by Sarah Corey
Stressed may be “desserts” spelled backwards but that doesn’t make it any easier that we are constantly surrounded by stress. Just being alive is a stress on our body. Pile on the unreasonably high levels of chronic stress many of us are under in our daily lives and this can start to reek havoc on our bodies. Science indicates that stress affects four major systems in the body, our digestion, our immune systems, hormones and our nervous system.
What exactly is the GI tract?
The gastro intestinal tract, aka the GI tract, is composed of the organs responsible for digestion, absorption and elimination of what we ingest. Put simply, your GI tract can be thought of as the area between where the food comes into your body to where it comes out, or as Dr. Holly lovingly refers to “The Hole”.
What does stress have to do with it?
You might be surprised to know that the GI tract is frequently referred to as the second brain due to the extensive network of neurons, over 100 million, that line the gut.
Stress has a number of effects on the body and within the GI tract. One area of key concern is that stress causes hyper permeability of all mucous membranes in the body, including that which lines your small and large intestine. What this means at a basic level, is things that should not normally stay within your intestines, such as undigested food particles and toxic waste products, are now able to leak out into your body, thus why we often call this phenomenon Leaky Gut Syndrome. Once these particles get out into your body, your immune system mounts a response and goes on “attack” trying to kill off all of these foreign substances. This response can take place anywhere in the body and often leads to body wide inflammation.
Signs that this might be going on for you:
As mentioned, leaky gut can manifest anywhere in the body so it looks different for everyone. One key way it manifests is gastric distress. So many of us have digestive discomfort such as gas, pain, and bloating after meals, we fail to realize that this isn’t part of our normal digestive processes, and might be a sign things a
In addition someone who is suffering from leaky gut may have symptoms of the following:
- joint pain
- skin rashes and acne
- seasonal allergies
- autoimmune conditions
- depression, ADD, ADHD & other mood disorders
- chronic fatigue
What to do about it:
As you can see from the large span of symptoms this manifests very different for each person. It is important that you work with a professional who will take a holistic look at your case in order to treat the whole picture.
In general, as we approach leaky gut, we want to reduce external stressors along with anything creating physiological stress in the body.
5 Quick tips to begin reducing stress in your digestion today:
- Avoid Sugar:
- Sugar and simple carbs (anything white such as muffins, cake, white bread, pasta) create a spike in your blood sugar, which leads to weight gain and increased inflammation in the body. These foods are major stressors in the body and should be avoided as much as possible.
- Avoid Gluten:
- If you’ve been to any grocery store lately then you’re most likely aware of the gluten free movement. To gluten or not to gluten is a big topic, and one will discuss more in the future. Gluten, a protein comprised of gliadin and glutenin, is found in wheat, wheat products, barley and rye. When ingested it can cause the intestinal cells to release zonulin, a protein that can actually start to break apart the tight junctions in the intestinal lining, which can actually be a cause of leaky gut. Gluten, like sugar is also a known inflammatory in the body and can create increased stress.
- Eat when you are calm:
- We often forget that meals used to be eaten around the kitchen table surrounded by family and friends. Meals were a time of socializing and connection and put our bodies into a loving relaxing state. In our modern society of go go go this practice has been lost for most of us. We are often eating while answering emails, driving to work or standing in front of the fridge. When we eat in this way, our body is in a stressed sympathetic state, known as fight or flight, which essentially shuts off our digestive abilities. You can vastly improve your ability to digest and absorb nutrients just by simply slowing yourself down and eating in a calm, non-distracted state.
i. Take your lunch outside and spend 15 minutes eating mindfully on a calm park bench
ii. Step away from your desk and your email or phone while you eat
iii. Do not eat while driving or being distracted with other high stress activities
iv. Bring back family dinner or, if you’re single, set the table nicely and enjoy a relaxing meal by yourself.
- Get a good nights rest:
- Sleep is the key time that your body goes through its cycle of cellular repair. When you consistently do not get at least 7 hours of sleep nightly, you do not allow the body proper time to rebuild, which is key for healing.
- You hear this over and over, but exercise is key for health! Exercise speeds up your digestion, increases blood flow to all organs, and can stimulate muscles in the GI tract – this is why sometimes after you go for a run you end up running straight to the rest room! Add in a 20-minute walk around the block at lunch or in the evening to both reduce stress and kick up your digestive abilities.