You have heard of people having a “gut feeling”, right? Have you ever experienced “butterflies” in the stomach from a stressful situation? There is more to this connection between your brain and gut, than first thought. Recent research has shown that the brain affects your health and your gut affects your brain health and function, if the digestive system functions are out of balance and not operating optimally.
The impact of stress on the stomach goes far beyond indigestion, however. In recent years, doctors have uncovered a remarkably complex connection between the brain and the digestive system. The entire system is extremely sensitive to our moods. In fact, experts now see stress as a major player in effecting the digestive system functions resulting in a wide range of digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, and heartburn.
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of the Digestive System:
The human digestion system consists of the gastrointestinal tract plus the accessory organs of digestion which are the tongue, salivary glands, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. Digestion involves the breakdown of food into smaller and smaller components, until they can be absorbed and assimilated into the body.
. For more from Wikipedia on digestion, read here.
Neurons are cells found in your brain and central nervous system that tell your body how to behave. There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Interestingly, your gut contains 500 million neurons, which are connected to your brain through nerves in your nervous system.
Your gut and brain are also connected through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters produced in the brain control feelings and emotions. For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness and also helps control your body clock. Consider that 95% of the body’s serotonin, a hormone control hormone, is found in the digestive system, not the brain.
It Goes Both Ways
We can talk about “gut feelings,”. but few of us really appreciate the amazingly strong connections between the brain and the digestive system. The stomach and intestines actually have more nerve cells than the entire spinal cord, leading some experts to call the gut a “mini brain.”. A highway of nerves runs directly from the real brain to the digestive system, and messages flow in two directions. In times of stress, our bodies are designed to focus on the things that can help us stay alive. When our ancestors had to fight off animals for survival and kill for food, they didn’t want to waste any energy on less important things like proper digestion.
When the brain feels severely stressed, it unleashes a cascade of hormones that can put the whole digestive system in an uproar. The hormones have different and sometimes contradictory jobs. The gut-brain connection is discussed the Harvard Health Medical School report where they stressed the importance keeping both the gut and the brain health,
Pay attention to the gut-brain connection, it may contribute to your anxiety and digestive problems.
For example, the hormone CRH, or corticotropin-releasing hormone, is one of the body’s main alarm bells. In stressful situations, the brain pumps out CRH to tell the adrenal gland to start making steroids and adrenaline, chemicals that can give you the strength and energy to run or fight your way out of trouble.
CRH also turns off appetite, which explains why some people can’t eat anything when they’re stressed. At the same time, the steroids triggered by CRH can make a person hungry, which is why some people fight stress with ice cream, chocolate, or potato chips.
Clearly, different people have different responses to stress, and there’s no way to say for sure how specific situations will affect digestion. But there are some general rules of thumb. Over the short term, stress can cause stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea. In the long term, prolonged stress can aggravate chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and acid reflux (heartburn).
Stress is especially troubling for people who have digestive problems without any clear physical cause. In these cases, every part of the system looks healthy and normal, but they still don’t work as they are designed to. These disorders are extremely sensitive to stress. They’re also extremely common. According to a report from the University of North Carolina School Of Medicine, roughly 25 million Americans have a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder.
The classic example of a functional GI disorder is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a very common and perplexing malady often characterized by painful cramps, bloating, and constipation alternating with diarrhea. The National Institutes of Health estimates that as many as one in five Americans has some signs of IBS.
Nobody knows how IBS begins, but there’s no doubt that stress can worsen symptoms. For one thing, stress can make the colon contract, leading to stomach pain. It’s not completely clear why people with IBS sometimes become constipated. One possibility is that stress can occasionally make the contractions uncoordinated and unproductive. Stress can also make the mind more aware of sensations in the colon, and since people with IBS may feel more discomfort due to extra-sensitive pain receptors in the gastrointestinal tract, even normal contractions can feel really unpleasant. IBS can flare up over everyday occurences, especially those that make a person feel tense, angry, or overwhelmed. The National Institutes Of Health study referenced about concluded the following:
The modulation of the brain-gut axis is being seen as an attractive target for the development of novel treatments for a wide variety of disorder. However, the cornerstone of its therapy is a solid patient physician relationship. There are no recommendations for prevention for IBS.
Indigestion is the second most common functioning disorder, after IBS. All the symptoms of indigestion tend to worsen in times of stress. Usually, however, the symptoms of indigestion fade once a person has an opportunity to relax.
Running a close second to indigestion, according to studies, is heartburn. There are many causes of heartburn, but researchers have proposed that stress can elevate the stomach’s production of acid or make the esophagus extra-sensitive to pain.
It’s now known that most ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection., but studies have also shown what actually occurs is that stress may actually promote the infection’s ability to flourish and take hold in the stomach, by disturbing the stomach’s delicate balance of acid and protective enzymes, making it more vulnerable to developing ulcers. A Mayo Clinic review confirmed that H Pylori infection in the stomach is mostly the cause for development of peptic ulcers.
A common cause of peptic ulcers, H. pylori infection may be present in more than half the people in the world.
Your gut-brain relationship is also connected through the immune system. Gut microbes play an important role in your immune system and inflammation by controlling what is passed into the body and what is excreted. If your immune system is switched on for too long, it can lead to inflammation, which is associated with a number of brain disorders like depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Promote Better Digestion
Your digestive health is directly impacted by the foods you eat and the lifestyle you live. By taking steps to improve your digestive health, you’ll help your digestive system to function more efficiently, improving your overall health and sense of well-being. There are some simple, every-day, things you can do to promote better digestion of the foods you eat as follows:
Consume A High-Fiber Diet. Consuming a diet that’s high in fiber and rich in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits can improve your digestive health. A high-fiber diet help to keep food moving through your digestive tract, making you less likely to get constipated, and, adding a high-fiber diet, can also help you prevent or treat various digestive conditions, such as diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In addition, it can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
Consume Soliable and Insoliable Fiber. It’s important to consume both types of fiber, since they help your digestive system in different ways. Insoluble fiber, also known as roughage, can’t be digested by the body and therefore helps add bulk to the stools. Soluble fiber draws in water and can help prevent stools that are too watery. Good sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains; get soluble fiber from oat bran, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Eat Less High Saturated Fats. In general, fatty foods tend to slow down the digestive process, making you more prone to constipation. It’s important to get some fat in your diet, preferably polyunsaturated fats. A Harvard Medical study found that it’s best to
avoid the trans fats, limit the saturated fats, and replace with essential polyunsaturated fats.
So pairing fatty foods with high-fiber foods can make them easier on your digestive system. Both high-fat and fried food can overwhelm the stomach, resulting in acid re-flux and heartburn. Your body can only handle so much at one time.
Eat Less Fast Foods. The average American family now spends half of their food budget on fast, or restaurant foods. Most fast foods are loaded with carbohydrates, with little or no fiber. The carbs are released as glucose in your bloodstream, increasing your blood sugar level. These repeated spikes in blood sugar causes your body’s insulin response to falter, increasing your risk to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain. A recent Harvard T. H. Chan School Of Public Health study recommended limiting sugared beverages, refined grains, potatoes, fatty red and processed meats, and other highly processed foods, such as fast food.
Choose Lean Meats and Fish. Protein is an essential part of a healthful diet, and necessary for the digestive system functions, but fatty cuts of meat, or grain-fed beef, can lead to uncomfortable and unhealthy digestion. The Harvard T. H. Chan study referenced above under Fast Foods said this:
Replacing fatty red and processed meat with nuts, beans, fish, or poultry seems to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
When you eat meat, select certified organic, non-GMO (non-genetically-modified), grass-fed, or free-range lean cuts, such as beef, pork, lamb loin, and skinless poultry. When you eat fish, select cold-water, or wild-caught fish and seafood, such as salmon, halibut, or tuna. For more information on these foods and where to purchase them, read this review, “What Is In Maca Root?“..
Healthy Options. You have trillions of good bacteria in your gut that help you digest food, and yogurt, which contains some types of these healthy bacteria, although not all yogurts have them. It will be noted on the label as live and active bacterial cultures. Yogurt has bacteria, which replenishes the normal flora within the gastrointestinal tract so it remains healthy.
Kimchi is a Korean fermented-favorite usually made with cabbage, radish, or onion, along with lots of spices. The main ingredient is usually cabbage, which promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon. And cabbage is a type of fiber that’s not digested, so it helps eliminate waste, keeping bowel movements regular. Sauerkraut is good for the same reasons.
Fiber keeps things moving through your digestive system and out, and there’s where prunes come in. Otherwise, your colon is stuck with unhealthy toxins that can build up and your body then begins reabsorbing toxins, hormones and other substances.
Experimenting with various whole-grains is a good idea, whether you’re gluten-intolerant, or not. Quinoa is an excellent option. This gluten-free grain is a complete protein, meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids, which your body can’t produce and has to be obtained from food sources. It’s also fiber-rich and bursting with minerals.
Sometimes your GI tract just needs a break. Fermented foods are the solution. Fermenting or culturing makes food more digestible by actually ‘predigesting’ food for you. Fermenting also increases our absorption of the other nutrients in the food. Sourdough bread, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, tempeh and Japanese tamari or soy sauce are all easy-to-digest fermented foods.
Add Probiotics Foods. Probiotics are the same kind of healthy bacteria naturally present in your digestive tract. Probiotics help keep the body healthy by combating the effects of a poor diet, antibiotics, and stress. In addition, probiotics can enhance nutrient absorption, may help break down lactose, strengthen your immune system, and possibly even help treat IBS. Recommended good sources of probiotics, are low-fat yogurt or kefir, or lentils, eaten on a regular basis. A word of caution on relying on over-the-counter probiotic supplements, however. Dr. Linda A. Lee, a Johns Hopkins Gastroenterologist, recommends,
Probiotics may help some people who have diarrhea when they take antibiotics, or women with bloating from irritable bowl syndrome. Unless your doctor says probiotics may help with a specific issue, a healthy diet is the best way to achieve optimal digestive health.
, Lee says.
Choose Prebiotic Foods Too. Bacteria multiply very quickly but require food once they reach the intestines. .Prebiotics help good bacteria thrive while driving down the number of disease-producing bacteria trying to invade the digestive tract. Fortunately, prebiotics are found in many foods, as naturally occurring prebiotics in onions, garlic, leeks, legumes, bananas, asparagus, sun chokes, and more. Use the same care in your prebiotic choice by using naturally occurring prebiotics foods and not prebiotics supplements.
Schedule Meals. Consuming your meals and snacks on a regular schedule can help keep your digestive system in top shape. Make it a point to sit down for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks around the same time each day. For snacks, foods like fruits, nuts, veggies, low-fat dairy products, and whole-grains, are filling and packed with nutrients, fiber, and protein, and they guard against sugar highs and lows, are the ones you should choose.
Hydrate Daily. Drinking plenty of filtered water, minimum of eight eight-ounce glasses of water, is good for your digestive health. That means no carbonated or sweet drinks. Fiber pulls water into the colon to create softer, bulkier stools, allowing them to be excreted more easily.
Limit Use Of Tobacco. Cigarettes can interfere with the functioning of your digestive system, and lead to problems like stomach ulcers and heartburn. Smoking weakens the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle between the esophagus and stomach. When the lower esophageal sphincter weakens, allowing stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus, or re-flux into the esophagus, causing heartburn and possibly damaging the lining of the esophagus. The National Institutes Of Health warns against against smoking ans tobacco use:
Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for gastrointestinal disorders, such as peptic ulcer, Crohn’s disease (CD), and several cancers.
Use Coffee and Caffeinated Drinks Moderately. Caffeine increases the production of stress hormones. Stress hormones, cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine, cause your heart to beat faster and give you a boost of energy. Blood supply to the intestines is decreased. Caffeine is acidic. It increases the acidity and amount of gastric secretions. As a result, irritation of the intestinal lining can occur. This can lead to upset stomach. Excessive amounts of caffeine can cause ulcers and gastritis. Caffeine can worsen symptoms if you have gastrointestinal problems such as IBS and Crohn’s disease. As a result, digestion can be slowed.
Drink Alcohol Moderately. Alcohol relaxes the body, but, unfortunately, it also relaxes the esophageal sphincter. This can lead to acid re-flux or heartburn, inflame the stomach lining, impairing certain enzymes and preventing nutrients from being absorbed. Moderation guidelines suggest no more than two drinks of alcohol a day for men and one for women. The Harvard T.H. Chan School Of Public Health in their article “Alcohol: Balancing the Risks and Benefits“, does a great job of weighing the pros and cons of drinking, stating that,
Moderate drinking can be healthy—but not for everyone. You must weigh the risks and benefits.
Get Moderate Exercise. Regular moderate exercise, at least thirty minutes a day, five days a week, helps keep foods moving through your digestive system, reducing constipation. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is good for your healthy digestion. Make it a routine to get some form of physical activity each and every day. Still not convinced? To learn more about the benefits of routine moderate exercise, for digestion and your overall health and well being, read this article “What Exercise Is About?“.
Be Mindful. Use whatever method that works for you to unwind and relax, be it meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or a walk in the woods. Too much stress or anxiety can cause your digestive system to go into overdrive. Find stress-reducing activities that you enjoy and practice them on a regular basis.
Supplement With An All-Natural Adaptogen Supplement
The many wide-ranging health and nutritious benefits of the all-natural organic Peruvian Maca are incredible, but, specifically, there are several which are directly related to optimum digestion.
For people with adrenal stress from work, disease, exercise or PTSD, maca can reduce the effects of cortisol on the adrenal glands and other organs so impacted by a “Type A”, high pressure lifestyle or job. Athletes, executives and anyone with an active life will appreciate how P maca helps address the destructive actions of mental, emotional and physical stress on the body. P Maca can help lower high blood pressure and how the body burns and utilizes food.
Maca also boosts the work your pancreas does in keeping your blood sugar levels even. The pancreas is a vital part of the digestive process. If the duct from the pancreas become blocked for some reason the digestive fluids of the pancreas may digest the pancreas itself, or lead to pancreatitis, or pancreatic cancer.
The Thyroid gland controls the rate at which the body produces energy from nutrients. P Maca contains an alkaloid extract which activates the body’s natural calcitonine hormones, which regulate the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. The hormone is secreted by the thyroid and the parathyroid. It acts in the intestines, bones, and kidneys to increase the release of calcium in blood plasma. It also aids in wound healing through blood clotting.
Read the following reviews for more in depth information on this amazing natural-healing Adaptogen:
Now that you have learned how to properly support the digestive system functions in your body for maintaining your overall health and well being, are you going to implement these supportive measures today? Hope you found this information helpful. Please leave your questions or comments below.