You’ve heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” Actually, “you are what you digest” is more accurate—and more critical, because digestion converts food into energy-producing nutrients that support and sustain your body.
Poor digestion can lead to gas, a heavy feeling and a build-up of digestive impurities. Ancient self care systems such as Ayurvedic medicine believe that the digestive system is the cornerstone of all health and that “constipation is the mother of all ills”.
Now modern research is proving that problems in the digestive tract can affect the entire body. What we know today is that the same toxins associated with gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction are frequently absorbed and distributed to other parts of the body. First they place a burden on the liver and the immune system. And if overload occurs, some will be passed on to other organs or tissues.
Often it’s the weak link in the system—the organ or tissue in the body that is most vulnerable—that will be damaged. This vulnerability may be inherited or caused by physical injury, toxic exposure or poor diet. If the sensitive system is the lungs, for example, toxins that originate in the gut and circulate in the bloodstream can manifest as asthma or allergies. Sooner or later, this toxic overload comes to the attention of the immune system, either leading to allergies or inflammation and its attendant pain and swelling, or some type of infection. The result is a domino effect.
“Upstream” activities in the GI tract and liver
Envision your body as a complete ecosystem with toxic wastes that must be processed to restore its pristine state. Imagine the liver as a toxic-waste disposal plant. It clears toxins by breaking them down, decreasing their toxicity, linking them to transport molecules, and dispatching them out in urine and stool. If we begin having problems with toxic overload in the liver, it’s essential to look at what is going on “upstream”—at the factors creating problems for the liver.
The first question: are excessive amounts of toxins being created in the gut? The gut is the starting place for major toxicity in the body because much of what goes through the gut is absorbed, whether by design, accident or pathology. Potential toxins includes:
- By-products of poorly digested food or chronic constipation (such as ammonia)
- Toxins produced by overgrowth of yeast, bacteria or invasive parasites (endotoxins such as alcohols and aldehydes)
- Chemical pollutants, pesticides and heavy metals in our food and water
Leaky gut syndrome can cause the absorption of this material, all of it potentially harmful and intended for disposal by the body. The by-products of these gut malfunctions are then passed on directly through the major blood vessels into the liver portal system. The result can be health consequences from the overload on the liver’s detox mechanisms, and toxic spillover can occur throughout the body.
“Downstream” effects of toxic overload
A bottleneck effect can occur if the liver is overburdened because of chronic or persistent toxicity beyond its detoxification capacity. The liver detox machinery may become stressed and compromised. It’s trying to do its job, but the process may be creating even more free radicals and even more toxic intermediate chemicals. This can lead to increased oxidative stress, impaired carbohydrate metabolism and increased immune activity and inflammation, among other problems.
In terms of the effects on cells and tissues, the body needs to remove these toxins from circulation—and if it can’t excrete them, it will store them. Chemicals and pesticides will typically be stored in fat, while heavy metals will be stored in protein tissue—in muscles, bones, cartilage and organ tissue such as the brain and the liver. Eventually some of these toxins are re-released and travel to the liver, which has to cope with them all over again. The liver either detoxifies them or re-circulates them, which can cause even more damage as they move through the system and then get re-deposited. The increasing accumulation of toxins can cause extensive cellular damage.
Ten possible symptoms to watch out for
Digestive overload can manifest in any number of ways throughout the body, including the following:
- A compromised immune system, which results in less resistance to infection, autoimmune disorders, allergies, sensitivities, colds and flu, bronchitis, sinus infections and chemical sensitivity
- Problems in the muscles and joints from aches and swelling to pain or arthritis
- Skin disorders, including acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and urticaria
- Consequences to the central nervous system and brain function: mild problems including difficulty with concentration and memory, coordination, headaches or migraines, attention deficit disorder, and in severe cases, symptoms that resemble autism
- Circulation of chemical toxins, causing more serious neurological symptoms ranging from seizure disorders to damage of the nervous system
- Decrease in hormone production caused by toxins in the body
- Liver damage, with compromised detox functions, possible hypoglycemia and mood swings
- Specific conditions such as arthritis, asthma or allergies that can result from the constant circulation of toxins (This can be due to toxins that compromise the immune system, causing inflammation or aggravating existing conditions. The toxins stimulate the release of an immune response with biochemicals that can set in motion a full-blown reaction.)