Gut Health – Why does it matter?

One of the most common health goals we hear from our patients is “I want to improve my gut health”. Gut function is one of the most common health complaints we treat and as natural health practitioners, we specialise in treating the gut and everything it relates to. Now, if you know anything about your digestive system, you probably know that it affects everything…. Literally everything. With that in mind we thought it was a good time to really delve into gut health. In this two-part series I am going to discuss how important a healthy functioning digestive system is, common misconceptions about what is “normal” and how to start healing your gut, and here’s a hint, it’s cost effective and you can start today!

Gut health, why does it matter?

Yes, gut health is a major part of what we do, but we are still routinely surprised when we ask our patients about their digestive function and they say “It’s fine” or “Yeh, normal”. However, when we delve a little further, ask more direct questions, we discover their gut health is far from functioning or “normal”.  The interesting thing is that these patients have come to see us for an array of conditions; acne, eczema, high cholesterol, anxiety, depression, brain fog, food intolerances, weight management, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, thyroid conditions, the list goes on but the one thing they all have in common, is that their digestive system is not functioning optimally.

Altered digestive function (think constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, wind, etc) isn’t specific to that local area and that has a lot to do with our microbiome. The gut microbiome is a collection of microorganisms that reside in the digestive tract. These organisms create an eclectic ecosystem that include commensal (good guys), symbiotic (working together with their environment) and pathogenic (bad guys) bacteria that outnumber our genes by more than 100 times. This tiny universe of organisms has an enormous role in our system functioning and includes:

  • Vitamin synthesis. Eg: Vitamin K, Folate, B Vitamins
  • Regulation of dietary fats
  • Conversion of indigestible foods into short chain fatty acids, which feed our commensal bacteria (good guys)
  • Maintain intestinal integrity (keeps our gut lining intact and functioning)
  • Protects against pathogens (the bad guys)
  • Reduction of stress response
  • Protects against inflammatory foods and toxins
  • Activates immune system to protect against illness and disease

All these processes are possible when your digestive system is functioning optimally, however many factors can throw homeostasis out of balance. Food and lifestyle play a huge role in gut function, as does stress response and management, the environment we live, work and play in, our exposure to the natural world and our genetics. When one or many of these factors impact us consistently, we begin to notice cracks in our health and as we are all unique, symptoms will manifest differently for each of us, and often a change in our bowel habits or a digestive symptom suddenly arising, is the first sign that something is off.

What is normal? 

If you have ever had an appointment with us, you know we love to talk about bowel movements. Why? Because your daily bowel movement is the first sign of an imbalance in the body. Think of it as your daily health report card and if you’re not already, you should be paying attention! As qualified health practitioners, we are trained to find clues in your poo.

So what are we looking for when we ask you very specific questions about your bowel habits and digestion? We’re looking for optimal function:

  • 1-2 daily bowel movements
  • Fully formed, easy to pass, type 3 or 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart (google it, if you don’t know!)
  • Full evacuation, meaning you don’t feel like you need to go back for round 2!
  • Minimal to non-existent wind or bloating (we think minimal, as certain foods such as legumes can cause gassiness due to the phytic acids, which can be alleviated with proper preparation)
  • No other digestive symptoms

If you stray from this checklist at any point, there may be some digestive dysfunction and that’s where we can help. Ideally, we want to resolve any digestive issues before this dysfunction begins to affect other body systems. The tricky thing is, for many, their digestive symptoms or bowel irregularity has become their version of “normal”. It’s not until they come in to see us for acne, weight gain, thyroid conditions or many other health concerns, and we begin to delve deeper, they discover that they began to feel unwell much earlier than their acne appeared and it was a gradual change of their digestive function that was the clue.

Have a think about your digestion, perhaps you do have a bowel movement every day, however you still don’t feel right. Maybe one of the following applies to you:

  • Wind that smells, abdominal discomfort, pain, bloating, incomplete bowel movements or no bowel movement at all
    • What’s happening?
      Slow colonic transit (the speed at which your digestive system moves) which is causing food to ferment, this can lead to dysbiosis and intestinal permeability
  • Urgent, frequent bowel movements, pain, discomfort and bloating
    • What’s happening?
      Fast colonic transit whereby nutrient absorption is compromised and dehydration may occur, again leading to nutritional deficiencies, dysbiosis and gut wall inflammation

In my next post we’ll discuss how to take your gut health back into your own hands and how we can help you restore your digestive function and optimise your health and vitality! Until then, if you have questions why not call The Herb Bar for a free mini phone consult 02 4961 4075.

Yours in health,

Samantha Wilson

Would you like free advice?

Whether you need a quick remedy for a cold or flu or you suffer from a chronic condition, our qualified Naturopaths are ready to help you with FREE mini consults, the best natural supplements, herbal medicines and lifestyle advice.

There’s no need to book an appointment, simply phone the clinic on 02 4961 4075 and be directed to a qualified Naturopath for your free consultation.

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    16 Murray Street Hamilton NSW 2303

    Disclaimer – This website is designed to inform clients about ways to possibly improve their health. The opinions of the Mullen Natural Health Centre are our opinion only. Please consult your own healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment for you.