Did you know that most of your immune system is housed in the digestive tract? Or that there are more nerve endings in the digestive tract than in any other place in our body? Or that the surface area of the digestive tract is around 440 square feet; in other words, about the same square footage of a medium-sized living room. Or that the health of the gastrointestinal system can impact mental health through its connection with the central nervous system? Or that there are trillions of friendly microorganisms (microbiota) living inside your digestive tract, which provide protection and nutrients for our bodies? It’s amazing!
A healthy digestive tract will help the body to fight off pathogens, process and assimilate nutrients and stave off disease. But what happens when the digestive tract becomes compromised due a low fiber diet, consumption of a predominately processed foods diet, stress, toxin exposure, high sugar intake, or use of drugs, excessive alcohol, or medications including antibiotics? Our microbiota begins to die off, our protective mucosal lining becomes compromised and our intestinal cellular wall becomes weak and perforated. Now our digestive system, which was providing protection and nutrition to the rest of our bodies, is allowing exposure to substances like pathogens, toxins, and undigested proteins.
Sound scary? It is a bit scary! Consider that this could be a factor in chronic disease. And think of the influx in our country of illnesses like autoimmune disorders, migraines, and fibromyalgia. The list goes on.
The digestive tract starts in your mouth and ends with your rectum, and includes digestive organs such as your stomach, small intestine, and colon (large intestine), as well as accessory organs like your liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. It’s very complex and quite remarkable. What we put in our mouths can have significant effects on how we feel both physically and emotionally; real foods like fruit, vegetables, and fish will provide what the body needs to not only survive but thrive. But food-like substances like Oreo’s, soda, fruit snacks, chips, fast food, etc. will eventually cause us to feel tired, worn down, and possibly to acquire chronic illnesses like headaches, fibromyalgia and even mental illness.
Other aspects that can have an effect on our digestive system and/or immune system are lifestyle-related: the sleep we get, the stress we take on, our exercise (or lack thereof), our social connectedness, and our exposure to toxins.
So, try eating a whole food, high fiber diet with lots of healthy proteins, starches like brown rice and sweet potatoes, fruits, and vegetables, and hydrate with lots of water – purified water! Get out with friends or family and exercise, and do some guided relaxation to manage your stress. Get 8 hours of sleep a night and stop spraying toxic cleaners all over your house. Both your body and your microbiota will thank you!
And if you have more questions, please feel free to reach out to your friendly dietitian nutritionist, and contact me!