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03 Feb, 2020

The Lowdown on Detoxification - The Gut

Health

First, the basics - the gastrointestinal system, also referred to as the gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, digestive tract, or gut, is a group of organs that includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum.

Our gut is responsible for putting the body into working order. As it breaks down the foods we eat, our gut absorbs nutrients that support our body's functions — from energy production to hormone balance, skin health to mental health, and even toxin and waste. And we now know that if the gut isn't in good working order it has a significant effect not only on our physical health but our mental health too.

The gut transports food from the mouth to the stomach, converts it into absorbable nutrients and stored energy, and drives waste back out of the body. If you don’t properly nourish yourself, you don’t live. It’s that simple.

The heart of the digestive tract is the small intestine - this is where most of the body’s digestion takes place. The majority of nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine. The small intestine empties into the large intestine via a connection called the ileocaecal sphincter. The large intestine then plays an important role in reabsorbing large volumes of water which it returns to the body. It also provides a home for microbes which break down whatever the small intestine hasn’t already.

The intestine is full of trillions of bacteria that not only help us process food but that also help our bodies maintain our physiological function and overall well being. The key to our gut functioning at its optimum, experts say, may lie in the microbiome - the makeup of bacteria and other microorganisms in the stomach and intestines, or, informally, the gut. Research on the microbiome is still in its infancy. But studies have already found that certain environments, foods and behaviours can influence gut health for better or worse.

No microbiome is the same, there are certainly generalities about what is healthy or not. In healthy people there is a diverse array of organisms but in unhealthy people there is much less. There is also an increase in the bacteria we associate with disease in people who are generally less healthy.

When healthy, these bacteria help to protect us from dangerous infections. They work with the body to digest our food, synthesise vitamins, and even promote the transmission of nerve messages to and from the brain.

There are over 100,000 nerve cells in your digestive system – more than in your spinal cord. Because of this it is sometimes called the second brain. We need those nerves to tell us when we’re hungry and to keep the largely unconscious process of digestion moving along.

The gut, in short, is quite a miraculous thing and is, like our whole detoxification system, and our whole body, working tirelessly to keep us in good nick. But there are always things that we can do to support them. The key to good gut health is a good, healthy, varied, balanced diet. We spoke to Dr Megan Rossi about resetting our gut health here.

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