14 Aug 2022

Healthy Living: The gut does far more than digest food

With Debbie Devane, The Nutri Coach

Healthy Living: The gut does far more than digest food

File photo

There is a lot of information out there around gut health at the moment and until recent years you may have been led to believe that the chief function of the gut is to digest food.

Well let me tell you there is so much more this amazing organ does, and this week I am going to cover just some of the functions of our gut.


Our environment is naturally filled with billions of bacteria. This bacterium plays a very important role in our overall health.

However, our body is not equipped to let any old bug from the outside world into our bloodstream.

Therefore, our gut contains a very sophisticated immune system to make sure that the bugs that we swallow and eat are not given free reign into our bloodstream.

The “good bacteria” in the gut works hard to keep our gut healthy and having plenty of the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut helps to keep the ‘bad’ bacteria in check.

When we have too much ‘bad’ bacteria, they smother the lining of your bowel so that the cells within the Peyer’s patches (immune cells) cannot perform their task of protecting you properly.

This may leave you more vulnerable to pathogens that you pick up from the environment and may find yourself getting sick more often than you’d like!

Good bacteria also ferment fibre and resistant starch to form a fatty acid called butyrate.

Butyrate increases blood flow to your gut wall, which is great for healing the gut. This fatty acid also provides essential energy to the cells that line your colon and is extremely important for the repair and growth of healthy colon cells.

This is one of the reasons why a diet high in resistant starch and fibre is associated with lower rates of colon cancer. (RS is any starch that is not digested in the small intestine but passes to the large bowel, think beans, peas, lentils, oats, barley)

How Immunity Works in Your Gut

Our gut contains roughly 70% of our immune system and keeping it healthy is a critical part of supporting immune function. Here's how it works: "There's tissue in our gut called the GALT tissue, (also known as gut-associated lymphoid tissue) and this is where all the immune cells reside. The GALT thinly lines the mucosal layer of your gut wall and acts as a ‘filter’ system for everything that travels through your gut and could be potentially absorbed into your bloodstream

The bacteria in the GALT are the "good" gut bacteria that help communicate to our immune system whether new things are foreign or not. The GALT tissue also houses the plasma cells that help produce antibodies, which fight infection.

The GALT is richly populated with special clusters of immune cells known as ‘Peyer’s Patches’. The role of the cells within these patches is to identify harmful bacteria within your gut, ensnare these potential pathogens and disarm them before they can enter your bloodstream.

These Peyer’s Patches also stimulate a chain of immune reactions that stop further movement of invading bacteria throughout your gut lining. So basically, this is our defence system to stop harmful bacteria from invading our bodies. So, you can see why it plays such an important role in maintaining good health.

Inflammation in Your Gut

A healthy gut flora has been shown to reduce inflammation, a key factor that is associated with many diseases. These include everything from the common cold, eczema, cardiovascular diseases, cognitive issues, arthritis and even cancer.

The Gut Is Your Second Brain!

Ever heard that saying “gut feeling” well read on to find out the connection! Our gut is full of nerves and neurotransmitters that form a neural network called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The ENS is wired directly to the brain, hence why stress and anxiety can exert such a powerful effect on our digestion. There is a lot of research that shows just how complex the functions of the enteric nervous system are and the link between our gut and depression & anxiety. This may be due to the fact that our gut cells produce the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter, serotonin!

What Affects Our Gut Health?

There are many factors that affect our gut health, mainly antibiotic use, stress, certain medications, smoking and our diet.

While antibiotics are designed to kill pathogenic (bad) bacteria, they indiscriminately wipe out our good bacteria as well!

A diet high in non-organic foods that are heavily sprayed with Pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural chemicals as these have similar actions to antibiotics; after all, they are applied to kill bugs that attack plants.

Stress plays a role in gut health because stress causes a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach which may lead to an imbalance of gut bacteria.

Steps to Support Gut Health

PROBIOTICS: These restore the ‘good guys’ in our gut, especially if you’ve been through a recent round of antibiotics.

EAT ORGANIC: Avoid the pesticide sprays that kill off bugs on our plants… and in our gut! If you can’t eat organic all the time, make sure to wash all fruit and vegetables well.

USE ANTIBIOTICS AS A LAST RESORT: Antibiotics can be lifesaving in certain situations and if prescribed to you it’s important to take them, however, try and avoid unnecessary use of them and if you do take a course follow them with a good probiotic.

HYDRATION: Our bodies need to be hydrated to keep bad bacteria moving through our digestive tract to be easily eliminated.

GIVE YOURSELF DIGESTIVE REST: Our gut cannot rest and repair when we overeat or eat too often. Whilst there are many benefits to eating small, regular meals, try to avoid snacking constantly.

INCLUDED FERMENTED FOODS: eat a variety of fermented foods such as, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha and live yogurt.

EAT PLENTY OF FIBRE, RESISTANT STARCH AND PREBIOTICS: This is A-grade fuel for the friendly bacteria in your gut.

Do you have a nutrition question you would like answered or a topic you would like to see me cover? If so just pop me a message, contact details below.

Debbie Devane from The Nutri Coach is a qualified nutritionist and health coach, Debbie runs her clinic from the Glenard Clinic in Mountmellick, which is back up and running from June 3rd she also offers one to one and group online consultations. Debbie is also Nutritionist to the Offaly GAA senior footballers.

For more information or to make an appointment email Debbie at

Ph: 086-1720055

Facebook: The Nutri Coach @debbiedevanethenutricoach

Instagram: the_nutricoach

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