The significance of the gut in chronic fatigue
The significance of the gut
The gut is probably one of the most important areas of our body. Yet we often don’t think too much about it unless we are having a problem, such as indigestion, wind, bloating or diarrhoea. Even with these issues, we tend to take something for it and then get on with our lives. These signs if persistent, are perhaps telling you that something is not right with your gut and that there may be an imbalance in the beneficial to non-beneficial bacteria, better known as the “gut flora”.
Elie Mechnikov, Nobel Prize winner for his discoveries of the role of immunity in infectious diseases, said that “death begins in the colon”. He was very intuitive in his observation because 70 per cent of your immune function resides in the gut. Our ability to fight off bugs is significantly affected by the integrity of our gut lining or mucosa, our first internal line of defence. Not only this, but the increasing intolerance to certain foods, pollens, moulds and chemicals reflects our loss of the correct interpretation of “friend or foe” by our immune system in the gut, leading to inappropriate inflammation, which can lead on to chronic disease.
What is now being extensively being talked about in the media is the role of the microbiome, the collection of microorganisms that live in our gut. This is something nutritional therapists and functional medicine practitioners have reckoned with for over 25 years. What is now known, is that there are over 100 trillion organisms and over 10,000 different microbial species. What we have discovered is that we now have less diversity of microbes than our ancestors and that this is something seen in the people who are obese or who have had significant amounts of antibiotics. Microbes affect every process in our body, so thinking about what we put in our mouths or expose our bodies to are very important in our overall health, something not totally understood before.
The gut also acts as a window to our environment and can be seen as an environmental translator. It is also an eliminator, so if the gut is not functioning normally, we may be adversely affected by environmental toxins such as pollens, moulds, toxic chemicals and processed and refined foods that are part of daily living.
In function, the gut is known for digestion and this process starts in the mouth and ends at the anus. It creates the right environment for digestion with correct pH levels, especially in the stomach and the secretion of digestive enzymes to breakdown foods, so that they can be absorbed and utilised by the body. This process is vital if we are to have the right vitamins and minerals for our body to undertake all of the necessary processes for optimal function. If we just take magnesium - a vital mineral involved in over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body - if we are not properly absorbing this mineral, our body functions may be compromised. Other substances can damage the gut, such as highly processed sugary foods giving rise to “leaky gut” which is a significant factor in many chronic diseases, particularly autoimmune conditions and chronic fatigue.
In further articles I will talk more in depth about things that affect the gut, the things that might go wrong and what can be done to identify and deal with these problems.
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About Helen Olphin
Helen Olphin is currently a Nutritional Therapist and Coach, with a interest in chronic fatigue and autoimmunity in her career she undertook an MSc in Organisation Development and ran her own coaching business for 15 years. She qualified as an Nutritional Therapist in 2013 winning the outstanding award for clinical excellence.