What’s so remarkable about the digestive system is that you get to choose how well it works. That’s good news for anyone looking to have a greater influence over their health.
Think about it, the digestive system is home to a whopping 75+% of our immune system. If that hasn’t just knocked you off your seat, let’s try saying it another way…. Death begins in the colon. I know, right? Bummer.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Gut bacteria manufacture the majority of the brain’s supply of serotonin. Wait a second, are you catching this?
Serotonin is a chemical that’s responsible for maintaining a positive mood balance. Perhaps this is why the digestive system is sometimes referred to as the body’s second brain. And yet we tend to think of depression and anxiety as something that happens only the mind. Hmm, I see.
AND THE NOT SO GOOD NEWS
Statistically speaking, more health problems have their roots planted in the gut than anywhere else in the body. Problems aren’t confined to bloating or gas. Hell no, those are just basic clues to tell us we are doing something wrong, the overall issue is much bigger. Check this out…
Problems are by no means limited to diabetes, chronic fatigue, inflammation, fibromyalgia, eczema, rosacea, anxiety, depression, Crohn’s disease, IBS, Celiac disease and hormonal problems. Some evidence even suggests that serious autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s and rheumatoid arthritis play out in the gut. I know what you are thinking because I thought. If the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract for short) is behind so much potential illness, then what the heck is going wrong with it?
First, let’s be clear. The GI tract is not some dumbass design that suddenly decided to malfunction. It’s alive and intelligent; perhaps this is why we often have “gut-feelings” about certain things. Its primary role isn’t to cause illness, it’s to digests foods, absorbs nutrients, and expel waste. That’s its job. It starts at point A (the mouth) and ends at point B (the anus). What happens between depends on the choices you make. This is your job.
The digestive system is smart but it’s not magical. If you put garbage in, garbage comes out.
Humor me, for the next 24 hours write down EVERYTHING you swallow, be it solid, fluid, vitamin, or pharmaceutical drug. If you need to, carry a small pocket-sized notebook around so you don’t miss anything. The next morning take a hard look at what you wrote. Something on that list is a problem; I just know it is. The aim of this next section is to help you find out what.
A carpenter cannot make beautiful furniture from rotten wood. In the same way, the digestive system can only work with the raw materials you give it.
Food is the fuel your body runs on — whether its carrots, cucumbers, or chips. This, in turn, is then fed to your cells. What you put into the digestive system is a choice, nobody forces us to buy chips, it’s a choice.
Lets look at it this way. Indian medicine and Chinese medicine date back thousands of years. Both regard the digestive system to be the cornerstone of all health. By comparison, western medicine offers little in the form of nutritional training to its junior doctors. A little odd don’t you think? Especially given the explosion in both Type 2 diabetes and obesity. We would expect new doctors to be given more nutritional training, not less. I know right, WTF? (Where’s-The-Food)
Wait a second, are you catching this?
Science-based medicine doesn’t value nutrition enough to train its doctors extensively in this field. This lack of nutritional training creates an obvious disservice to the patients they aim to treat.
HOSPITAL FOOD, DON’T GET ME GOING…
To take this a step further, we could argue that hospitals should be the one place where food is the absolute best money can buy. It’s no big secret that food helps to heal a sick body. Sadly, hospital food does nothing to nourish a body trying to recover from illness.
To be fair to the medical profession, I’ve yet to meet a doctor without a bright mind. These dedicated men and women are gifted in so many ways and yet results are often stifled by adopting a flawed approach to nutrition. Let’s not forget, this isn’t a new concept, 430 years B.C. Hippocrates was wandering around and saying outrageous things like:
ALL disease begins in the gut -Hippocrates
Personally, I believe most doctors are smart enough to figure this out for themselves. But for them to veer away from a path they were trained to follow can attract criticism from their peers.
During my own brush with serious illness, I was often hooked up to some pretty fancy machines costing thousands of dollars. Yet the whole time no one ever thought to look me in the eye to say, “Hey, quick question for you sir, what type of fuel are you running your body on?” For all they knew, I could have been stuffing my face twelve times a day with Twinkies… just sayin’. I wasn’t but the point I’m making is this- the importance of diet wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
THE BIG SQUEEZE
These days we ride our digestive systems pretty hard and to be fair it’s doing exactly what we ask of it. It doesn’t matter what we swallow, everything is pulled apart and squeezed in an attempt to extract nutrients. These nutrients then run along the sides of the intestine wall where millions of tiny finger-like projections called villi are waiting to absorb them. Once all key nutrients have been extracted, any leftovers get sent out as waste (AKA poop).
Keep in mind that villi are extremely sensitive. This is good news if you have just eaten a bowl of homemade kale soup, and not so great if you have just eaten chocolate flavored bacon chips washed down with a diet coke. Despite there being lots of misinformation out there, I’m sure many already knew this.
Astonishingly enough, the standard food pyramid is heavily influenced by the corporations who stand to benefit from the foods they recommend. Low fat, and high sugar spring to mind.
To recap, the whole GI tract is an incredibly delicate organ. If we feed it foods it likes, life is good. If we feed it foods that are laced with antibiotics, harmful additives, excessive sugars, pesticides, and growth hormones our reward is health problems.
I mentioned that the digestive system is the cornerstone of all health, right?
There is an unmistakable correlation between how we treat the GI tract and how it reacts. Treat it well and it will serve you well. This isn’t rocket science, you can’t put bad things into it and expect good things to come out.
Almost two and a half thousand years later, Hippocrates is back again. He said it this way: “The bodily process of digestion and absorption is one of the most important to our health.” Today this statement appears truer than ever.
Symptoms present themselves as the body’s way of trying to get our attention. Constipation, bloating, acid reflux, gas, and stomach pain are all signs that the GI tract is no longer tolerating our poor food choices. I hate to be the one to tell you, but your gut doesn’t like all those GMO grains you keep forcing it to deal with. I know right, WTF? (Who’s-The-Farmer?)
Grains are found in things like bread, cereal, and pasta but they also sneak into lots of other products. Grains are the seed of the crop, and nature designed these seeds to survive if something came along and ate them.
Maybe that is the reason gluten can be so problematic for certain people. Hello, gluten types. Although, this can be a much wider issue than just gluten, here’s why.
GLUTEN-FREE? — Meh
Often when people go gluten-free they exchange one grain for a different one. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out too well. Grain, is still grain, switching out wheat bread for rice bread is no different than quitting one brand of cigarettes and exchanging it for another. So let’s flush this one out while I still have your attention. It’s not just gluten that’s causing the problem, ALL grains can be harsh on the digestive system.
Grains also have a twisted cousin and it goes by the name of corn. Corn is similar to grain in that it was designed by nature to be a part of the plant’s reproductive system. It’s a seed, for that reason, corn is notoriously difficult to digest. Corn is cheap to produce and is often used in food as a filler. Adding to the problem, 90% of all corn is now genetically modified. But even organic corn can be harsh on the digestive system, often times it will pass through the digestive system intact. Obviously eliminating these products from your diet today would be a step in the right direction.
Think of food as fuel for the body and then take responsibility for the way you eat rather than handing the responsibility over to the supermarket.
Rather than letting this overwhelm you, let’s look at this as a positive. You have now identified two of the biggest players for causing digestive issues. Grains and corn. What you choose to do with this information is now up to you.
What did we learn from this?
The digestive system deserves a little respect; it plays a huge role in making or breaking your health. Numerous health problems begin first in the gut.