The importance of having good gut health

What constitutes your ‘gut’

Your gut starts at the mount and ends at the anus; so first let’s get a closer look at what constitutes your gut.If you look at your intestines—it is a thirty-foot long sewage system, housing the largest community of microbes in the human body; a warm and cosy environment with no shortage of food and water. So while the small intestine is where all the nutrients from the food are absorbed, it is the large intestine where water is absorbed. It is also where fibre is fermented by the microbes that live here, which passes undigested from the small intestine. The microbes here are considered to be the gatekeepers of our metabolism. The first set of microbes come from your mother (so the way she has eaten all her life is crucial). During pregnancy, specific kinds of lactobacillus dominate a woman’s vagina. The microbe strains from her gut draw out extra energy from foods, and this manifests in her vagina as well, and she passes them on to you. 

The importance of ‘gut’ health 

So it comes down to this: The secret to fast and permanent weight loss and revving up your metabolism and energy levels, having beautiful hair and skin, reversing ailments and balancing your mood swings is the microbiome—the trillions of tiny bacteria that live in your intestines. An imbalance will work against the diet. Just balancing it will make you get the results you want. I promise you will have this knowledge once you get to the end of this book. 

Think of your gut as a garden—rich and green. Go ahead and visualize it. Now think of these friendly microorganisms inhabiting that garden. How you choose to build the soil (i.e., the nutrition through food) to keep these microorganisms nourished and healthy is entirely up to you. This is the key to everything in your life. This plays a crucial role in our health and outward manifestations of it (skin, hair, nails, glow, weight, attitude and a whole lot more). According to me, this is the missing link in all diets. 

Everybody has a different set of microbes depending on how they were born, the varying food they eat, people they interact with and the environment they grow up in. Not even 10 per cent of your microbes may be the same as the people living with you. This is what precisely accounts for you being predisposed to certain aliments while others may suffer from a completely different set of ailments (or not have any). The character of your microbiome can change depending on your die, how many sexual partners you have, whether you have pets or whether you are firstborn, second-born, etc. Your microbes define what it means to be you. 

The microorganisms that live within you dictate the way the food is used in the body: they control cravings, govern appetite, influence genes and your hormones, make natural antibiotics, produce vitamins needed to survive, aid sleep, control your moods by controlling your neurotransmitters, and act as a detoxification unit (like a second liver) in your intestine. For example, your gut microbes help you break down complex carbohydrates. Your body wouldn’t be able to do this on its own. The same microbes reduce the toxic build-up in your liver from the unhealthy food you’ve eaten and help with elimination. When they find outsiders or substances that are not native to the gut, they guard you against them.

Are You Suffering from a Leaky Gut and Inflammation?

According to a paper by Hari Sharma,in the Ayurvedic system, dysbiosis can produce ama, a toxic state that initiates and promotes disease-related processes throughout the body. The optimum functioning of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract requires proper mucosal integrity and balanced microflora. If these two aspects are out of balance, it produces ama. The body views amaas a foreign substance, and reacts by producing antibodies, giving rise to antigen– antibody complexes and resulting in immune disorders. 

A healthy cell structure in the GI tract, including proper functioning of the villi (small projections that protrude from the epithelial lining of the small intestine’s walls) and tight cell junctions (the spaces between epithelial cells that are sealed tight and allow only fully digested material to be absorbed) are important for the intestinal barrier. The human intestine, while absorbing nutrients from the food we eat, also functions as a barrier that prevents harmful pathogens (microbes) from entering our body or bloodstream. If someone has a leaky gut, it means the tight junctions are compromised due to increased use of antibiotics, exposure to bad bacteria and/or certain trigger foods. The toxic stuff which actually should be eliminated will then seep through the walls of the intestine into our bloodstream. This leads to an immune system breakdown, if not corrected. This then increases the toxic burden, which leads to inflammation and disease. 

The result of leaky gut are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),Crohn’s disease, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs or painkillers), altered flora in the gut, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), coeliac disease (resistance to gluten), infection, food allergies, allergies, peptic ulcer disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic alcoholism, diarrhoea, strenuous exercise, increasing age, nutritional depletion, poor dietary choices, stress, depression and wired emotions, candida, systemic inflammation, low stomach acid and autoimmune disease.

The Immune Barrier: Your Gut

Think of your immune system as the gatekeeper to your health. It protects you against external pathogens, parasites, viruses and most of all disease. Hence, prolonged imbalance of microbes in the gut eventually leads to an autoimmune state. It is the microbiota that helps train the immune system to make the distinction. Our immune system is highly mobile. Immune cells living in the intestine and ‘conversing’ with the gut microbes can move to new sites anywhere in the body. A T-cell (one of the major classes of immune cells found in the body), which lives in your intestine today, may be in your lung or spinal fluid tomorrow. And that cell can remember its experiences with the microbes in the gut. 

The microbes in our gut control the responsiveness of the entire immune system. They dictate the small processes of immune response like a fever, to a larger response like determining how long you will stay with a cold. A good microbiome is positively correlated with a strong immune system. An imbalance causes the T- and B-cells (also termed the killer immune cells) to attack harmless cells, triggering an autoimmune response.

What to feed the ‘gut’

Healing your gut or preventing a leaky gut starts with knowing exactly what to eat and feed these gut bacteria. The bedrock of your digestive system is the GI tract. A diet that comprises of fibre-rich foods: whole grains, lentils, legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, fermented foods and prebiotic foods is the basis of a good approach to feed these microorganisms and keep them happy. 

Excerpt from The Detox Diet (published by Penguin Random House in 2017) by ShonaliSabherwal.

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