Digestion

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Digestion

Digestion and good health

Our digestive system plays a huge role in maintaining our good health. When things go wrong it can lead to problems elsewhere in the body as well as giving rise to digestive disturbances. If this system is malfunctioning, problems such as indigestion, irritable bowel, bloating and constipation may result. Added to that, poor absorption may prevent us getting optimal nutrition from our food.

How digestion works

First, a little about the gut and how it works. Food first moves down the digestive tract into the stomach. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid which is essential for the early breakdown of some proteins, and fats.

Food is then moved from the stomach into the small intestine and here more of the important processes of digestion take place. One of the most important factors is the ecology of the gut.

The importance of the gut microbiome

A healthy gut flora depends on having high levels of friendly bacteria which are necessary to break food down properly and ensure that it is well absorbed.

The diverse strains of beneficial bacteria are essential for the health of the gut.  As more becomes known about the gut biome, new, previously unknown strains of bacteria are being discovered. In fact, the healthy gut has many thousands of strains of beneficial bacteria, all working together in mutually beneficial synergy.

The gut barrier

The gut wall is lined with a very thin membrane (3 mm) which separates the gut from the bloodstream. This wall is comprised of tight junctions which ‘glue’ together to act as a barrier to any larger proteins or bacteria that should not get through.  There are three components to the gut barrier, the physical junctions which form this wall, the gut flora which is the ecological barrier and also gut mucosa which contains immunological and antimicrobial defences.

Scientists are discovering that there is a ‘cross-talk’ which takes place between the bacteria in the gut and the glycans which regulate how well the mucous barrier functions. This is a homeostatic mechanism which seeks to maintain the health of the gut.

Issues associated with poor gut health

There are many potential disruptors of the gut microbiome.  Principal amongst these are a poor diet, gluten, antibiotics and other drugs including NSAIDs, statins, Metformin, and opiod drugs. In the case of food related intolerance or allergies, we may be constantly inflaming the gut through the regular consumption of common or highly processed foods.

Antibiotics in particular, can cause permanent loss of some bacteria and give rise to disturbances of the microbiome.  There is a shift from mutualism where bacteria thrive in the gut to competition as some bacteria are killed off.  Certain bacterial strands that inhibit fungi are eliminated or weakened and the conditions for more aggressive organisms to proliferate are created.  Other factors that affect gut function are stress and nutrient deficiencies, which can also disrupt the gut flora and affect the permeability of the gut wall.

When the gut wall is breached, a condition often referred to as ‘leaky gut’, it allows chemical contents from the intestine plus live bacteria to be released through the cell walls of the gut and into the bloodstream and other organ cells.

This leads to an inflammatory response and may give rise to auto-immune diseases. Many conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus to name just two, are associated with damage being caused to the gut and the resultant leakage of products which become highly inflammatory outside the gut.

Skin rashes such as eczema and other distressing conditions are also signals that inflammation is becoming very active in the body.

Healing

It is very important to reduce inflammation and exclude potential toxins that are harmful to the gut wall. Herbal medicine can play a key role in improving gut health and promoting digestive function. Some herbs in particular act to reduce this inflammation and help to heal the gut wall.

A large part of my work relates to a patient’s nutritional status, helping to improve their digestive function and supporting them in making dietary changes for their health.

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Phone: 0872455519
Email: [email protected]
Address:
Helen McCormack
186 Philipsburgh Avenue
Marino, Dublin 3