The Enteric Nervous System, in all its glory.
Imagine a friend who was there for you when you needed to process the tough, indigestible parts of life, who extracted the good from the bad for you, kept you away from your own worst self, and gave you life-sustaining health? You have over a trillion of them in your large intestine, they are the flora that live in your gut.
There are more individual enzymes living in your lower intestine than there are cells in your entire body. Not only that, but the lower intestine has it’s own separate brain, the Enteric Nervous System, that communicates constantly with the brain in your head, and it’s now thought that gut health is directly linked to moods and thoughts.
Busy, busy, always busy.
The enzymes in your not only break down the remaining food from the upper intestine, but also help to form vitamins that your body needs. The total surface area of the gut is as large as a tennis court, and only one cell thick. That means that if there is even the slightest imbalance in your gut and the gut wall is damaged, by food pieces that are not properly digested, or an imbalance of yeasts or parasites, undigested food can leak out into the bloodstream and cause autoimmune disorders, such as allergies and chronic inflammation, as well as cancer and diabetes.
The ENS is a flat, grid-like structure that lies on the surface of the digestive tract and organs of the digestive system.
If you are suffering from a chronic inflammatory condition go to the doctor already!
It could be that visiting one or more doctor hasn’t helped, however, in which case you could benefit from seeing a naturopath, and having your allergies tested. The types of food you eat could be causing an allergic reaction – see below.
What to eat? What to eat?
As the lower intestine is part of the digestive system, the easiest way to fix it is through the food we eat, both avoiding food that we are allergic to, and eating food that will restore gut flora health. As each person is different, each person’s optimal diet will be different. Some people, for example, really want to be vegetarian, but simply can’t because their body type won’t support it, and vice versa: some people love meat but just can’t digest it.
There are many, many people out there with wildly different ideas on what constitutes a perfect diet, sometimes these philosophies overlap, sometimes not: paleo or gluten-free, raw food, vegan, Atkins, GI, fruitarian, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, blood-type diets, body-shape diets, the list goes on. An easier way to go about finding out what is going wrong with your body is to exclude food items for a while.
Glia and nerve fibres of the ENS
What not to eat? What not to eat?
Exclude one or more suspect one at a time from your diet for a month – yes, a month – then re-introduce it to see what happens. You could try:
- Any sugar that is not in a fruit – not maple, not honey, not brown, certainly not high fructose corn syrup
- Coffee – drink Indian Spiced Chai instead
- Hot chillies
- Grains such as wheat, barley and rye, either processed / white or whole / brown.
- Milk from cows, goats or sheep
- Additives, such as colourants, flavourings, sweeteners etc.
- Alcohol – you know what excess is.
- Cigarettes – a lot of smoke gets into the stomach
- Too much fat and oil
When I had Crohn’s disease I went on a total exclusion diet for over a month. That means nothing other than clear soup and over-boiled mushy udon noodles. Gradually I re-introduced foods until I found what it was that I was allergic to. If I can do it, so can you, as I have the will-power of a piece of wet tissue.
How do I re-entice friendly bacteria back into my butt?
- Fermented foods – see this list from foodrenegade.com, or for example home-made sauerkraut (there are a million recipes out there for how to make this miracle food, try this one from Wellness Mama), Kefir, and kombucha. Kombucha is tea made from giant sea kelp, it’s used in nuclear medicine clinics in Japan to clear the patients’ bodies of radioactive substances, so if you are worried about radioactivity, kombucha is your friend.
- Yoghurt, surprisingly, is not really all that great from your lower intestine’s point of view. This is because it’s made with pasteurised milk, so all of the bacteria are basically zapped, and then one or two artificially-grown bacteria are introduced, even though your body needs 500 different types. You can make your own yoghurt, with either cow milk or soy.
Turmeric powder under a microscope on Pinterest
- Turmeric is your friend now. Drink Indian Chai Tea – buy mine, it’s really great! – or just turmeric with hot water.
- So is Omega 3 – it’s anti-inflammatory and healing.
- Broad-spectrum digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements help to re-build and maintain healthy flora levels in your gut, which in turn eliminate the nasties you don’t want.
- Optimise liver health
- From an emotional point of view, digestive ill-health has been linked to unprocessed grief. I developed Crohn’s disease two years after a family member died. It’s also possible that the relationships with the people in your life are causing you stress, which impacts on digestive functioning. Healing relationships, getting out of stressful ongoing situations can significantly help to heal your gut.
- Exercise. But don’t over-do it. Go outside to do it.
- Sleep 7 hours every night, the same 7 hours every night. Don’t lie in on the week end or go to bed late. It’s hard to do, but if you have problems linked to intestinal health, isn’t that a relatively small price to pay? Besides, once you are fit an well again, you most probably will be able to bend the rules massively.
- Meditate – yes, I know, I know, but here’s an article I wrote about meditation for people who hate the whole idea of it.
Have you tried any of these things? All of them? What worked for you? Is there anything that you have tried that is not on this list? Please leave a comment, or join in the conversation on Facebook.