Diary of a Student Nutritionist - Week 5 - Gastrointestinal Health

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

I have been waiting for this lecture since the course began 'Gastrointestinal Health'.

Having experienced my own gut health issues over the years and working with a small handful of nutritionists, it was great to learn why certain things were put in place. It was also great to know additional things that I would now do both for myself and my clients.

One thing that amazed me is how many conditions you would believe are unrelated to the gut that are actually due to problems in the digestive tract. Some of these examples included rosacea, which has a strong link to hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) and autoimmunity which is linked to intestinal permeability. Many symptoms and conditions are linked to what enters your gastrointestinal system in the first place and then what gets through your gastrointestinal system, some things want to get through into the body, others you do not.

We get told time and time again on the course is that health begins in the gut and this is very true. One reason for this is that you need your gastrointestinal system to be working optimally in order to break down your food, drink, supplements, etc and then to be able to absorb the nutrients from it for your body to work optimally. For example, if you have low stomach acid due to stress or medications then you will not be able to break down your food as efficiently, leading to nutrient deficiencies and symptoms such as gas, bloating and heartburn. As stomach acid is also a vital part of your immune system and keeps the bacteria in your gut in check, without it this can lead to things such as bacterial overgrowth and pathogens.

One of the biggest takeaways that I have gained from this lecture day was the importance of stress on the digestive tract and how it can cause issues from the mouth all the way through.

When you are in a state of stress the body is directing a lot of its energy to the major organs and muscles i.e. the heart and the brain, away from the digestive system. This is because we have not evolved very much over the last 1000 years from a time when we would have had to fight or run for our lives due to a tribal attack, predator, famine, etc. When you are about to fight for your life, you are not going to sit down and tuck into a jacket potato. Our bodies are still operating in this way today but instead of life-threatening situations, our bodies are reacting to modern-day life stresses, such as your morning alarm going off, too many emails, deadlines, to-do lists, etc.

When the body experiences stress and blood is pumped away from the digestive system, it has less energy to work efficiently. For some people, it will work more slowly and for others will remove everything as fast as possible making them lighter to run. Therefore, some people will get bloating and constipation as the gastrointestinal system is working very slowly or others might experience vomiting or diarrhoea as the body lets everything go. This is not so good when you go on holiday and are unable to go to the toilet for a week or if you are in a job interview and your gut decides to evacuate everything.

Therefore it is really important to work on your stress levels especially just before and after you eat. An extra tip is also to think about what you are going to eat and smell what you are going to eat before you eat it. This is because our bodies are clever little machines and it gives your body clues as to which it needs to prepare for, in order to digest it, e.g. salivation, intestinal motility, insulin release, etc.

Throughout the day we went through a number of other symptoms, conditions such as Crohn's and GORD as well as a range of supplements, diets and tests that we can use with clients to help support their gastrointestinal symptoms. It really has made me very excited to test out some of the ideas on myself and to be able to help my future clients.

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