Why is everyone talking about the gut?
Gut health is literally at the root of all health. Our gut, our intestines, are the site of nutrient absorption, much like a plant’s roots. If we can’t properly digest, absorb, and assimilate the food we eat, and turn it into the building blocks of our body, we cannot be healthy. If your gut isn’t functioning properly, your brain, your liver, your heart, etc cannot perform optimally.
In particular, your gut and your immune system are tightly linked. While it may sound strange, the inside of your GI tract— a hollow tube running from tip to tail— is actually outside your body, and your gut, in particular your small intestine, is the main entry point where your digested food enters your body. In a healthy gut, digested food particles are transported in an organized fashion through the cells lining the gut—like going through customs at an airport.
When the gut leaks, the spaces between the cells open up, and large food particles that may not be properly digested slip through the cracks, and can cause problems in the body. Think of this like someone boarding a plane without going through security. If someone manages to get into an airport without going through security, before long the TSA security guards will notice, and may attack the intruder. The guards will sound the alarm for more security guards to show up, and create chaos in the airport. The regular passengers will not be able to carry on their normal business. This is not unlike what happens in a leaky gut—or to use the medical term—intestinal permeability.
Leaky gut is not a recognized disease, but it is a sign of trouble. Gut health is an exciting and active area of research, and science is constantly telling us more about how what happens in our bellies affects our entire body. One of the most interesting yet alarming subjects is the relationship between problems in the gut, and the development of autoimmune diseases. Autoimune diseases are pretty much what they sound like—diseases where the immune system gets confused and attacks the normal tissues of the body, leading to multiple disease states. Just about every tissue in the body can be mistakenly attacked by the immune system.
Cancer and autoimmune diseases can be though of in similar ways. Cancer is not one disease, but the out of control growth of different tissues is an individual type of cancer. However, cancer cells of one type can spread and lead to a different type of cancer. Similarly autoimmune diseases are a class of disease, and each individual autoimmune disease is related to the immune system attacking a different type of cells.
Autoimmunity is an increasing problem. This is a new area of research, with a constantly increasing number of diseases associated with autoimminity--the body attacking itself. Gut health is of vital importance to the immune system, as about 70% of our immune system is associated with the gut.