We live in a world where disease is everywhere, despite our efforts. Billions will die from disease that is related to diet or lifestyle. But how do all of these diseases link back together? The answer lies in your gut.
What does illness mean?
To answer the question of where illness begins, we need to know what illness really means. There's a lot of definitions out there for different words. But let's simply say that illness or disease is any condition that is induced by a lack of health.
My favorite definition of health is by the World Health Organization. They define health as:
'… a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity...'
So, in that case, illness or disease is any condition that compromises your physical, mental or social well-being. This is important, as many conditions impact on more than just your body.
Chronic vs Acute Illness
There are two main types of illness, when you break it down. You have acute or short-term, as well as chronic or long-term.
Again, there's debate over where the line is drawn. But if an illness lasts for days, weeks or up to a couple of months, it's likely to be acute. Anything longer than that is chronic.
Despite this difference, there may not be much difference in the starting point for both types. Both acute and chronic disease may start in the digestive tract.
Let's have a look at how this might happen.
Your Gut and Immunity
Immunity is a big part of disease. Acute conditions such as infections, cold and flu are due to a lowered immunity and exposure to bugs. Chronic conditions, such as auto-immune conditions and even cancer, also have roots in immune dysfunction.
But a huge part of your immune system is actually located in your gut. Who knew?
If toxins and bugs get past the initial barriers, such as the skin, nasal hairs and mucus, the gut is the big guns. It contains high levels of acid in the stomach that can destroy many germs.
There's a mucus barrier that prevents pathogens from crossing over into the body from the gut. The good bacteria also plays a role in preventing germs from taking hold. These are just some of the ways your gut protects you from illness.
But if your stomach acid is low, or your good bacteria may be unbalanced, you become vulnerable. The next thing you know, you come down with a terrible infection.
Your Gut and Nutrients
When it comes to long-term illness, there are often multiple factors involved. One major one we know about is an imbalance of nutrients. Whether it's excess of one, such as omega-6s, or depletion of one or more, it adds up to a body that can't function properly.
Your gut is where nutrition happens, or doesn't. The only way, naturally, for us to absorb
most of our nutrients is through the gut. Even vitamin D, which is made on the skin,
needs digestion of fat to supply the pre-cursors.
If your digestion isn't on track, your nutrition is compromised. You may be unable to break down your food, leading to excess hunger and deficiencies. It may be absorption that is your problem, meaning the nutrients are there, but you can't get them into your bloodstream.
Whatever the issue is, if you're not getting the right nutrients, you're vulnerable to illness. Your body needs those vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients to function. Loss of function means a higher chance of disease.
Your Gut and Elimination
Chronic illness can also have roots in a build-up of toxic substances in the body. Whether there are excess hormones or heavy metals, they can lead to serious complications. Usually our bodies will eliminate these substances. But if the gut isn't working properly, it can become hard to get rid of them.
The most important route of elimination is the feces, or poo. We have other elimination channels. But they can't get rid of as much waste, or the types that are released through the bowels.
For us to eliminate things through our poo, we need to excrete it via our gall bladder and bile. But if things aren't “moving” properly, or we're not producing enough bile, it can lead to a buildup of those toxic substances. The gut needs to be working well for us to get rid of them.
If your gut isn't doing its thing, you are at a high risk of damage from buildup, and resulting chronic disease.
Your Gut and Inflammation
Inflammation is a bit of a buzz word in the wellness world. But it's a very real problem in many, if not all, chronic diseases. The impact of inflammation can lead to a downward spiral of cell damage and loss of function. But many people don't know that it also has roots in the gut.
An unhappy gut is actually a huge source of inflammation for the whole body. There are types of unhealthy bacteria that can give off compounds that travel throughout the body, even reaching the skin. These compounds are believed to cause inflammation wherever they go.
This also ties in with nutrient absorption. If your gut is inflamed, it stops you from absorbing nutrients. The fewer anti-inflammatory nutrients you can absorb, the more inflammation that occurs. It becomes a vicious cycle for many people, often ending in disease.
What Can You Do?
Maybe you already have a chronic condition. Perhaps you catch every bug that goes through the office. Or maybe you just know you want to live your best life. How can you use this knowledge to protect your body and boost your well-being?
Gut health isn't a quick fix. It takes time and commitment, especially in the case of chronic disease. But there are a few key areas to look to:
- Your diet and nutrition
- Your exercise and lifestyle
- Your stress management
- Anti-inflammatory supplements to consider
Over the next few weeks, we'll be looking at each of these, and how you can use them to reduce inflammation and repair your gut.
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