Stay in the Wellness Loop | Health and Wellness Articles
Most healthy individuals can go through their days without any thought given to their digestive system. Most of us do not realize the complicated information exchange that is going on throughout each day. This communication is constant. Even something as simple as hunger is a complex communication process by which if the stomach has not been given food in anumber of hours, our digestive system responds by producing a hormone to communicate through the vagus nerve to the brain at which time the brain then sends messages throughout the body to result in the sensation of hunger. We can become tired, weak, not concentrate as well, have an empty and growling feeling in the stomach, and be irritable. Once we eat something another hormone is released to signal the brain to be sensitive to being full so that we will stop eating. All this is going on without much conscious awareness or thought about it and this is just the basics of everyday food intake alerts. Let’s take a moment to think about what else our gut can tell us and how we can listen in order to maximize our health.
From a very physical standpoint, any digestive symptom or gut reaction is a jewel of information that we can use to learn what is out of balance in the workings of our gut. Taking time to think about when your body has certain reactions to foods and writing these things down to then discuss with your health care practitioner, can be extremely valuable in finding the imbalance. Symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, phlegm production post meal, burning, pressure or full feeling in the stomach, abdominal bloating, frequency and consistency of bowel movements, can all be messages to help figure out which parts of the system are out of balance.
Our gut is also in constant relationship with our environment inside the body and outside the body. When we are stressed and our nervous system is in its sympathetic mode, the digestive system is not able to digest food well because the body needs to be focused on other systems in order to handle the stress. We digest well when our nervous systems are in parasympathetic mode and we are in a more relaxed state where the digestive system kicks into action to be able to digest. Thus the need to make sure that when we eat, we take time to sit and acknowledge our food and breath and chew. We should avoid screen time while we eat. Eat with mindfulness so that we can enjoy the food, digest it well and have a sensation of how our bodies are responding to the food we are eating. This will also help us clue into the sensation of being full so that we will not overeat.
Another way our gut relates to the environment is through our stress response. Many people have lose bowel movements before an exam or constipated when traveling and not in their own homes. We exhibit nausea and lack of appetite with worry. We get “butterflies” with excitement. And if we are mindful and aware, we can use our gut as a guide for decision making, by utilizing our “gut feeling”.
I recommend that we all take some time to be still and start to connect with our gut. If we are still and clear, we can listen to our guts better. Digestive reactions and sensations can all be messages that help to guide us in making better choices on how we eat and how we treat our digestive system. Also things like “butterflies”, “gut feelings”, and “nervous stomachs” are so valuable in helping us respond to our environment and make changes where needed. Once we take some time to observe how our gut is doing, we can share this information with a Naturopathic Doctor or other health care practitioner to make a plan to deal with the physical picture as well as lend tools to help further understand how stress may be affecting our digestion and general health. So if the gut is talking, and it is, listen and respond wisely for better health.
Eat with mindfulness so that we can enjoy the food, digest it well and have a sensation of how our bodies are responding to the food we are eating.
Kathleen Mercer B.Sc. ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
Health For Life