Your Digestive Forest: Seeing the Forest & the Trees.

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By Amy Punke

Ever wondered where the old adage, "I feel like I was punched in the gut" or, "trust your gut instinct" comes from? If you have ever visited a naturopathic doctor you will know that we ask A LOT of questions about your digestive system: "Do you have a lot of gas, bloating and/or pain" and everyone's favorite, "How are your bowel movements". But why is the gut so important?

Our digestive system does a lot more than just digest our food. A lot of research is emerging that actually proves the gut has a mind of its own, so much so that it is commonly referred to as "the second brain".  Just like the larger brain in our head, the system in our gut sends and receives messages to the rest of our body, records experiences and responds to emotions. The gut can upset the brain just as the brain can upset the gut. This phenomenon is commonly seen in those suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).  As I see in my practice, if I work on digestive health with a patient, mental health always improves, and vice versa.

And that's not all. The surface of our gut is the physical barrier between our inside environment and our outside environment. It’s highly specialized to absorb nutrients from the food we eat while keeping foreign substances out; an important interface in our body that is often overlooked. In fact, 70-80 per cent of our immune system lives in our gut. Let me say that again, 70-80 per cent! The direct interaction of our gut with our environment makes it imperative that our gut barrier functions properly to selectively absorb what is beneficial to our body while keeping harmful substances out. 

The health of this gut barrier is greatly determined by the quality and quantity of flora (a collection of microscopic organisms, such as bacteria) that live in our gut. Each person's flora is unique, and as a colleague of mine refers to it as our "digestive forest".  As in any forest, your digestive forest is a delicate ecosystem that must remain in balance to keep you healthy and strong. The flora in our gut can weigh up to three to five pounds and has been shown to be directly linked to mental health (including depression and anxiety), behavioral issues (ADHD and autism) allergies, and autoimmune conditions.

Things that may upset this balance are: heavily processed foods (i.e., packaged and pre-prepared food), certain medications (antibiotics, Ibuprofen, birth control pill, etc.) , alcohol, aging and stress, to name a few.

As you can see , I can't stress enough how our overall physical and mental health is dependent on our gut health. Over the next several articles I will be discussing each of these topics in greater detail. To optimize your own personal health, gut health must be made a priority, both for healing as well as prevention. For today, here's  my top suggestion to support gut health:

Eat fermented foods and probiotics: consume probiotics, such as those naturally occurring in fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir and miso) and through a high quality supplement. Probiotics introduce healthy bacteria into the gut, helping to maintain its natural balance of gut flora.

As Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine said, over 2000 years ago, "all disease begins in the gut". We can no longer ignore the connection between our digestive system and our mental, physical and emotional health. Health promotion and disease prevention truly begins in the gut.


Dr. Amy Punké, ND, has a naturopathic practice at Whole Self Wellness Centre, 106 Stellarton Rd., New Glasgow (above Healthy Selection). Visit or call 902-755-1210.


Organizations: Whole Self Wellness Centre

Geographic location: Stellarton, New Glasgow

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