Gut Check

How’s your gut?  Have you checked in with it lately?  Do you know how the state of your digestive system is affecting the rest of you?  I’ve known for a while now that when I eat something like pizza, the next day I will feel unmotivated and have a general sense of not feeling great.  I spent a lot of time feeling that way before I figure out it was related to what I was eating.  Now, when I don’t feel well or get the feeling like it is too much work to do what I need to do, I think back to what I’ve been eating over the last few days.

A great article in The Wall Street Journal describes some of the current research on how the condition of your digestive system can affect other areas of the body, including organs such as the pancreas, gall bladder, lungs and heart.  It might even be linked to autism in children.  The gut produces 95 % of the serotonin found in the body.  This hormone is responsible for pushing food through the gut as well as repairing cells in the liver and lungs and plays a role in normal development of the heart and in bone-mass accumulation.  Having low levels of serotonin can also affect your mood and sleep.  In one lab study, newborn rats, whose stomachs were purposely irritated, later displayed more depressed and anxious behaviors and showed an increased sensitivity to stress, producing more of a stress hormone than the control rats.

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This is one of those “I knew it!” moments for me.  Over the last year, I have been working with my osteopath to get my adrenal glands working properly.  This is the gland that produces cortisol, the stress hormone.  My cortisol levels are elevated and peaking at the wrong time, contributing to difficulty sleeping and difficulty controlling blood sugar levels.  Articles like these show me that by looking at how my diet effects my health and even my moods, I’m on the right track.  I’ve had issues with my digestive system on and off as long as I can remember but my food issues seem to have gotten worse over the last few years.  I’ve done some food sensitivity testing to help me determine which foods are giving me a problem.  I was surprised at how many foods and which foods were on this list and puzzled at why some foods were on the list that I had eaten while growing up and didn’t seem to give me any problems.

One theory of how we develop food sensitivities goes like this:   when you don’t feel good or are feeling particularly stressed and you eat something as benign as say coconut (one of my trigger foods), your body can decide that that particular food is what is making you feel sick and so next time you eat that food, your body reacts to it and triggers your immune response.  This is similar to what happens when you overeat something or eat something that has gone bad and you get sick.  Thereafter, you find yourself unable to eat that particular food.  Triggering that immune response can result in a multitude of possible symptoms.  For me, I can tell when I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t when I feel unmotivated, get a headache, start feeling cold symptoms in my ears and throat, have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, or feel achy in my joints.  Everyone reacts differently and it is up to you to figure out your own tell-tale signs.  This is a journey that I am on and continue to travel.  I take detours every time I eat something I know I shouldn’t and have to get myself back on track.  It is not easy, but I feel so much better when I give my body what it needs to flourish.  Eventually the hope is that when I’ve healed my digestive system, I’ll be able to start adding back in some of these foods that now give me problems.  So here is my recommendation to you:  keep a food journal that records what and when you eat, and how you are feeling physically and emotionally.  Eventually, you should be able to make some connections for yourself.  Good luck and I wish you a safe a speedy journey.

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