Your Gut - Part 1

Why does our gut health impact so much of our overall well-being? Let's explore!

Miriam D. Hughes, MSN, WHNP-BC, CNM

11/1/20233 min read

a skeleton with a red circle around it's stomach
a skeleton with a red circle around it's stomach

So many people have NO idea how much our gut affects our mental and physical health. And it is a BIG topic that really would take full seminars to even begin to broach thoroughly. I know you don’t have that much time (and neither do I) so I am going to do my best to compact the highlights in a 3-part series. So, make sure you check back in tomorrow and the next day for the full series. I have also added a ‘gut health’ page to my website for links and resources.

A functional gastrointestinal (GI) tract is essential for transporting food, absorbing nutrients, plus digesting and excreting all the food we take in, plus the waste. But it’s also responsible for protecting us from ingested pathogens, allergens, and toxins, and for continuously monitoring and responding to the state and health of the inside of the body.

The principal conductor of this highly orchestrated symphony is something called the enteric nervous system, which I will abbreviate as the ENS. This is a vast and complex network of neurons and cells located along the length of the whole GI tract. This enteric nervous system is an important component of the autonomic nervous system (autonomic means the automatic or involuntary nervous system) which is part of the central (brain) nervous system. While innervation from the central nervous system can help the workings of the ENS function, the ENS serves as an intrinsic, essentially independent, nervous system specifically for the gut. It is capable of controlling most of the functions of the intestines independently. It is because of its complexity and autonomous function that the ENS is often referred to as the ‘second brain’.

This is a very appropriate term, second brain, because so much of our gut health is directly connected to our brain health and mood – this includes depression, anxiety, mood shifts, impulses, CRAVINGS….all of it!

This information, these signals, between the gut and the brain influence the inflammation in our bodies, the immunity in our bodies, many of the chemical messages in our bodies, even our “set point” – and this is very important. This set point is how much stress we can tolerate before we become overwhelmed. Because the fight or flight stress response, and all the chemicals that go along with it - all start in the brain and gut. And these two are always connected! Have you ever had a situation where you were really nervous about something. Really worried about something and you feel it, deep down, in the center of your gut? Sometimes people even have to urgently ‘poop’ before they do something really important like a speech or an interview or have a difficult conversation with someone, because when it comes to this brain gut connection, where one goes, so does the other.

Did you know that a MAJORITY of serotonin is not found in the brain, but in the gut?! This substance affects mood, anxiety, and depression, but it even helps with wound healing, immunity, general gut health, even bowel movements. It helps with sleep. It even helps with sexual function. If your gut is not healthy, it interrupts the signals and the messaging the rest of your body needs.

I do mean the complete rest of your body. If your gut, the very center of your physical being, is not healthy you will never truly heal your thyroid problem. You will never truly heal your depression and/or anxiety. You will never truly heal your adrenal and energy problems. You will never truly heal your hormone imbalance. You will never truly heal.

Part 2 will go a little deeper into some of the internal workings of the gut and overall health. Thanks for joining me. Feel free to share this page and information with those who you think could benefit. And as always – you’re not broken.