Marie F. Steinmetz, MD, is board certified in family medicine. She has a special interest in management of fatigue and gastrointestinal problems.

Shakespeare never said it, but “The gut’s the thing.”

Our gastrointestinal system can be the determining factor of whether we live in health or dis-ease. The gut is an intricately interconnected system with a lot of jobs to do. It serves as a protector from invaders, a processing factory for nutrients, a regulator of immune response, and a sanitation department for removing waste products.

The gut performs all these functions with lots of assistance. The pancreas and salivary glands provide enzymes. The liver and gall bladder contribute bile acids. The walls of the small and large intestines chip in with muscular contractions to move things along. And, perhaps most importantly, the trillions of bacteria in the gut are vital components in all the processes the gut performs. In fact, without our bacteria, we couldn’t live.

The results of all these gut processes also affect every part of the body. If there’s inflammation in the gut, you can be sure inflammatory factors produced by the gut immune system are circulating to other parts of the body. This can result in symptoms as varied as nasal and sinus allergies, skin rashes, muscle aches, headaches, poor sleep, depression and anxiety, and many more.

If there is a lack of enzymes to break down food, there will not only be symptoms of bloating and irregular bowel movements, but far-reaching signs of nutrient deficiencies that can range from fatigue to skin problems.

If there is an imbalance in the gut bacteria, there can be problems with bowel movements and gas, but also with hormone balance, mood, or weight control. As integrative physicians who use functional medicine as one of our tools, we look at the biology of the interconnected systems in the body to find the underlying cause of a problem. So even though a problem might seem to be limited to the skin, or the joints, or the airways, or the brain, we will look further than those isolated systems. We will ask questions and perhaps recommend specialized tests to find out if the condition of your gut is affecting the expression of disease elsewhere in your body.

The results of the specialized testing can pinpoint areas where intervention might help. Perhaps additional enzymes to help with breaking down food. There may be clues that a food sensitivity is in play and needs to be looked at further. Normal bacteria may be present, but in the wrong part of the intestine, and may need treatment. Pathogenic bacteria may be present that need to be eradicated with antibiotics, and then beneficial bacteria supplied to bring the complement of bacteria back into a more functional balance. Even parasites can be found and treated. Some testing can reveal slow bowel function that can be helped with botanical supplements.

All of these methods can help not only heal the gut, but quell the distant expressions of disease in other parts of the body.

So the next time you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, listen! Let us help you find the source and the solution.


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