With Pride Inclusive Integrated Healthcare

How Mindfulness Can Help Your Gut  

10 October 2020

Written by

Sage King (she/her) 

Naturopath

Have you noticed changes to your digestive system since the COVID 19 pandemic has hit? Are you experiencing bloating, flatulence, reflux, or noticed changes to your bowel motions? So many of my new & existing clients have been increasingly experiencing gastrointestinal disturbances since COVID has significantly changed our lives. Did you know that your gut & your brain have a direct line of communication? Alterations to our brain influences our gastrointestinal function & vice versa. While there can be many causes for altered gastrointestinal function such as parasitic infections, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), excessive antibiotic use, some pharmaceutical medications, anxiety, depression, irritable bowel disease (IBD) & a diet high in refined sugars, processed foods, & alcohol, stress is most often a key driver in reducing gastrointestinal function.


Stress can be physical, mental, or emotional, & is either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). It can also be conscious or subconscious, where the “stress” is something that mentally or emotionally impacts your everyday life, or can be something that while doesn’t bother you, is impacting your life. Any of these scenarios will activate our sympathetic nervous system (SNS), or our "fight or flight" branch of our nervous system; getting us ready to run away from danger. Our blood flow redistributes from our gastrointestinal system to our arms, legs, increasing our heart rate & stress hormone production such as adrenaline & cortisol to help us run away from "danger" as fast as possible. This redistribution of blood flow away from our gastrointestinal system sees a reduction in our ability to produce sufficient hydrochloric acid & digestive enzymes for digestion. Without adequate digestive secretions, we cannot break down our food properly – resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms ranging from bloating, flatulence, & altered bowel function, to abdominal cramping & pain. If our digestive function is suboptimal for a prolonged period of time, we can start to see an increase in sensitivity to specific foods, or non-specific food sensitivities that you just can’t put your finger on.


So, how do we switch off our SNS & give our gastrointestinal system the support it needs for digestion?


For optimal digestive function, we want to activate our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) or our "rest & digest" branch of our central nervous system. Our PNS ensures we have optimal blood supply to our gastrointestinal system, as well as promotes optimal hydrochloric acid & digestive enzyme production & secretion, as well as slows down our heart & breathing rate.


You can activate your PNS a number of ways – yoga, meditation, tai-chi, walking in nature, singing, gargling. But the simplest of ways to activate your PNS & promote optimal digestion at meal times is by:


• Deep belly breathing before each meal - inhale for 3 long counts, exhale for 3 long counts. Repeat 3-5 times. This activates our PNS & primes our nervous & gastrointestinal systems right before our meal


• Practicing mindful eating – supports optimal digestion & involves thinking about what your food looks, smells, tastes like to promote our cephalic phase of digestion; as well as chewing & eating slowly without distraction. It is really important to sit down to eat, & be focused on your meal to optimise digestion. Eating on the run, or at the computer (which I too am guilty of - especially while we are all working from home at the moment) is distracting us from really taking notice of our meal; hindering our digestive processes


Food is meant to bring us enjoyment. It is meant to be shared with those that we love to not only fuel our bodies, but nourish our soul. If you are experiencing any gastrointestinal symptoms, the best place to start is by taking note of the way that you eat, assess if you’re eating mindfully, check in on your stress levels & aim to undertake an activity daily that brings you joy; activating your parasympathetic nervous system. By managing your stress, you can improve your digestive function, & sometimes alleviate some or all of your digestive symptoms. If you do this for 1-2 weeks & you don’t see an improvement in any of your symptoms, it is worth seeking Naturopathic assistance for further nutritional or herbal support, as well as further investigation to determine what the root cause of your symptoms are.  

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