My Ode to the GI Tract

11 06 2011

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Ladies and gentlemen.  You know what’s beautiful?  You know what the most elegant and delicate and precious organ system in your body is?

I didn’t think so.

Well, let me tell you: it’s your gut.

The GI tract has its own brain – one hundred million neurons!  Many more neurons than the spinal cord.  I’ve seen a segment of a GI tract excised from an animal, and it keeps contracting for hours!

The brain and the heart are pretty boss, but the brain only runs on glucose, and without the GI tract regularly taking up sugars, the brain has to start using ketone fuels that it does not like, so the GI tract can hold the brain hostage.  As for the heart, well, did you know that there is increasing evidence that keeping your teeth clean is the number one way to reduce heart disease?  Bad dental hygiene results in bacteria that gets into the blood via the gingiva in your mouth and travels directly to the heart where they just goes wild.  Didn’t know flossing mattered, eh?

Then there is the fact that the gut knows to not destroy all the bacteria that live in it, allowing for protective, commensal bacteria that prevent opportunistic infection and produce essential nutrients for us.  It is absolutely awe-inspiring how our regulatory T cells can identify this commensal bacteria via intracellular NOD receptors and suppress immune responses, thereby allowing for absorption of nutrients instead of constant, chronic inflammation as a side effect of relentlessly trying to destroy these good gut microbes!  Emaciation (i.e., abnormal thinness) can be a symptom in some HIV patients because they lose T cells in their gut that are regulatory, and thus the patients lose the ability to recognize what bacteria is safe and good for the body, so the body attacks these commensal bacteria and the result is an inability to absorb nutrients.

The gut is just beautiful: a selectively-permeable barrier that keeps us all alive.

This is without even mentioning how elegant the pancreas is.

Anyway, all this just because I wanted to say: Gastrointestinal Tract (I use full names when I’m being 100% serious), I love you.  I couldn’t live without you.

Cue music.


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