As Hippocrates taught us, "All disease begins in the gut". All too often my clients come to me wanting to immediately improve and alleviate symptoms and are caught off guard when I say that we first have to start with the digestive track. But wait, what does your gut have to do with your inability to sleep, crazy high stress, hot flashes, and weight gain? All of it!
Gut health is the foundation of your well-being. Your body relies on vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to create energy, repair injuries, make immune cells and neurotransmitters, detox chemicals, and many other functions. The health of our cells is a reflection of the nutrients they have access to. Impaired digestion at any level is going to minimize our ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients from our diet to build a foundation for optimal function.
Underlying infections in the GI tract can cause problems with digestion. Diets high in refined sugars, fructose, and processed grains can lead to an overgrowth of candida or dysbiosis of bad bacteria in the gut. This damages the lining of the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed. Inflammatory foods and foods sprayed with pesticides can also contribute to this.
As we age, the ability of our stomach to make hydrochloric acid and of our pancreas to make digestive enzymes decreases. Low hydrochloric acid usually leads to feelings of food sitting in the stomach, or indigestion (yes low acid is usually the cause of indigestion!). Take for example, vitamin B12 - needed for mood stabilization, detox and energy. B12 requires hydrochloric acid in order to be activated to a usable form. Many clients grab an antacid when they feel indigestion, not knowing they are impairing the body's ability to assimilate key nutrients.
Hormones also influence digestion. As we move towards menopause, estrogen and progesterone are on the steady decline. Receptors for these hormones are scattered throughout the GI tract, influencing the regular muscular movement of our intestines to push food down the tract. If estrogen levels are high (mid cycle, or unpredictably in perimenopause), gut motility decreases causing constipation, bloating and bowel changes.
Our intestines are also critical for the last phase of estrogen detoxification. When estrogens are broken down by the liver, they become "conjugated" and sent to the intestines for elimination. Dysbiosis and bad bacteria in the gut will unconjugate the estrogens, and allow them to be reabsorbed instead of eliminated. Too much estrogen hanging around, in the wrong forms, is a disaster waiting to happen with regards to increased cancer risk, and symptoms of estrogen excess.
Lastly, 90% of our feel good neurotransmitter serotonin is made in the gut. Serotonin is converted into melatonin, allowing us to fall and stay asleep. If our gut is inflamed, serotonin production will be greatly impaired impacting mood and sleep.
When I start to work with clients,, I often recommend add gut testing to the menu to get a full picture of what is going on internally, which can then direct the best plan to rebalance the body. We analyze hydrochloric acid and pancreatic enzyme output, to ensure food is being fully digested and nutrients assimilated. We analyze if there is any impairment to the lining of the gut (aka leaky gut!). We analyze microbial composition to see if there is any parasites or unwanted overgrowth of bad bacteria or candida. And we see if there is any inflammation.
Once the gut is optimized, only then can you start to assimilate nutrients needed to fuel the processes in your body. Once those processes are going smoothly and nutrient levels are restored, often times symptoms start to dissipate on their own!