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That gut connection...........

Sitting in a naturopath’s office with my mum aged 9 trying to figure out what was going on with my stomach, why I would feel sick in the mornings and why my belly was constantly distended, was a moment in my life that I remember vividly. It was the first time I remember truly feeling as though everyone else was normal except me. Neither sports I was competitive in; dancing and dressage were very forgiving when you are feeling uncomfortable in yourself like you had just eaten 6 family size pizzas with the lot – think performing on stage in a leotard with sever bloating! I remember wishing I could just be like all the other kids that could eat what they wanted, drink sodas and down junk food without a care in the world. I remember wondering why I was the only person who was having stomach issues.  

Fast forward a few decades (and a bit) and when I reflect back on that time, I realise that I actually wasn’t that special after all. You see, while my stomach ached, and stuck out and was very noticeable, there was a whole lot happening in other kids and people around me related to their gut health, you just couldn’t see it so easily – or more so make the connection between a healthy digestive system, often influenced by what goes in it, and what that person was going through.

In an effort to not sound too cryptic I am going to make the connection clear. The digestive system impacts every system within our body.

Hippocrates said that “all disease starts in the gut” and could not agree more.

So the kid with hives that couldn’t feed the animals, my friend who caught every cold going around and missed about a year of school, a girl I rode with who gave up on horses because her joints would ache too much and her muscles get too tired, the boy down the road who had a whole bag of learning issues – often amplified by red creamy soda and fried foods all would likely have all seen a huge reduction in what they experienced if they had understood the role that good digestion and a healthy gut plays in all these issues.

It didn’t just end there either, throughout my teens, twenties, my pregnancies and later in life I watched my family, friends and peers experience all sorts of issues that I did not seem to have and later often coincided with what we consider digestive issues such as bloating, irregular bowel movements, food sensitivities etc which leads me to this…………. digestive issues present in all manners of ways and can often take a long time to present in what we would term “gut issues”.

So, lets pull this apart a little. What does out digestive system actually look like and how does the digestive system impact the body?

In a very simplified order leaving out many intricate steps, the microbiome and all the enzymes produced, digestion begins with the brain where the body starts to prepare to digest food, it then involves the tongue and teeth with the production of saliva and moves food down through the oesophagus into the stomach where it disinfects, breaks down protein and frees certain nutrients before moving to the intestines where the liver pancreas and gall bladder all come into play further breaking down, absorbing and utilising nutrients, then through to the large intestine and eventually out the other end.

This entire process also needs the body to remain in a parasympathetic state – in other words for optimal digestion we need to remain stress or perceived stress free from start (when we first see the food we are eating) to finish (no longer in the body). When we consider today's fast paced and taxing lifestyle it is no wonder that very few people have a well function digestive system. Issues at any point in this process, from not being able to absorb nutrients, to having food sit too long in the intestines, inadequate production of stomach acid can all lead to health issues somewhere else in the body. The nutrients we absorb via healthy digestion are needed to fuel and support all other systems.

To add to this process our bodies are populated by an almost incomprehensible number of microscopic creatures. It's easy to forget that these microbes actually also produce their own hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters. (Campbell-McBride, 2020) The more we research about the microbiome the more we begin to understand its role in balancing hormones and in particular our mental health. To add to this our digestive system is involved in the digestion and absorption of our food, making sure all our endocrine glands receive proper nutrients to function.

With many of our hormones being derived from fatty acids it is also critical that our gall bladder is functioning well. It amazes me how many people have their gall bladder removed or struggle to digest fats. One thing I know about the human body is that it isn’t created with faulty parts!

Our endocrine glands such as the thyroid are also very sensitive to toxins which a healthy digestive system can help protect from. With the majority of toxicity coming from the gut, an approach to heal and seal the gut and ensure that we have healthy gut flora is critical to having healthy happy hormones. When the gut is out of balance or is host to less desirable or pathogenic microbes there is a level of toxicity that occurs as a result – including toxins excreted by these unwanted guests!

Around 70-80% of our immune system is located in the gut wall! (Natural Allergy Treatment, 2020) Each step of our digestive system helps and supports our immune system. When we are stressed, our digestive function reduces and so does our immune system. Did you know that the body needs to feel safe in order to produce enough stomach acid to disinfect and start to break down our food? Undigested proteins as an example may be particularly problematic as they are more likely to trigger an adaptive immune response.

Our immune systems also require a lot of nutritional support and while this makes a well-balanced and nutrient dense diet critical so too is the ability to digest and absorb those nutrients.

An area of focussed research in recent times is around the concept of a “leaky” or permeable gut and increased allergies. We now know that when the gut wall is compromised through poor diet, stress or pathogens that proteins in particular can pass the gut barrier and enter the blood stream triggering an allergenic reaction or in general confuse the immune system as it recognizes these foreign particles as antigens and the immune cells begin to fight them off. This can escalate into an inflammatory response through the body and is associated with exacerbated autoimmune conditions.

So what then happens if the immune system is permanently switched on, army ready due to a constant flow of antigens swimming about the body? An inflamed and leaky gut can place your entire immune system in a state of emergency and high alert.

There is growing research to suggest that many skin conditions are representative of the gut lining, meaning inflammation of the gut can present as inflammation of the skin such as eczema.

When we think about our hearts, we tend not to make the connection between a healthy heart and a healthy bowel, however the production of B1, B2, B12 and K2 are reliant on healthy bacterial population in the bowel. The heart itself requires the digestive system to make available the amino acids, taurine and carnitine with a requirement for good liver and gall bladder function for the healthy fats it uses along with adequate stomach acid to absorb calcium, a mineral critical to heart health and B group vitamins.  

Interestingly, it turns out that gut microbes are also associated with circulating vascular chemicals that influence the atherosclerotic process (Zhu, 2020), appetite hormones, glucose regulation, and inflammation—thereby impacting the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes and, ultimately, CVD. (Moxely, 2023)

For many decades different microbes have been used to clear up toxins from soils contaminated by industry. The microbes in our gut have been doing the same since our existence began. If our microbes cannot breakdown the chemical or toxin it will go on to chelate it, basically grabbing hold of it and remove it through the digestive system and out via our stools.

Both the liver and gall bladder play crucial roles in how our body detoxifies and helps to reduce our body burden. The liver filters toxins from our blood and neutralises them ready to be eliminated, the neutralised toxins are then passed to the gallbladder in the bile read to be excreted out via our faeces. Both phase 1 and phase 2 rely on a healthy functioning digestive system. We know that eating essential fatty acids nourishes our detox pathways, but if you aren’t absorbing the fats, they aren’t doing you much good!

Poor fat digestion (the inability to absorb fats) clogs the lymphatic system, which in turn burdens the liver. When the liver becomes burdened, we can begin to see a dysfunction in our biliary ducts and the mobilization of bile (Turner, 2021).

Bile plays a BIG role in digestion and waste removal.

Lastly our modern society often overlooks the gut brain connection. Signals are constantly passing between our digestive system and our central nervous system. If you have ever experienced a “gut feeling” or “butterflies” then you understand how this communication can work. Firstly the conversation that occurs between the gut and the brain is there for our survival, (Cleveland Clinic, 2023) for instance if we need to shut down energy to the gut to run from a lion we can, if we need to produce some extra adrenaline or cortisol to increase our need and ability to hunt and provide nutrients to the body we can switch that on, and if food is a plenty and the environment is safe, well lets tell the body to balance healthy hormones and make more babies.

While this beautiful conversation is forever happening inside our bodies, we need to have an awareness of how we are perceiving stress in our minds and environments and the impact that it is having on our digestive health which in turn impacts all other systems within the miracle that is the human body.

What I hope you take away from this read is that the body is incredibly complex and its health heavily reliant on a healthy digestive system. Fortunately, we have many basic tools to help support it. To see an overall improvement in health I suggest trying to reduce stress, in particular during times of eating and a minimum of 2-4 hours after, engaging in long and slow exhalations that allow you to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) required for good digestion prior to eating, you try to eat mindfully and a meal that is dense in nutrition and …………………….. smile because the steps to good health are far simpler than we appreciate.




Campbell-Mcbride, N. (2020). Gut And Physiology Syndrome. Natural Treatment For Allergies, Autoimmune Illness, Arthritis, Gut Problems, Fatigue, Hormonal Problems,... Chelsea Green.

Cleveland Clinic. (2023, September 20). What To Know About the Gut-Brain Connection. Cleveland Clinic. (2020, March 11). Gut Health and Allergies. Natural Allergy

Moxley, E. (2023, July 12). Heart Health and the Gut Microbiome. PCNA.

Turner, C. (2021, May 23). Why Optimal Digestion is so Important for Proper Detoxification. Chelsea Turner Wellness.

Zhu Y, Li Q, Jiang H. Gut microbiota in atherosclerosis: focus on trimethylamine N-oxide. APMIS. 2020;128(5):353-366. doi:10.1111/apm.13038


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