You may be wondering how there can even be 3 reasons to change your diet even if you don’t think you have any digestive problems.  I mean, why would you want to change if you think everything is okay?

In the office, I hear it all the time… “I have no symptoms or problems that point to my digestive system, at all.  I’m pooping a couple of times a week. Only have occasional gas, no food allergies. My digestion is fine.”  So, why would you need to change your diet even if you don’t think you have any digestive problems?

Interestingly, the same people who don’t believe that their digestive system is an issue also talk about headaches. They have missed periods, heavy periods and joint pain.  Anxiety, depression, thyroid imbalance and more.  Believe it or not, all of those issues can have links to the digestive system and gut health.

What is the Digestive System?

Before we look at reasons to change your diet even if you don’t think you have any digestive problems let’s look at digestion.  Here is a primer on the process of digestion and the digestive system.

Where it Begins

Digestion begins in the mouth.  Amylase in your saliva begins breaking down carbohydrates.  The mechanical action of chewing continues breaking down food to make it easier for your stomach to continue the process.  What you swallow is called a bolus.

Once you swallow, it takes about 6 seconds for the bolus to move down your esophagus, past your epiglottis and lower esophageal sphincter into your stomach.

Where Most of the Breakdown Happens

Your stomach does most of the work breaking down what you eat. Protein digestion begins with Pepsin mixing into the bolus.  Other stomach secretions are added and continue to liquify the bolus. Now it’s called chyme.  Chyme passes through the pyloric sphincter into the small intestines.

In the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine), pancreatic enzymes (lipase) and bile are added to the chyme and fat digestion begins. Bile helps make fats water-soluble by breaking them into fatty acids and glycerols. (This is one reason why people who don’t have their gallbladder can have difficulty digesting fats!) The duodenum is the body’s primary location for digestion and biggest area for breakdown of nutrients.

Where Most Absorption Happens

Chyme moves through the small intestine from the duodenum to the jejunum, and absorption of nutrients begins.  Most absorption happens in the jejunum before chyme enters the ileum.  However, B12, bile salts and other products of digestion that weren’t absorbed in the jejunum are absorbed in the ileum.  The Ileum walls have villi that facilitate absorption and the majority of GALT cells and Peyer’s patches that modulate the immune system.

Where It Ends

The ileocecal value opens the ileum/small intestine to the colon/large intestine.  Water and electrolytes are reabsorbed here.  Remaining indigestible waste leaves the body through the rectum, out the anus and into the toilet!

 

Digestion is more than just probiotics and your gut

As you can see from the path we traced, digestive isn’t just about the gut.  Organs range from the mouth and salivary glands to stomach, gallbladder, intestines, and anus.  Any disruption or imbalance in any step or accessory can cause issues with your health.  It may not be that you suffer with constipation or diarrhea or gas, but you may experience fatigue or headaches, acne or joint pain.  You may have an autoimmune imbalance or a thyroid problem or mental health challenges.  Digestion, absorption, and elimination are all critical to overall health!

 

Let’s look at 3 reasons to change your diet even if you don’t think you have any digestive problems

According to an article in the journal Gut

The condition and function of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are essential to our well being. After the respiratory tract, the GI tract constitutes the second largest body surface area, comparable in size to a tennis court. During a normal lifetime 60 tons of food pass through this canal, which is important for well being, but also constitutes an enormous threat to the integrity of the digestive tract and the whole body…

The GI surface is protected by large quantities of important secretions, from saliva in the oral cavity to colonic secretion in the large bowel. These secretions contain factors… for the lubrication of the mucosa and for functions of the GI tract but also hundreds of ingredients of importance for intraluminal microbial defense. The secretory functions are extremely sensitive to foreign chemicals.(1)

Knowing that the GI tract is both very important to health and very sensitive makes it important to protect.

1. Stress, Your Immune System and the Microbiome.

Stress affects the composition of protective intestinal flora.  Even if you have no gastrointestinal symptoms, you likely have stress in your life.  That alone can impact your health.  It is VERY well documented that stress has a major impact on the immune system.  80% of the immune system stems from GALT cells in the intestines. So, protecting your gut with a healthy diet makes sense. (2)

2. Weight Issues and Risk of Disease.

A standard Westernized/American diet is associated with worse microbiome diversity and many accompanying issues, include obesity and other diseases. (3)  Releasing excess weight and getting your body to a comfortable and healthy weight for your frame is one way to support your health.  Simple dietary shifts and strategies can often help!

3. Mental Health.

Scientists know that there is a link between your gut and your brain. This is the brain-gut connection, or the gut-brain axis.  Communication between your gut and brain is a two-way street, involving your immune, hormone and nervous systems.(4)  People with gut conditions like IBS or inflammatory bowel disease are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or other mental health conditions. Some studies suggest that regulating your gut bacteria could influence your mood and may help to prevent and treat mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.(5,6)  Autism spectrum disorders are also being studied for links with microbiome diversity and how changing microflora may help.(7,8)

 

Next Steps

What do you think?  Do any of the 3 reasons to change your diet even if you don’t think you have any digestive problems resonate with you? Making dietary changes to help support your microbiome can have benefits.  What changes you make depends on your current diet and your unique health circumstance.  Are you working with a Functional Nutritionist or Dietician? Ask them what steps make sense for you and your health.  If you don’t have nutritional support on your trusted team, reach out and schedule a discovery call with me.  We will spend 15-20 minutes together, I’ll listen and ask a couple of questions and then share my thoughts on next steps you might want to explore.

Sources

  1. “Ecological control of the gastrointestinal tract. The role of probiotic flora” from the journal Gut 1998;42:2–7
  2. Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry (nih.gov)
  3. Links Between Immigration, Obesity, and the Microbiome – The Atlantic
  4. The Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis – ScienceDirect
  5. Gut microbiome from patients with schizophrenia modulates the glutamate-glutamine-GABA cycle and schizophrenia-relevant behaviors in mice | Science Advances (sciencemag.org)
  6. Differences in gut microbiome composition between persons with chronic schizophrenia and healthy comparison subjects – ScienceDirect
  7. The fifferences between the gut microflora of children with autistic spectrum disorders and that of healthy children | Microbiology Society (microbiologyresearch.org)
  8. Mental Illness: Brain Disease or Gut Disease? | Psychology Today

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