Why a healthy gut is one of the most important factors for good health

February 13, 2019

I'm happy to host Nutritional Therapist Olianna Gourli as a guest contributor in today's blog post.

 

Hippocrates, the same person who said ‘Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food’, also said ‘All disease begins in the gut’. Somehow the second quote didn’t get as much publicity as the first one; probably because thinking about the gut makes many people cringe. Let’s admit it – who wants to talk about things like poop and bowel movements?

 

Yet having a healthy gut is one of the most essential things you can do for good health. Research over the recent years has confirmed what Hippocrates knew 2500 years ago: that an unhealthy gut contributes to a whole range of diseases including obesity, diabetes, depression, autoimmune disease like Hashimoto's, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.

Here are some facts that show the importance of the gut:

  • Your gut hosts 100 trillion bacteria.

  • Your gut contains 10 times more bacteria than the cells we have in our body.

  • Your gut contains over 70% of your immune system.

  • Your gut contains 500 million nerve cells and is therefore sometimes called "the second brain".

  • 95% of serotonin, an essential neurotransmitter that boosts your mood, is found in the gut.

  • If you stretch out the whole surface of the gut, it’s as big as a badminton court (I’m not kidding).

The bugs in your gut not only help you digest food, they synthesize certain vitamins and they have a very important part to play in immune defects. They are critical to our long-term health.

 

What causes an unhealthy gut?

 

There are many reasons, a big one being of course the food that we eat. When we eat, we are feeding the different bacteria in our gut. Guess what the good bacteria needs to thrive? That's right: real food, including lots of colourful fruits and vegetables and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. What makes the bad bacteria stronger? Processed food, sugar, a low-fibre diet. Stress, antibiotics and some infections can also contribute to poor gut health.

 

When we look at gut health, we also need to look at something called intestinal permeability (or ‘leaky gut’) – that is a ‘leak’ in the barrier between the inside and the outside of your gut. Proteins that would normally stay in the intestines escape into the bloodstream because the junctions making up the barrier are loose. Your body’s immune system gets triggered and starts attacking them. This is believed to play a role in the development of many autoimmune diseases including Hashimotos (hypothyroidism), rheumatoid arthritis, MS etc. ‘Leaky gut’ might start in your gut, but your symptoms might manifest anywhere else in your body, including on your skin (eczema) and in your brain (depression).

 

When we hear about gut issues, most of the time we think of an acute condition such as diarrhea. But many people are chronically constipated, bloated as soon as they have a meal, or have daily gas or abdominal pain. They have learned to live like this and consider it to be normal. I know, because I was one of them. If they do take the time to go to the doctor, they will probably get an Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS) diagnosis and sent home with nothing else to do but 'deal with their stress', or even worse, simply ‘get on with it’.

 

'It is not uncommon to leave the doctor’s room clueless on what to do with your new IBS diagnosis', says Olianna Gourli. 'It is also very common for your genes to be blamed: “If your mum had IBS then this is why you have it too – there’s nothing to worry about”'. Quite interestingly, we know nowadays that only 25% of our state of health has a genetic origin, the rest 75% is affected by epigenetics, that is environmental factors affecting the way our genes are expressed (lifestyle, nutrition, thoughts)'.

 

'It is also very common to be put on a drug regimen for life', she adds. 'Let’s take the example of antacids like Gaviscon or Maalox. It has been shown that it is rare to be stopping such a regimen without your symptoms coming back with increased intensity. Antacids work by blocking gastric juices, which of course also blocks the absorption of nutrients, increases the risk of bacterial infections, may lead to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (SIBO) and increases gut permeability. A vicious cycle is created and the real cause of disease is not addressed'.

 

When working with any kind of gut issue, Olianna has found the 5R protocol to be of great help: Remove (Food intolerances, Pathogens), Replace (Digestive juices & enzymes), Reinoculate (Gut flora), Repair (Gut integrity), Rebalance (Lifestyle-sleep, exercise, stress, community etc). 'Differences apply according to the underlying cause of discomfort/ disease, which we find through extensive case taking history, as well as Functional Testing when needed', she stresses. 'The most common and comprehensive test to use is a stool test assessing chronic pathogen existence, possible inflammation, the presence or not of sufficient digestive enzymes, gut immunity, gut integrity and gut ecology (beneficial vs pathogenic bacteria), giving a holistic picture of gut health'.

 

I work with all my clients on making sure they are treating their gut well with the food they are consuming but also by managing stress. There is a reason why we talk about “that gut feeling”, or “I listened to my gut”. The gut and our minds are fully connected. If we’re stressed, our gut is suffering – but they same goes the other way around. If our gut is suffering, our mood might be too. If you are dealing with any of the issues mentioned in this blog post, stop considering them normal and get help. Work with a coach to establish which foods are good for you or not and to learn how to manage stress by changing your perspective and using your character strengths. If necessary, see a doctor who is willing to do some more testing and won't send you away just because you don't have colon cancer! Your gut and your health deserve more than that.

 

 

 

Olianna Gourli studied Biomedical Sciences (BSc Honours) in University College London, with a focus in Anatomy and Physiology. While working as a researcher and biomedical scientist in the haematology department of diagnostic health care centres, she noted the importance of prevention in health and disease. Following these years in the conventional medical setting and some health challenges of her own, she reflected upon the need of integrative therapy provision in the medical sector. She strongly believes that the key to good health lies in a preventative and holistic multimodal approach which takes into account the body as a whole, views each individual as absolutely unique, addresses the root of illness rather than just its symptoms, and in which nutrition plays an essential role. In an effort to combine orthodox and alternative medicine, she went on to study Nutritional and Naturopathic Medicine. She graduated from a two-year course in Holistic Energetic Nutrition and Traditional Greek Medicine in NHS, Athens, as well as a three-year course in Biomedicine, Nutrition and Naturopathy from College of Naturopathic Medicine in London, a world leader in the field of Nutritional and other Complementary therapies. She has also undertaken post-graduate courses in Metabolic Typing, Kinesiology and Nutrigenomics (the scientific study of the interaction of nutrition and genes, with regard to prevention or treatment) in UK and US. She is a qualified Functional Medicine Practitioner, Nutritional Therapist and Naturopath, fully registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), the UK voluntary regulator for complementary therapies. As part of her holistic philosophy and the belief that good health is much more than taking care of the body, she has trained to be a Reiki and Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner (NLP), in an effort to address emotional, mental and spiritual health as well.Olianna sees clients in Athens, through Skype or telephone, and occasionally in London. https://www.naturopathy-med.com

 

This website is for information purposes only. By providing the information contained herein we are not diagnosing, treating, curing, mitigating, or preventing any type of disease or medical condition. Before beginning any type of natural, integrative or conventional treatment regimen, it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.

 

Sources:

Think Twice: How the Gut's "Second Brain" Influences Mood and Well-Being https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut http://www.caltech.edu/news/microbes-help-produce-serotonin-gut-46495

Heal your gut, Chris Kresser https://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-5-heal-your-gut/

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