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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

The Human Body: A Galaxy of Interrelated Organ Systems

Sep 30, 2022 09:31AM ● By Alora Frederick
Earth is part of the solar system within the Milky Way galaxy. It’s common knowledge that each planet influences the others creating planetary harmony within the galaxy. Similarly, each human could be described as an individual galaxy consisting of inter-related organ systems. The human body has 11 systems that influence each other to create health and vitality. These systems include the cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal and urinary system.

Some of the organ systems have such an intimate relationship that hybridized words are used to describe the union of these two systems. For example, the word enteroendocrine describes the interplay between the intestinal tract (entero) and hormones (endocrine). Enteroendocrinecells are sprinkled throughout the intestinal tract and secrete a myriad of hormones in response to various stimuli derived from food consumption, such as the byproducts of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Nearly 100 million of these cells are regenerated every day.

Of the hormones released into the intestinal tract, some travel on to the pancreas to enhance insulin release, which will then go on to control blood sugar levels. Alterations in enteroendocrine cells is associated with blood sugar dysregulation seen in insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Other hormones released after a meal will induce satiety in the central nervous system. The feeling of satiety creates an inner calm and sense of safety for the nervous system, which may support lower levels of anxiety. This is partially why anxiety can be exacerbated when breakfast is skipped or too many hours have passed between meals during the day.

Beyond anxiety, other elements of the digestive system influence mental health. The gut-brain axis is a term coined to describe the two-way communication between the brain and the gut. What happens within the gut, also referred to as the microbiome, will directly influence the brain and, therefore, mental health. Individuals affected by depression are shown to have a higher prevalence of digestive and intestinal issues. Inflammation in the gut and inadequate levels of certain bacterial strains are two potential intestinal issues that influence depression. A fiber-rich, anti-inflammatory diet is the first aid to support intestinal health and consequently mental health.

Farther north in the digestive tract away from the intestines and into the stomach lies a surprising factor in cardiovascular health: stomach acid. Stomach acid is commonly vilified and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which stop stomach acid production, are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs. However, stomach acid is a vital component that affects many aspects of human health. In regard to cardiovascular health, betaine hydrochloride (HCL), or stomach acid, has the ability to break down homocysteine, which is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Some studies have shown that betaine HCl supplementation significantly lowers plasma levels of homocysteine. Supplementation of betaine HCl should be monitored by a health professional, especially if there is a history of acid reflux or stomach ulcers, or with the use of PPIs. If HCl supplementation is not a possibility, there are other strategies for increased HCl production. These include zinc intake via beef, nuts, seeds, beans, oysters, etc., ginger intake, sufficient protein intake, thoroughly chewed food and limited intake of refined carbohydrates. 

The organ systems are either subtly connected or overtly connected like a cascade of falling dominoes. The connections are often facilitated by cofactors or “helper molecules” that assist with biochemical processes that are imperative, not only for survival but for vitality and health. These “helper molecules” are acquired from nutrient-dense foods. Often the first domino is related to nutrition and the digestive system, which is why nutrient-dense foods should be prioritized with an imbalance in any one of the organ systems.

Alora Frederick, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham, MA. She is currently accepting new patients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness for virtual nutrition appointments. Schedule a free, 15-minute introductory call at