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The Digestive System and Gut Microbiome 

Bits of Wisdom

Part 1

The Digestive System and Gut Microbiome

Functional medicine takes the view that all body systems are connected. When patients come to me with hormonal imbalances, autoimmune disease, mental health concerns, or various symptoms, I always think about the gut. 

Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates, the father of medicine said, “all disease begins in the gut.” Today, modern science supports this connection. When we take a root cause approach, we can’t overlook digestive health and the microbiome. It’s one of the most important places to look. 

Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates, the father of medicine said, “all disease begins in the gut.” Today, modern science supports this connection. When we take a root cause approach, we can’t overlook digestive health and the microbiome. It’s one of the most important places to look. 

In this two-part series, I’m going to explore the basics of the GI tract and microbiome and talk about how we can encourage a healthy, robust microbiome by what we choose to eat, our relationship with food, and many lifestyle factors. 

Let’s get started with the basics:

What Is Digestion? What Makes Up the Digestive System?

Digestion is the mechanical and chemical process of transforming the food we eat into nutrients that are absorbed into the body. It takes large molecules and breaks them up into the smallest possible components. Digestion also involves water balance and other functions of the microbiome, which I’ll discuss shortly. 

The digestive system includes the gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract, and the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The GI tract is the hollow tube that extends from the mouth to the anus. Technically what is inside the tube is outside the body! 

Here’s a roadmap through the digestive system:

When the digestive system isn’t working correctly, you may experience:

Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the gut microbiome, which may look like low levels of beneficial bacteria, overgrowths of bacteria, yeast, or other organisms, or infections like H. pylori

What Is The Microbiome? 

The microbiome is the collection of over 100 trillion organisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, archaea, and their DNA, that live in and on our bodies. Within the overall microbiome, we have subsets that share common characteristics but are also distinct. These include:

The microbiome begins to develop in the mother’s womb and is influenced by delivery, breastfeeding, diet, the physical environment, exposure to toxins, medications, and a host of lifestyle factors. Your microbiome is unique to you but also has a large capacity to change and adapt to changing inputs. This is where our sense of empowerment comes in!

The notion that we have control to influence our outcome is key because gut microbiome plays a critical role in overall health. The health of the microbiome influences:

It’s truly remarkable to understand that we share our bodies with various organisms, each relying on the other for survival and health. Working to optimize the microbiome is a critical root cause to approach when healing from symptoms or disease. In Part 2, I’ll cover the many tools we have to bring the gut microbiome back into balance. 

References

  1. Boland M. (2016). Human digestion--a processing perspective. Journal of the science of food and agriculture, 96(7), 2275–2283. 
  2. NIH – National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your Digestive System and How it Works. Accessed 7/12/22. 
  3. Dominguez-Bello, M. G., Godoy-Vitorino, F., Knight, R., & Blaser, M. J. (2019). Role of the microbiome in human development. Gut, 68(6), 1108–1114. 
  4. Barko, P. C., McMichael, M. A., Swanson, K. S., & Williams, D. A. (2018). The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: A Review. Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 32(1), 9–25. 

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