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  • Writer's pictureMartha Calihan MD

Is It All In Your Head Or Your Gut?

Our gut is one of the most important organs in the body. The gastrointestinal system, from the mouth to the anus, is responsible for the digestion and absorption of our food, our nutrients, and the elimination of waste products. Along the way, an enormous number of processes occur. These are complex processes, each of which relies on the presence of specific vitamins, nutrients and other factors to work efficiently.

To extract the nutrients we need from the food we eat, our food needs to be digested. This starts with our saliva and with the act of chewing. The food is further digested with the help of our stomach acid, digestive and pancreatic enzymes and bile. Our bile is made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder for release when fat is ingested. For the liver to function properly to secrete bile, another set of complex processes are involved.

As the partially digested food is moved along the intestine, the nutrients are extracted, water is absorbed and finally the waste moves through and is excreted as stool. These processes are all under the direction of the nervous system, and in fact, the gut has been called the “second brain”.

In addition, the gut is home to literally trillions of bacteria, our microbiome, which by itself has an important role to play in the overall function of the gut. The microbiome is a critical component of the immune system, among other roles that it has.

It is hard to imagine how complicated a system this really is, and how many so called moving parts there are; so many places where there is the potential for it to go wrong. It isn’t hard, then, to understand how and why people have so many GI complaints and conditions.

When we develop symptoms that are related to the gut, we need to try to understand the root cause of the symptom(s) and not just treat the symptom itself. A Functional Medicine evaluation of GI related complaints is going to look at the potential underlying cause; to see where there might be an imbalance. Is the gut bacteria, the microbiome, disrupted? Are there nutrient deficiencies that need to be addressed? Is there inflammation? Does the diet need to be adjusted? What role is stress playing? The question for a Functional Medicine doctor is WHY? Why is the condition there and what needs to be done to address the root cause?

There are many, many conditions and symptoms that can be related to the gastro-intestinal tract. If you are experiencing symptoms, know that a targeted gut healing program may be able to help restore your health and well being.

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