Could your mind responsible for your bloating, reflux, and overall digestive discomfort?
There is a very good reason that the gut is often referred to as the 'second brain.' There are over 100 million neurons (cells responsible for processing and transmitting information) lining the digestive tract and more than five different pathways that link the digestive system to the brain. Science has proved that healing a troubled gut is almost impossible without factoring in the role of stress and emotion.
A good way to test this - you can do this right now, is to imagine a lemon. Picture the shape, the waxy texture, the bright yellow skin. Now visualise a sharp knife cutting the lemon into quarters, the juices and fresh citrus aroma travels through the air and up to your nose. Think about bringing one of the pieces to your mouth as the sour fruit touches your tongue. Is your mouth watering yet?
This is the perfect example of the brains influence on digestion. A visualisation like this is enough to stimulate gastric secretions - the very first stage of digestion. This, of course, goes both ways, as most of us know nothing quite affects our mood and stress levels like a painful, bloated belly.
Alzheimer's and Dementia
These are just a few mental health disorders that have been directly linked to digestive dysfunction.
Stress as the #1 culprit
Stress activates the fight or flight response which triggers physical changes in the body like, increased heart rate, a rise in cortisol, rapid breathing, increased muscle tension - think about a tight gripping or tension in the body. Stress has also been linked to a decrease in oxygenated blood flow to the stomach. All of these changes have a direct effect on the digestive system and may cause:
Increased stomach acid (a major cause of reflux and heartburn)
Diarrohea or Constipation
Changes or disruption to the gut microbiome
These symptoms if left untreated can lead to more serious digestive disorders such as IBS, Peptic Ulcers, Chrone's disease and Ulcerative colitis.
Heal your Mind, Heal your Body
I know it's not the advice most people want to hear because it means there is no quick fix. There is no pill, supplement or recipe that is going to change your emotional state, it takes commitment and dedication. It means cutting out of your life, that which does not serve you and doubling down on what does.
It means knowing what your triggers are and really learning how to feel and process your emotions so that you are not holding onto them leaving them to fester and create disease.
It means developing a loving and joyful relationship with your food. Learning to trust your body and its ability to ask for what it needs and metabolise what you offer it. So many people fear food and become anxious or stressed around mealtimes. This has a direct correlation with your body’s ability to efficiently digest and absorb nutrients. Practising mindfulness before and during mealtimes is a powerful way to prevent anxious eating and creates optimal conditions for nutrient assimilation.
Dieting and restricting calories generate subconscious fear and mistrust of your body, a feeling that it can’t do its job without our minds running the show. As a culture, we have lost touch with our bodies and their ability to speak to us and tell us what they need in order to feel nourished. We need to relearn the subtle language of our bodies and how they speak to us through hunger and cravings. Next time you eat a meal, ask yourself, am I actually hungry or is it just ‘time to eat?' Or what is my body craving? Rather than just reaching for something out of habit.
These are just a few of the ways you can begin to work with your body to heal your mind.
This the first stage of the healing journey and can be applied to all digestive disorders and symptoms. We can ALL benefit from these tools and learn to approach food and our body’s with more love and compassion.