Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician made an insightful observation when he said that all disease starts in the gut. Although not completely true, he likely meant that if gut health is compromised, the risk of disease and disorder typically rises.

Most people refrain from talking about gastrointestinal (GI) problems, but studies show that a significant percentage of people will have GI distress or disease at some point in their lives. What does it mean to have a healthy gut? Many people associate the word gut with the stomach, but it includes the entire digestive system. Starting from the mouth down to the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. Each piece has a unique job that contributes gut health.

The lining of your digestive tract – like every surface of your body – is covered in microscopic creatures, mostly bacteria. They help break down and digest food, communicate with your immune system, and keep inflammation at bay. This microsystem, called a microbiome, plays a large role in your overall health.

Over the past 20 years, researchers have learned of the increasingly vital role bacteria play in the overall impact on your well-being. When an imbalance of gut bacteria occurs, it can affect your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestion. It may also help prevent cancers and autoimmune diseases.

Many facets of modern life such as high stress levels, too little sleep, eating processed and high-sugar foods, and taking antibiotics can all damage our gut microbiome. There are several ways an unhealthy gut might manifest itself, including: upset stomach, unintentional weight changes, sleep disturbances or constant fatigue, skin irritation, autoimmune conditions, and food intolerances.

The human gut is more complex than previously thought. The GI system is often more complex in women than it is in men. Female hormones are a factor as studies have shown that women often experience recurring GI symptoms related to their menstrual cycle. Women’s intestines are also longer than their male counterparts, and a woman’s GI organs are more crowded than a man’s because they must share space with reproductive organs. Women’s stomachs tend to process food more slowly than men’s, which may explain why women experience nausea and bloating more frequently. These physiological and hormonal differences make digestive health a challenge for many women and can leave women more susceptible to common digestive problems.

Many aspects of your general health mirror your gut health which is why it’s important to learn your risk for GI disorders and stick to a regular screening schedule to reduce your GI risk. Colonoscopy screenings should begin at the age of 45 for most. If you have a personal or family history of cancer or GI troubles, ask your doctor about when screenings should start.

Turning food into fuel for the body is a complex job done every day by your digestive system, but sometimes digestive disorders can impact quality of life. What’s upsetting your digestive system? Learn healthy tips and recipes to keep your digestive system working smoothly during a virtual session with Asyia Ahmad, MD, gastroenterologist, on Thursday, March 4 at noon. You’ll receive gut-friendly recipes too! Take control of your digestive health and register today. Visit:

Located in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia and a member of Tower Health, Chestnut Hill Hospital is a 148-bed, community-based, university-affiliated, teaching hospital committed to excellent patient-centered care. Chestnut Hill Hospital provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient, diagnostic and treatment services for people in northwest Philadelphia and eastern Montgomery County. With more than 300 board-certified physicians, Chestnut Hill Hospital’s specialties include minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgery, cardiology, gynecology, oncology, orthopedics, urology, family practice and internal medicine. Chestnut Hill Hospital is accredited by The Joint Commission and is affiliated with university-hospitals in Philadelphia for heart and stroke care and residency programs. For more information, visit