Step 4: Release Stress and Embrace Good Health
Learn how can we RELEASE stress to enjoy a healthier life.
One of the biggest causes of leaky gut is emotional and mental stress. Mental strain and anxiety wear down the kidneys, adrenal glands, and thyroid, which leads to a system dysbiosis.
Our gut is often called our second brain. To begin to think of the connection between our brain and gut, think about...
- Your gut instincts
- Butterflies you get in your stomach when you’re nervous
- Diarrhea from being anxious or having anxiety
- Can a job interview or speaking engagement give you stomach cramps?
We feel the physical symptoms of stress because your nervous system and digestive system are intertwined. The more stress you put yourself under, the more imbalance your system can become.
What is ENS?
ENS or enteric nervous system runs through our digestive system and has about 100 million neurons (fewer than the brain but more than the spine). ENS is directly connected to the brain through the vagus nerve. The job of the vagus nerve is to regulate homeostasis, heart rate, digestion, and breathing; reduces inflammation, and enhances mood. It also provides senses to the tongue for taste as well as regulates muscles in the neck that are needed for swallowing and speech. With regard to digestion, it stimulates the release of digestive enzymes, slows movement of the food out of the stomach, coordinates motility of the intestines, decreases inflammation and intestinal permeability, and enhances satiety.
In addition to stress, certain foods can trigger negative impacts inside your body. These include:
- Caffeine stimulates the adrenals and puts pressure on kidneys
- Alcohol is a depressant that can affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions and provoke anxiety
- Sugar create swings in blood sugar and mood swings
- Highly processed carbohydrates found in breakfast cereals and “healthy” nutrition bars can quickly turn into sugar and overstress the body
Brain - Gut Connection
Our brain talks to our gut; our gut talks to our brain. This is a two-way communication system which controls much of our digestive and mental health. 90% of the communication is from the gut to the brain and 10% is from the brain to the gut. When our behavior changes, our brain sends a message that changes our gut bacteria, causing low-grade inflammation and possibly GI distress. Similarly, if we have dysbiosis in our gut, it can lead to behavioral changes.
The Relationship between Mental Health and Gut Dysbiosis
There is a high incidence of people who have mental health issues that also have digestive issues. Leaky gut increases the incidence of all sorts of mental dysfunction including depression, fatigue, confusion, poor memory, and more. 70-90% of people who have IBS also experience some sort of mood or anxiety disorder, including schizophrenia, depression, and panic disorder. It’s estimated that ⅔ of adults and children on the autism spectrum also have GI dysfunction.
Rest and Digest System for Gut Balance
How can we combat stress? Use the Rest and Digest system which includes the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous System.
The nervous system, like the rest of the body, needs balance. The sympathetic “on-the-go”, “fight or flight” response is where our activity originates. The parasympathetic “chill out” system houses the vagus nerve. When we’re experiencing stress such as eating on the run, driving through traffic, or are feeling fearful, anxious, or worried, our digestive capacity is reduced. The sympathetic nerves slow down GI secretions and motility. In extreme stress, they shut down digestion.
Conversely, when we feel relaxed, our parasympathetic nervous system signals gut secretions and peristalsis, and digestion works easily. Stress and emotions play a major role in many digestive problems, such as ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Mindful eating practices help with rest and digest:
- Sit down and eat at the table
- Turn off the tv and put away electronics
- Slow down: Eat with your non-dominant hand (takes 15 minutes for your brain to catch up with your stomach)
- Chew thoroughly
- Smell and taste, savor your food
Foods that promote healing for a stressed system:
- Foods high in B12 (grass-fed beef, salmon, green leafy vegetables) help regulate mood
- Fermented foods
- Dark-colored foods like purple, black, blue colored veggies and fruits such as red cabbage, plums, blueberries, eggplant, have anthocyanins that soothe the gut
- Foods high in magnesium (nuts, avocado, sea vegetables) calm the nerves
- Nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest and have healing qualities (coconut, olives, avocado, cruciferous vegetables, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds
Not sure where to start? Looking for a health coach to guide you along your health journey? To find out more and receive personal guidance on restoring your gut health, check out my Gut Restore program or schedule your complimentary phone consultation with Emilie by clicking below!