By Dr Harold Gunatillake – Health Writer
When we think of metabolism, we think of masticatedfood entering the big bag -the stomach, where it is well churned into a fruit salad with peptic and acid juice, driven into the small gut for further digestion and absorption. The absorbed nutrients are then converted into fuel required for the activities in every cell in the body. This energy production in the body mechanism is referred to as ‘metabolism’.
The gut not only is a conduit for passage of food and digestion, but it also participates in preventing the toxic and foreign substances from being absorbed through its efficient immune system. Healthy life and existence primarily depends on this mechanism.
The body organ, gut gets accustomed to a certain pattern of home cooked food. Enzymes too get familiar for better action on routine healthy diets. Changing your food pattern even once in a while, like eating in a restaurant or on holidays, may cause you discomfort such as stomach distension, gaseous feeling, nausea, or loose motions.
When these out of the routine patterns become more frequent, one could get conditions like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease to varying degrees. Eating inflammatory foods cause these disorders. The above disorders are referred to as inflammatory bowel diseases, (IBD).
Over a lifetime tonnes of food would have gone through your gut, processed in the small gut, and the gut seems to be one of the hardest working organs in the body working nonstop.
There are many defensive mechanisms in the gut to prevent absorption of toxic and unwanted food material. One such mechanism is the battalion of scattered policemen (lymphocytes) waiting to attack any offensive material. These policemen are in batches and they are specialised lymph tissue called Peyer’s patches. These patches are found throughout the ileum. They form an important part of the immune system, monitoring intestinal bacterial populations and preventing growth of diseases producing microbes and viruses, parasites, and even cancer cells.
Peyer’s patches are roughly egg-shaped lymphatic tissue nodules that are similar to lymph nodes in structure, except that they are not surrounded by a connective tissue capsule. They belong to a class of non-encapsulated lymphatic tissue known as lymphatic nodules, which include the tonsils and lymphatic tissue of the appendix..
Your gut is always bombarded with antigens, protein foreign bodies that may harm your body due to interactions with antibodies formed in the body to fight them. These patches are monitoring the gut for possible invaders, meaning antigens, or bacteria and once detected, they send out the defensive soldiers (B- cells) that manufacture defensive antibodies to counteract the offending antigens.
Gut flora (microbiota)
There are over 100 trillion bacterial flora present in the small and large gut beneficial to the human body.Gut microorganisms benefit the host by collecting the energy from the fermentation of undigested carbohydrates and subsequently absorption of short-chain fatty acids (Wikipedia).
These microorganisms co-exist in the gut in a harmless way. They produce a host of useful functions, such as fermenting unused energy produced by a biochemical reaction, training the immune system mentioned above, preventing growth of harmful, bacteria, regulating the development of the gut, producing vitamins for the host, such as biotin and vitamin K, and producing hormones to direct the host to store fats (Wikipedia). Some of these microorganisms are capable of causing diseases by producing infection or increasing cancer risk for the host.
Protection against harmful bacterial agents is ensured by many other factors, including saliva, gastric acid, peristalsis (movement of gut), mucus, intestinal proteolysis, in addition to the beneficial functions of the gut flora.
Specialised fat cells
As mentioned before, inflammation is the key factor that causes most disabilities in the gut. Fortunately, there are mechanisms to overcome inflammatory attacks on the gut. One such way comes in the form of specialised fats in the gut. These fats include omega 3 fatty acids from fish, flaxseed and walnuts. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) from borage and primrose oil, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), found in grass-fed game meat, and medium chain triglycerides, found in coconut oil. These ant-inflammatory fatty acids block the production of Substance P, a chemical produced in the brain that promotes pain and inflammation. This is a neuro peptide, closely related to neurokinin A. Substance P is released from the terminals of specific sensory nerves found in the brain and spinal cord, and it is associated with inflammatory processes and pain Studies on coconut oil have been found that the oil benefits certain inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. The oil also has anti-microbial properties beneficial in controlling inflammatory diseases caused by them.
There are certain gut disabilities, for instance –irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causing abdominal pain, inconsistent or excessive bowel movements and even psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
Without giving medicine to relieve the symptoms, it has been observed that a dietary approach may work well for most patients having this malady. This is known as Low FODMAP Diet which has been found to diminish the functional gut disorder symptoms in most patients.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols.
These short chain carbohydrates are incompletely absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and can be easily fermented by gut bacteria. These sugars also exert an osmotic effect (drawing water in) caused by these undigested sugars and this causes the bowel symptoms of IBS.
There are many healthy foods, included in this list. Lactose from dairy products which is a disaccharide sugar found in milk and to a lesser extent in dairy products. It is derived from galactose and glucose that is found in milk, fructose found in certain fruit, coconut products, sweeteners, fructans from fibrous vegetables, polyols from fruit, and sugar alcohols.
The people with IBS and other gut disorders like Crohn’s disease may experience difficulty in digesting such foods.
Most people do not have gut disorders and they are lucky enough to eat whatever they want. They would suffer from temporary gut disabilities when the diet changes temporarily.
If you have a gut disability, you need to check your food and eliminate those that give you the problems.