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Emergency Responders in the Gut

Lindsey Harding, ND

Mar 22, 2023

The gastrointestinal tract is exposed to pathogens & toxins, so what happens when the protective mechanisms that protect the body from these fails?

Our intestines are exposed to everything we eat and drink - good & bad, pesticides & herbicides, toxins & heavy metals. So the human body developed emergency responders and signaling pathways to keep the body safe from these harmful substances. From the acid in saliva & the stomach to the cells of the intestinal wall and the junctions between cells, everything has a defense system.

So what happens when the defense system fails? Infections, certain medications, severe stress, poor diet, and exposure to toxins that the body cannot properly detoxify all cause damage to the defense system of the gastrointestinal tract. The emergency responders within intestines pull the fire alarm and activate the immune system to ATTACK! Attack what? Sometimes, the attack is precise and cells attack a specific target, like a bacteria or virus. You might feel ill for a day or a few days, while the immune system kills and eliminates this enemy. Sometimes the attack is not precise and instead immune cells start to attack healthy or normal cells of the body. This is often the case from severe stress and exposure to toxins. If the system doesn't correct itself quickly, and the immune system continues to attack the body, autoimmune disease happens.

Acids created in the saliva and stomach kill certain pathogens, protecting the body from many infections. If acid levels are low, the gut environment becomes more alkaline, which is an environment pathogens often thrive in. Low acid also means the other emergency responders have to work harder to eliminate the pathogen that the acid could not.

If the digestive chemicals the body creates (digestive enzymes & acids) are insufficient, poor digestion occurs. Depending on what enzymes are lacking determines what symptoms develop. This leads to poor absorption of nutrients because they are not being broken down properly, and thus are harder to absorb. Nutrients are critical for the immune cells to function adequately. Low nutrient levels often yield a sluggish immune response. Now the body has more difficulty fighting an invading enemy and the enemy can do more damage.

Inflammation, microbiome markers, and digestive enzyme production can all be tested in the stool and is recommended for many patients experiencing gut symptoms that have not otherwise been explained.

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