Digestion & Whole Health
Conditions & organ systems strongly linked to digestion
Hypothyroidism is a common cause of constipation and gas, and is strongly linked to IBS. Hyperthyroidism may result in cramps, diarrhea or frequent stools. Thyroid hormones protect the gut’s mucosal lining (protective barrier) and prevent leaky gut (increased permeability). Healthy gut bugs also help convert thyroid hormone to its active form.
An 8-fold increase in obesity risk is seen in those with lower expression of a gene coded for salivary amylase – an enzyme secreted in the mouth to aid carbohydrate digestion. Other studies show links between dysbiosis and impaired regulation of adipose (fat) tissue, and reduced ability to harvest energy from the diet – perhaps increasing appetite, cravings and overeating.
The liver (connected to the digestive tract via bile ducts) is the major player in detoxification of chemicals and hormones (like estrodial). Clear evidence points to a causal relationship between many cancers and elevated toxic exposures. Inefficient liver function may result in higher circulating estrodial – a risk factor for estrogen-dependent cancers like breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Chronic constipation may likewise increase the re-absorption of estradiol from the colon.
Celiac Disease has both been cited as having associations female infertility (so has IBS) and recurrent miscarriages. Dysmenorrhea (period cramps) are often associated with indigestion or loose stool just before or at the start of menstruation. The common link is an excess of inflammatory prostaglandins causing overstimulation of contractility in the uterus and gut. Again, chronic constipation may increase re-asborption of estradiol from the colon increasing risk for cancer and contributing to hormone imbalance, PMS or menstrual irregularities.
The gut has been described as a “second brain”. It is supplied by a division of the ANS (autonomic nervous system) called the enteric nervous system, which in turn communicates with the Central Nervous System via the Parasympathetic (“Rest & Digest” – relaxation response) & Sympathetic (“Fight or Flight” – stress response) branches of the ANS. What’s more, 50% of the body’s dopamine & 90% of the body’s serotonin are found in the gut – neurotransmitters which regulate things like mood, anxiety and sleep. Mood disorders, stress and anxiety are common triggers for digestive disorders like GERD, IBS and Ulcerative Colitis.
The microbiota (healthy gut bugs) play many roles in mediating immunity & inflammation – such as preventing infectious colonization or overgrowth and shifting from Th2 dominance (allergy & inflammation) to Th1 (allergy prevention and anti-inflammatory). The gut also houses the most significant amount of lymphatic tissue in the body called GALT (gut-associated lymphatic tissue) – which acts as a filtration system and houses immune cells that carry out attacks on foreign invaders.
“Beauty is only skin deep” – or perhaps it’s a direct reflection of digestive health. Three of the biggest contributors to poor complexion and skin disorders like acne, eczema and psoriasis, are: liver function (detoxification), lymphatic drainage (filtration of wastes and toxins) and colon function (elimination of wastes, toxins, hormones and cholesterol via the stool). The role of dysbiosis has been established in chronic inflammatory conditions like eczema & psoriasis. Acne may be a sign of impaired elimination function.
Poor elimination from the gut (constipation) can lead to increased re-absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Sluggish digestion can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Frequent straining at stool can increase blood pressure. High blood pressure and diabetes both are associated with damage or narrowing of arteries – which may impair needed blood flow to the digestive tract. Likewise, elevated blood sugar in diabetes damages nerves – most notably causing gastroparesis – a paralysis of the stomach due to Vagus nerve damage.