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That Gut Feeling

Digestive disorders are on the rise, and it’s common to hear our friends share their maladies. What is happening to us, as humans, that our digestive tracts are so dysfunctional? There are many reasons for this, and I will highlight two causes in this article. The first addresses the health of the vast amounts of beneficial bacteria called the microbiome that lives within us. The second cause I’ll explore is the effect of constant stress on our digestive tract.


Our inner ecosystem should be swimming with beneficial bacteria called the human microbiome. Many of us have a decrease in the number and diversity of our gut bacteria, which not only affects our digestion but impacts our immune system and brain health as well. In the past, humans were naturally exposed to beneficial bacteria as they went about their daily lives. Soil-based beneficial organisms were plentiful from contact with the soil or eating locally grown fresh vegetables. In the absence of refrigerators, food was cultured with lactic acid bacteria, which benefited digestion.

Some functions of the microbiome:

  • Producing vitamins that we don’t have the genes to make, like vitamin K

  • Acting as natural antibiotic agents

  • Detoxifying certain poisons in the digestive tract like ammonia, cholesterol, or excess hormones

  • Digesting and absorbing nutrients

  • Help with getting a good night’s sleep

Unfortunately, good bacteria are fragile and are negatively affected by many things we come in contact with every day, like chlorinated water, antibiotics in meat and dairy products, genetically modified organisms, and food additives. Other common stressors include birth control pills, NSAIDs, chemotherapy, and artificial sweeteners. Beneficial bacteria often have to compete with non-beneficial bacteria, yeast, and viruses fed by high carbohydrate diets. It’s no wonder the human microbiome is struggling.


We’ve all had the experience of getting butterflies in our stomachs before a stressful event. This happens thanks to an open two-way communication channel between our brain (central nervous system) and our gut, via the vagus nerve. Our gut can send messages to our brain and vice versa.

This nerve originates at the tenth cranial nerve and ends up covering the bowel. The vagus nerve sends communications back and forth from the nerve cells in your intestinal (enteric) nervous system and the central nervous system and brain. The nerve cells in the gut are so vast that scientists have called this “The Second Brain.” Our enteric nervous system independently controls many bodily functions without the brain, such as the regulation of muscle cells, immune cells, and hormones. The enteric nervous system also manufactures serotonin, an essential chemical for sleep and mood.

During the stress response, saliva production is reduced, resulting in a dry mouth. Stomach contractions cease, and enzyme and digestive acid secretions stop. The small intestine stops peristalsis, so food stops moving through your digestive tract, possibly resulting in constipation.

SUMMARY: Even if you suffer from digestive issues, it’s not too late to take action. Changing your diet, improving your stress management, and finding alternatives to certain medications can improve your health and create a better environment for digestion.

To learn more about my services and programs:

To learn more about the National Institute of Health’s Human Biome Project:


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