Why Is Gut Health So Important ? We asked Richard Burton CEO of The Irish Institute of Nutrition & Health

‘All disease begins in the gut’ 
by Richard Burton, CEO IIHN IRELAND

 Anyone who has explored the root causes of their illness will, at some point, have encountered these wise words of Hippocrates, widely regarded as the Father of Medicine. I help to train Nutritional Therapists to work with clients who present with a range of persistent health problems.

Investigation of background factors very often uncovers a history of chronic constipation or unstable bowel habits. And during recovery - from disorders of most types - improvement of bowel symptoms is regarded as a priority focus. Just a few decades back, the colon, or lower bowel, was still regarded as essentially a receptacle for indigestible matter, functioning to absorb water and eliminate waste. The huge bacterial population there flourished on undigested dietary fibre, forming the bulk required to create a healthy, daily bowel habit. A fibre-rich diet was regarded as the general solution to most colon health problems. But already in the 21st century, breakthrough gene technologies and big data have expanded scientific knowledge of the vital role of the colon and its microbial population light-years beyond the horizons of traditional understanding.

Accordingly, the world of health is now awash with novel terms - Probiotics, Prebiotics, Microbiome, Nutrigenomics, among many others. We are still in the early stages of a completely new conception of how diet interfaces with health and wellbeing – the notion of food as information, no longer simply as fuel, building materials, vitamins and minerals. What is becoming clear is that the trillions of microorganisms harboured by a healthy colon are - somehow - continually acting to provide information from the surrounding environment, via food, to our internal systems for adaptation and homeostasis. This ‘intelligent interface’ between bugs and body seems to be the immune system, which is doubtless why around 70% of the body’s immune system is found located in and around the colon. Beyond that, there is convincing evidence of a ‘gut-brain axis’, which would help explain, among other things, the often-seen link between chronic digestive problems and mental health issues. There is also evidence that many chronic metabolic diseases originate in the gut.

This relates to the different mix and overall diversity of gut bacteria residing in our colon, and also to the integrity of the gut lining. Studies have repeatedly shown that endotoxins - undesirable bacterial products - can leak through a damaged gut wall and enter the bloodstream. The immune system will then detect and attack these foreign substances, resulting in a chronic inflammatory response. This persistent, diet-derived inflammation is believed to contribute to insulin resistance (underlying type 2 diabetes), and has also been strongly linked to other serious physical and mental health disorders. From personal experience and the feedback of many clients I refer to colonic hydrotherapy, I know its potential as a powerful adjunct to healing – even a game changer – in many cases of chronic ill-health where colonic function is not optimal.

The standard of colonic hydrotherapy in Ireland is second to none, and I am delighted that Frances Flannery and her team at Dublin Vitality Centre continue to offer such an important service, along with vital practical information that her clients need to help restore and maintain their bowel health.

Richard Burton is CEO of the Irish Institute of Nutrition & Health. Founded in 2002, the Institute provides fully accredited part-time training programmes in Nutrition & Health Coaching, and Nutritional Therapy. Attendance, online and blended learning study options. (iinh.net)