THE BLOG

The Digestive System and the Microbiome

gut health nutrition Aug 04, 2023

There are a handful of functional systems of the body including digestive, immune, detoxification, energy production, circulation/lymphatic, hormones and muscles/bones. While all are extremely important and change throughout the aging process, I will highlight the digestive system in this article. Remember what I just said, as we get older, these systems become less efficient so best to take some notes on this topic and watch my FREE Nutrition for Longevity webinar HERE if you want to learn more.

About the Digestive System

Do you know much about your digestive system? You should! It is SO much more than just being part of breaking down food, extracting nutrients and eliminating waste. While we often associate digestion with these physical processes, there is a fascinating hidden world within our gut – the microbiome. Let’s explore the microbiome a bit more and its role in health and wellness.

The digestive system is a complex and organized pathway that starts from the mouth and extends to the rectum. It comprises several key organs, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and associated accessory organs such as the liver, gallbladder and pancreas. Each organ plays a unique role in the breakdown, absorption and assimilation of nutrients from the food we consume.

Within the digestive system resides a vast ecosystem of microorganisms known as the microbiome. The microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria (yes, I said trillions!), viruses, fungi and other microbes that live primarily in the large intestine. These tiny inhabitants, collectively referred to as gut microbiota, form a symbiotic relationship with our bodies, influencing various aspects of our health including the following:

 

  • Nutrient metabolism-the gut microbiota aids in the breakdown and fermentation of dietary fibers and other complex carbohydrates that our body cannot digest on its own. Through this process, they produce short-chain fatty acids, which serve as a vital energy source for the cells lining the colon.

  • Immune function-the microbiome plays a crucial role in supporting a healthy immune system. Did you know that about 70% of the immune system is actually in the digestive system? It interacts with immune cells in the gut, helping to develop and regulate the immune response. A well-balanced microbiome can contribute to immune tolerance, protecting against harmful pathogens while preventing inappropriate immune reactions, such as allergies or autoimmune conditions.

  • Digestive health-this may seem obvious but the microbiome helps maintain a healthy balance of gut flora, preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast. This balance promotes optimal digestion, nutrient absorption and prevents conditions like diarrhea, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome.

  • Mental health and brain function-recent research suggests a strong connection between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis. The gut microbiome influences the production of neurotransmitters and communicates with the brain through various pathways. This connection underscores the impact of the microbiome on mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and stress response.

 

Keeping it Healthy

Now that you better understand what the microbiome does and why it is so important, let’s explore how to keep it firing on all cylinders.

Nutrition-consuming a varied, fiber-rich diet with a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fermented foods can promote a diverse and healthy microbiome.

Probiotics and prebiotics-I’m sure you have heard of probiotics before. These wonderful substances are beneficial live bacteria that can be consumed via fermented foods. Prebiotics, which you may not have heard of much before, are just as important as probiotics. Probiotics are non-digestible fibers that act as fuel for the beneficial gut bacteria. In essence, they help probiotics do their job. It is important to include both pre- and probiotics in your daily nutrition plan.

Hopefully, you now understand that the digestive system is not just a simple food processing system but a complex ecosystem that includes the remarkable world of the microbiome. The gut microbiome influences numerous aspects of our health, from digestion and immune function to mental well-being. Nurturing a healthy microbiome through a balanced and diverse nutrition plan and lifestyle choices can have robust effects on health, wellness and athletic performance.

 

 

 

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