Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut.” He had a point. The digestive system (gut) is inextricably connected to all aspects of your body. When you have a cold or when you are stressed, you feel it not only in your head but also in your stomach.

It isn’t surprising then that one of the keys to overall wellness is a healthy digestive system.

The breakdown

The human digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal tract (the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus), liver, pancreas and gallbladder. The digestive system breaks down food into nutrients that the body then uses for energy, growth and cell repair. Eating right, avoiding stress and exercising can help achieve digestive wellness, but one thing that plays an even bigger role already lies in our gut.

"Patients with these illnesses, known collectively as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), do not benefit from all parts of microbiota."

Within the digestive system live more than about 100 trillion microorganisms, microbiota that play a key role in achieving digestive wellness. In a healthy digestive system, microbiota help promote normal gastrointestinal function, regulate our metabolism and protect us from infection.

Internal problems

Having an internal reservoir of wellness-boosting bacteria seems great, right? For most people, it is. However, for the 1.6 million people living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in the United States, it isn’t that simple.

Patients with these illnesses, known collectively as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), do not benefit from all parts of microbiota. Instead, their bodies perceive some parts of microbiota as alien invaders attacking the body. Subsequently, the digestive tract attacks itself, causing inflammation, debilitating abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, fever and weight loss. Unfortunately, the reasons why the immune system in those with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis fight microbiota are not clear.

Microbial factors

Researchers have already found significant differences in the intestinal bacteria of people with and without IBD. This means that, in the future, doctors may be able to identify microbiota that cause these diseases, identify ways to increase the good microbiota and reduce the bad and treat patients appropriately.

Researchers aren’t only committed to achieving digestive wellness for patients with IBD. They are determined to help the more than 60 million Americans living with digestive diseases every day find wellness. And if what Hippocrates said was true, those patients will find themselves feeling better in every aspect of their health.