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What does your gut say?

Did you know that:

  • The small intestine is about 22 feet (7 meters) long, and about an inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. Based on these measurements, you'd expect the surface area of the small intestine to be about 6 square feet (0.6 square m) — but it's actually around 2,700 square feet (250 square m), or about the size of a tennis court.

  • The small intestine has three features that increase its surface area. The walls of the intestine have folds, and also contain structures called villi, which are fingerlike projections of absorptive tissue. What's more, the villi are covered with microscopic projections called microvilli.

  • Your intestine harbors around 100 trillion bacteria of 400 different species

  • You feel hungry because your body receives signals that your cells need energy!

  • Constipation occurs in up to 20% of population, is more common in women and becomes more common as we get older *

  • The final part of the digestion, the transit through the colon, takes 30-40 hours *

  • The intestine can be regarded as a sensory organ as it sends messages to your brain.* The digestive system is home to up 100 million neurons. This is more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system

  • 95% of serotonin, the body’s feel good hormone, is produced in the gut

It is exciting that there is so much research being done on the gut-brain connection and how much of our mental health, as well as physical health, is driven by the microbiome that is present in our gastrointestinal tract. This information will serve us well and can (and should) inform our decisions in what we eat and what we feed our children.

As much as mainstream marketing likes to entice us with yummy pictures, catchy songs and photos of the convenience foods that you must have to make your life (and your taste buds) complete, that message is very far from the truth. What you put in your mouth and into your body, is so very important.

The foods you eat affect what types of bacteria can grow in your GI system. This is important because when there is a wide variety of healthy gut bacteria, our digestion performs the way it should, the proper neurotransmitters are produced and they can be efficiently used by the body. Some easy changes to make to start helping, healing and repopulating the gut flora are:

  • Have a glass of room temperature water first thing every morning

  • Eat more fiber every day. Increase your whole fruits and vegetables! Juices - even pure ones - don't count! Ground oat bran (start with 1-2 TBSP) or ground flax seeds are great ways to add in easy fiber.

  • Add in some live foods like the refrigerated sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, or pickled vegetables that have not been heated. If these foods are not your cup of tea, start out with small amounts every day and work up from there.

  • Add in a broad spectrum probiotic.

  • Keep your belly warm! Drink room temperature or warm water instead of ice water.

Chinese medicine believes that digestion is key to solving many of the body's ailments. All Chinese herbal formulas, no matter what they are treating, pay attention to how the herbs interact with each other and how they will affects the digestion. Digestion is also a huge priority and something we pay very close attention to at Little Owl Medicine in infants and children. Warming and easily digestible foods are highly recommended for baby's first foods and that continues for several years.

Some great first foods for infants according to Chinese Medicine are:

  • Steamed or baked sweet potatoes, yams and winter squash

  • Baked apples

  • Baked cherries

  • Bone broth

  • Rice congee with warming spices like cardamon and ginger

Pay attention to what you put into your body. It matters, and your mind and body will thank you!


* Doe-Young and Camilleri; Serotonin: A mediator of the gut-brain connection; American Journal of Gastroenterology; 2000

* Ahlman; The gut as the largest endocrine organ in the body; Annals of Oncology 12 (Suppl. 2): S63-S68, 2001.

* Thompson et al; Functional bowel disorders and functional abdominal pain; Gut; 1999

* Proano M, Camilleri M, Phillips SF, etc. Transit of solids through the human colon: regional quantification in the unprepared bowel. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 258:856, 1990

* NHS ( 11McKay LF, Eastwood MA, Brydon WG. Methane excretion in man - a study of breath, flatus and faeces.

* Gut 1985; 26:69-74, Levitt MD, Bond JH. Flatulence. Ann Rev Med 1980; 31:127-37

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