What’s Your Gut Telling You?
We’ve all heard this phrase whenever we’re facing a difficult decision. Little did we know that our guts actually do communicate with us. They aren’t Magic 8 balls that always give us perfect answers, but they do tell us lots about ourselves. So, if it’s not a part of us that we need to listen to in times of crisis and difficult decision, what is it exactly? Your gut (gastrointestinal tract) is the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the back passage (anus).
It’s easy to take for granted, but your gut is the one part of the body that engages most intimately with the external environment. It is the portal to the body, processing an enormous variety of food and absorbing nutrients, in addition it is also exposed to a myriad of infectious agents and toxic substances.
Your gut is not just a sophisticated food processor. It informs us about the nature of our food and protects us against it. Your gut contains the largest component of the body’s immune system. It even has its own brain, which contains 500 million nerve cells, and it also includes trillions of bacteria (more than the number of cells in the rest of the body), that play a vital role in providing essential nutrients, tuning the immune system, and even altering the function of the brain and other distant parts of the body.
Understanding how your gut works and tuning in to our gut feelings and gut reactions is crucial to the health and wellness of your whole body.
The mouth and teeth break food down into manageable pieces and mixes these with saliva, which starts the digestive process.
The oesophagus is the conduit between the mouth and the stomach. Swallowing initiates powerful muscular contractions that push food down into the stomach.
The stomach secretes acid and peptic enzymes which further dilute and break up the food, softening connective tissue and hard skins and husks, digesting proteins, killing off the majority bacteria in the food and delivering the resulting slurry into the small intestine in a regulated manner commensurate with the rate of digestion. It usually takes about 4 hours for most of a moderate sized mixed meal to be emptied from the stomach.
The small intestine is a narrow tube and is about 6 meters long. Here the major food groups, protein fat and carbohydrate are broken down into amino acids, sugars and fatty acids, which are then absorbed into the blood stream. It can take between 2-4 hours for a meal to be processed in the small intestine.
The colon or large intestine salvages unabsorbed material from the small intestine. During a 12-48 hour residence, it extracts salt and water from the solidifying contents, while the trillions of colonic bacteria ferment unabsorbed sugars, starches and proteins to short chain fatty acids, which may be utilized as a source of energy.
The pancreas is a digestive gland that secretes an alkaline juice, containing powerful enzymes that break down protein, fat and carbohydrates. It is also the source of the hormone insulin.
The liver receives blood from the gut, filters it, removes toxins, metabolizes drugs, stores nutrients and synthesizes proteins for various purposes including blood clotting. It also synthesizes bile.
The gall bladder stores and concentrates bile, and after a meal squeezes it into the small intestine, where it helps to digest fat.
The anus is the opening at the end of the GI tract through which feces leave the body.
If you’ve never listened to your gut like this before, you’re not alone. Most people are clueless about the health signs their gut is giving them and rarely get concerned about the health of their digestive system.
But your digestive system is unique in the sense that it communicates signs – both healthy and warning signs, using all of the five senses to provide health indicators. So, by listening, tasting, seeing, smelling and feeling more, you can really tune in to your gut.
Sound: The rumbles and groans generated in your abdomen are caused by the propulsion of gas and fluid through different regions of the gut. The fluid is a mixture of food, drink and digestive juices. The gas may either be swallowed air, carbon dioxide, or methane. These noises are more obvious when you are hungry or nervous because stimulation of the Vagus nerves cause gut propulsion.
Sight: Feces can differ in color, but black and tarry stools can indicate bleeding in the small intestine or stomach while pale stools accompanied by dark urine could indicate gallstones. The different appearance of the stool depicted in the Bristol Stool chart are probably related to variation in colonic transit brought about by food and mood; the harder the stool, the slower the transit.
Feel: Crampy, abdominal pains are most likely due to spasm, but if persistent may indicate intestinal obstruction. Pain like a knife just below the breast bone that is relieved by eating may suggest peptic ulceration. Pain in the right upper corner of the abdomen that goes to the back just below the right shoulder blade may indicate gallstones. Bloating may be related to a combination of stress and ingestion of gassy fruit and vegetables.
Taste: Sufferers of acid reflux may experience a sour taste caused by regurgitated stomach acid.
Smell: The smell of an individual’s released gas is related to the fermentation of unabsorbed carbohydrate and protein food and therefore relates to what they have been eating, how much escapes absorption, and the effect of stress on gut transit.
Your gut is large and complex, but now that you know what it is, what it does, and what it may be telling you, you’ll always know to listen to your gut the right way. Want to know more? There are many ways to learn more about your gut. During your next visit to Kare Health and Wellness, ask one of our educated nurses about what your gut may be telling you and don’t forget to ask our friendly staff at the front desk what supplements we carry to ensure that your digestive health is always on the right track.