Gut check: How to avoid digestive issues this Thanksgiving

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Most people think the gastrointestinal system is simply the body’s digestive and waste-disposal mechanism. However, this system is far more complicated and plays a huge role in maintaining good health.

The millions of microbes living in our gut have a job: To stimulate immune cells to form antibodies to defend the body against harmful bacteria and organisms, also known as antigens. The intestines contain more immune cells than the rest of the body combined, so if the good guys get overrun by the bad guys, you can bet everything is getting ready to rumble.

Here’s some information that will come as no surprise. Our gut requires healthy, clean food in order to produce good flora to drive our immune system and keep disease in check. Exposure to germs helps build our immune system, which is the underlying principle of how immunizations, or vaccines work in the body. The overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial products and our culture’s general obsession with cleanliness can also inhibit the growth of good flora in the gut, allowing the bad guys to get busy making you feel miserable. Mom was right – a little dirt don’t hurt.

Recent studies show that uncovering and understanding the role of microbes in the gut may lead to better treatments for many common health issues including autoimmune disorders, allergies, obesity, and depression. However, most digestive issues occur because the person is eating a diet high in fats and acidic in nature, has a bad flora balance (the war between the microbial states), or allergies or sensitivities.

Other digestive disorders may be driven by hormonal imbalances like testosterone deficiency, which depletes serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep, cognitive functions like memory and learning. It also plays a vital part in blood clotting - the first stage of wound healing. What most people don’t realize is that only 5 percent of serotonin is actually produced by the brain. The remainder is produced in the gut, which is why so many people with irritable bowel syndrome also experience depression. Medications like oral contraceptives, opiates, and anti-depressants can also lower testosterone and inhibit serotonin uptake by the brain.

As we're exposed to more environmental contaminants and chemical additives in food, we're seeing more and more people developing allergies or sensitivities to substances like lactose or gluten. Many people cannot absorb nutrients properly because irritants overwhelm good gut flora and the immune system, allowing inflammation to begin simmering, trying to decide exactly how to cook your goose.

Chronic inflammation (think of it as the gut wound that doesn’t heal) is linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

While researchers continue to explore how hormones and microbes work with the immune system and devise treatments that can potentially prevent disease before it begins – your diet and nutrition are still the biggest boosters you can give to your gut and immune system.

You're in control. Eat well; feel better. Feel better; live better.

Dr. Angela DeRosa is a nationally recognized expert in the field of Internal Medicine and Women's Health. DeRosa Medical has locations in Scottsdale, Sedona and Chandler. For more information, call 480-619-4097 or visit