1 path leads to the 3 most important systems in your body…
Maybe you are new to functional medicine and you are wondering how it can help you restore your health and quality of life. Even if you are not new to the subject, this article will provide a simplified view of what is really going on and what we as functional medicine doctors are trying to accomplish.
Health starts in the gut…
This is a very common saying in functional medicine circles. The gut is where all sorts of good and bad things can happen. One of the really good things is that this is where your body takes in and absorbs your nutrition. The fuel and key nutrients required by every cell in your body is taken into your body by the digestive system. The small intestine is where there absorption takes place. The small intestine is also where things can go wrong! This is where a leaky gut occurs, and it is also where SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) occurs.
Your small intestine feeds into the large intestine or colon. This is where trillions of organisms live, and we call it the microbiome…
“consisting of trillions of microorganisms (also called microbiota or microbes) of thousands of different species. These include not only bacteria but fungi, parasites, and viruses. In a healthy person, these “bugs” coexist peacefully, with the largest numbers found in the small and large intestines but also throughout the body. The microbiome is even labeled a supporting organ because it plays so many key roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the human body.”
You have more organisms living in your gut than you have cells in your entire body. Your microbiome has significant impact on your health and influences the other major regulating systems of your body.
Your microbiome contributes to health or disease in your body. It is influenced by many factors:
- Fiber/ prebiotics
- Immune system
- How did your come into this world…C-section or natural birth?
- Were you breastfed?
When it comes to your microbiome I like to say that “everything matters.” Most of these factors we have control over.
Let’s move on to WHY health starts in the gut.
Why does health start in the gut?
I see the gut as an access point or point of entry to the rest of the body. It is has a very significant impact on the main regulating systems of your body. If we really want to simplify matters, we could say that your body is controlled by 3 major systems.
- Nervous System
- Immune System
- Endocrine System
Let’s take these 3 and simplify it even more…brain, immune system and hormones. Remember, I am trying to keep this simple. These 3 systems are running the show inside your body and they are also regulating each other. The gut is an access point for us to influence all 3 of these major systems.
Here is the bottom line, what is happening in your gut will affect your brain and vice versa. If we can improve what is happening in the gut, we can improve what is happening in your brain. If we can improve the brain we can improve the gut. For example, many people with IBS also suffer with anxiety. Chronic stress (brain) can cause a leaky gut. Chronic inflammation from the gut can cause brain fog and fatigue. We can just keep going back and forth here. Gut-brain, brain-gut…round and round we go!
Let’s go to the next major regulating system, the immune system.
Where is most of your immune system located?
The crucial position of the gastrointestinal system is testified by the huge amount of immune cells that reside within it…representing almost 70% of the entire immune system.
Why would so much of the immune system be in the gut?
“It is the main route of contact with the external environment and is overloaded every day with external stimuli, sometimes dangerous as pathogens (bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses) or toxic substances, in other cases very useful as food or commensal flora (beneficial organisms).”
If you have a healthy gut then you are more likely to have a healthy immune system. Your immune system can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It can save your life or it can kill you.
Your immune system performs 2 essential functions:
- Inflammation and healing
Protection: When working properly, your immune system destroys things that would otherwise destroy you, such as a virus or cancer cells. However, if it fails to regulate its enormous power, it can destroy you. All autoimmune diseases are simply the failure of the immune system to regulate itself and it turns on it’s host (your body).
The reason most people die or become hospitalized from the COVID-19 virus is because their own immune system fails to regulate it’s response to the virus. The virus does not kill them or hospitalize them, their immune system does…
“In fatal COVID-19, the immune response can control the virus but kill the patient…”
How does COVID-19 kill? Uncertainty over whether it is the virus itself — or the response by a person’s immune system — that ultimately overwhelms a patient’s organs…
Clinical data suggest that the immune system plays a part in the decline and death of people infected with the new coronavirus,
Inflammation: Inflammation is beneficial when used in a battle against a dangerous organism or the initial stage of a healing process that involves damaged tissues. Inflammation should only happen for a short period of time and not occur in excess. There needs to be a controlled balance. Chronic inflammation is harmful to the body and is the one common denominators found in all chronic illnesses.
The immune system and nervous system also affect each other. When working properly, each helps the other to work properly and stay healthy. When one of them goes out of balance the other is inevitably affected in a negative way.
This connection is a bit more difficult to explain, but again lets keep this as simple as we can.
What do hormones do?
“Hormones are chemical messengers that travel throughout the body coordinating complex processes like growth, metabolism, and fertility. They can influence the function of the immune system, and even alter behavior (brain).”
How are hormones controlled?
Hormone regulation begins in the brain. This area of your brain is called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is connected to your pituitary gland and the pituitary gland makes hormones that tell the organs to make hormones. For example, the pituitary gland makes the hormone TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) which travels through your bloodstream to your thyroid gland which tells your thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone/thyroxine (T4).
The regulation of hormones really begins in the brain. The immune system and inflammation from the immune system can alter hypothalamus as well as the pituitary gland. Hormones from the thyroid, adrenal glands, ovaries, pancreas, testicles…can alter the brain and the immune system.
It is all a connected web of body regulation. The 3 major regulating system are the brain, immune system and hormones and they all affect each other.
The gut is the best place to start correcting the issues that are causing dysfunction in brain, immune system and endocrine system (hormones).
How does functional medicine work?
A functional medicine doctor needs to find out what is preventing the body from regulating itself and working properly. It is that simple (and that complicated) …if the body is working properly you are healthy and if it is not you have illness and disease.
The gut is a great place to start! This means you need to look at diet (usually from an immune system perspective), nutrient status, microbiome balance, motility (how food and waste move through the digestive system)etc.
You also need to rule out gut infections, poor digestion (breaking down food), malabsorption, etc.
Functional medicine doctors help the regulating systems of your body work better. As they help restore function to these systems, these same systems restore order and health to your body.
Functional medicine permits function to return to your body and function is synonymous with health.
The purpose of functional medicine is:
Understanding how the body works, knowing how and where to investigate health issues, knowing what to look for, understanding the significance of what is found and creating a plan of action to reverse and correct the root cause the health problems.
My wish for you…health, happiness and a better quality of life!
If you would like more information about functional medicine and integrative medicine or Dr. Sexton go to www.napervilleintegratedwellness.com
Do your own research, inform yourself and ask lots of questions. When collecting information, you MUST consider the source. There is no shortage of false, misleading, outdated, profit-driven and utterly biased information in healthcare today; even from the most respected sources and organizations.
This approach to healthcare is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent any disease. This article is for information purposes and is not a substitute professional healthcare services. Contact our office for more information.