthy gut contains over a thousand different species of bacteria! This diversity is vital in keeping things running smoothly. Our gut bacteria supplies us with enzymes to help us digest food. They also produce certain nutrients that strengthen our gut lining so it can defend against harmful bacteria entering and disrupting our biome.
Dysbiosis and Disease
Unfortunately, it is far too easy to disrupt our gut biome. Antibiotics, stress, processed foods, sugary drinks, and environmental toxins all harm our gut bacteria, lower our defences, and invite a downward cascade of symptoms. These microscopic bacteria hold a lot of influence over our health, so it’s best to feed and care for them correctly! If gut bacteria are not cared for, dysbiosis can result. Dysbiosis is a term that means our gut biome is imbalanced and has either too many pathogenic bacteria, too few helpful bacteria, or low diversity of bacterial species. Dysbiosis is seen in those with digestive conditions such as SIBO, IBS, and IBD. It’s also associated with diabetes, allergies, autism, autoimmune diseases, skin diseases, cognitive issues, and more. Why?
Immune System and Chronic Inflammation
Well, when our gut is harmed, several other body systems are harmed as well. Consider that 70% of our immune system is found in our gut! Our gut bacteria have a lot of control over how healthy we are and how well we function. When we have dysbiosis, our off-balanced gut bacteria send inappropriate signals to our immune system. The various signals and feedback loops both dysregulate and activate our immune system. An overactive immune system produces overactive inflammation (or chronic inflammation). Inflammation is necessary and helpful during an acute immune response such as getting a cold or a cut on your skin, but it becomes detrimental when it’s chronically activated.
Chronic inflammation is now known to be the root cause of all chronic diseases. This includes autoimmune diseases, liver and kidney diseases, digestive diseases, neurological diseases, cardiovascular diseases, skin diseases, and more. Inflammation is the common thread that connects all these seemingly different health conditions under one umbrella. And our gut bacteria has the ability to turn this on or off.
In addition to holding the keys to our immune system, our gut biome also holds power over our brain and mood. This is because our gut produces useful compounds that our brain needs, such as various enzymes, neurotransmitters, immune cells, and certain hormones. Serotonin is one such compound our brain needs. It is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, cognition, memory, and learning. However, 90% of our serotonin is produced by our gut bacteria!
In order to send serotonin (and other compounds) to the brain, our gut and our brain are connected via a communication highway called the gut-brain axis. Specifically, this communication highway consists of the vagus nerve and various hormone signalling. Any disruption in our gut microbiome (dysbiosis) can affect this gut-brain communication and lead to various mood or cognitive disorders.
Another gut-related pathway towards disease is through intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. This occurs through several avenues, from poor diet, bacterial overgrowth, antibiotic use, food sensitivities, toxin exposures, or chronic stress.
A leaky gut is when the tight junctions between our intestinal cells become less tight, thus allowing larger molecules to squeeze through the “leaky” barrier and enter our bloodstream and body cells. These molecules include food particles and endotoxins-things that were never meant to escape our digestive tract. Our immune system views these molecules as foreign substances and launches an attack. As described earlier, an activated immune response triggers a cascade of inflammation, which, when prolonged, can be a precipitating factor of various chronic diseases.
Our gut bacteria play a strong role in our progression of health and disease. They are a key deciding factor in the way our immune system, inflammation, cognition, and gut lining function. Dysbiosis opens us up to a variety of symptoms and risk for disease, each of them seemingly unrelated but indeed have a common connection to gut health. If you are struggling with symptoms or any chronic health condition, whether or not they relate to digestion, then it’s time to look at your gut. Symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, joint pain, anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorders, or skin rashes, can stem from poor gut health. The good news is you aren’t restricted by medical specialty. Joint pain doesn’t restrict you to seeing a rheumatologist and depression doesn’t restrict you to taking medications. Anybody with ongoing health concerns can be treated with functional medicine, where we find the common thread of symptoms and disease by looking at the whole body. Learn how we can recover your health: schedule a free Discovery Call with Healthy Connections today!