Gut feeling key to healthy living

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux
Imagine our not needing a medicine cabinet or any of the medicines contained in it, because our body has a built-in medicine cabinet. Better still, we have something more potent than the medicines from a medicine cabinet, since our body was designed with its own immune system that cripples, disables and destroys all foreign, harmful microbes.
It is marvelous that our body is loaded with myriads of good microbes that enable us to breathe, eat, drink, digest, grow and execute every imaginable physical, emotional and mind-boggling intellectual feat. Standing astride the entire universe itself, we humans are the crown jewels, the very masterpieces of all creation after the dazzling angels in heaven.
So small that they are detectable only through ultrapowerful microscopes, one hand can hold more microbes than the number of people on earth. Our stomach alone contains untold trillions of both good and bad bacteria. It is up to us to determine whether the good or bad bacteria will be the stronger and will prevail in our life-and-death health struggle.
We talk about a content stomach. But we also speak about the unmentionables: loose or constipated bowels, irregularity, irritable bowel syndrome or stomach ache. It is no wonder that we address the unmentionables often, since many of our pains, feelings of discomfort, funk, dreariness and lack of energy begin in our afflicted bowels. To our joy, feelings of comfort, well-being, abundant energy and joie de vivre also begin in our bowels.  It takes very little imagination to understand that our digestive system is the keeper of health. Take a good look at yourself several times every day. Do you look run-down, overweight, sluggish and aging beyond your years? Or do you see a vibrant, alive, interested and interesting human being ready for all challenges?
At first, it sounds strange that 70-80 percent of our immune system is situated in our bowels. But, outnumbering the cells in our body 10 to one, some 100 trillion bacteria thrive in our digestive system. We also understand that we must avoid eating foods that promote the growth of bacteria that create unhealthy metabolites.
When Napoleon Bonaparte said, “An army marches on its stomach,” he obviously meant that an army without food supplies will perish. But little did he know that there is an additional meaning whose earthiness and yet profundity is mind-bending.
The amazing implications of this one fact are so astounding that they deserve our rapt attention every day, every hour. It is not just an army that marches on its stomach. It is all of us human beings without exception who are so dependent on our stomach that we simply must control the good things as well as the bad that transpire inside our bowels.
In a word, for better or for worse, we eat the foods that we do and drink the liquids that we ingest. I am sure that you get the picture already, because, before I write another word, you are already boarding the train on a guilt trip or you are congratulating yourself.
“Trash in, trash out,” is true not only of a computer but of our body as well. How can we possibly expect to reap positive outcomes if we constantly fill our stomachs with junk?
The first contraband food items that come to mind are the heavy meats, shellfish, cholesterol-laden catfish or red snapper, dairy products that taste so good but deposit plaque in our veins and arteries, and the garden-variety junk foods that feature the fats, salt and sugar to which most human beings have become unhealthily and dangerously addicted.
The old folks would sometimes say of someone, “He/she has a good constitution.” It is part of that perennial discussion, “Nature versus nurture.” A good constitution is what Mother Nature has given us through our genes. What we do with those genes is our choice in collaborating with our environment to enable our genes to be all they can be.
It is strictly up to you, whether you will strengthen or weaken your immune system by avoiding the murderers row menu just mentioned, or by ingesting the foods and drinks that enable intestinal cells’ antibodies to engage and kill all foreign bacteria and viruses.
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)