Stress & Digestion

Stress & Digestion

Digestion

Have you ever struggled with digestive issues like:

  • excessive fullness
  • acid reflux
  • burping
  • cramps
  • bloating / gas

Within a couple hours of eating a meal?

Digestion is a complex process, but stress can have a big impact on it! Luckily it’s one area that’s pretty easy to actively work on improving.

Digestion starts in the brain, triggering the digestive process to get started. We need to be in a relaxed mode in order to digest our food. So if you’re still in an energetic or stress mode this isn’t going to happen!

Our nervous system has two different states. The sympathetic state, commonly called “fight or flight” is our more energetic, active state. It’s when we’re reacting to things, being physically or mentally active, and also where our system is when we’re stressed. 

The second state is the parasympathetic state, or the “rest and digest” mode. This is where our body rests, recovers, and most importantly (for this blog post!) digests our food. We need to be calm and relaxed in order to be in this state, so you can see how significant this system is on our digestion!

If we’re consuming food but are not in the parasympathetic state, our body will give priority to other tasks before tackling digestion. 

Not only will stress cause our system to not be in the digestion state, but it can also decrease the level of acidity in our stomachs. Having a properly acidic stomach is incredibly important for effectively breaking down our food. This can lead to all of the digestive systems listed above. Plus it puts more burden on the rest of our digestive system to pick up the slack from the stomach.

 

So what can you do?

If you feel stressed or anxious before eating take a few minutes to do some deep breathing and relax your body. Even do a short mediation if you need it!

Don’t eat in front of a screen! Whether it’s the TV, your cell phone, or in front of your computer at work, these all trigger stress responses. Plus your brain won’t be fully registering that you’re eating and therefore not triggering your digestive system properly.

Stay away from stressful conversation at the table. Don’t “talk shop” with your colleagues over lunch or have hard conversations with your partner at dinner. Leave those topics for later!

Slooooow dooooown. Often we eat quickly when we’re stressed, and are therefore not chewing our food enough! Take a beat to count how many chews you do – I bet it’s less than 10! Try and aim for 20-30 chews per mouthful. It will feel tedious at first, but properly chewing our food is the first step of physical digestion and if you skip this part then the rest of your system has to pick up the slack.

 

Proper digestion is one of the foundation elements that I work with clients on. If you’re not digesting your food properly then even the most nutritious diet could be going to waste.

This is just scratching the surface of managing stress and improving your health.

If you’re ready to really invest in making changes, then send in your application now for a free breakthrough session!

Want to learn more about digestion? Check out these other blog posts!

Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

Digestion

So we’ve already talked about what proper digestion looks like. But with so many steps, and such a complex and interconnected process taking place, it means there are a lot of opportunities where something can go wrong. As I’ve said before, you can be eating the most nutritious diet, but if your digestion isn’t on point, those nutrients could be going to waste! Let’s take a look at some of the ways proper digestion can be compromised.

Some Basics:

Eating in the stress state

Digestion happens when our autonomic nervous system is in a parasympathetic state. This is the “rest and digest” mode when our system is calm, it can rest, repair, and of course, digest our food. In contrast, the sympathetic state, or “fight or flight” mode, is our stress state. Maybe you can already see where I’m going with this? If we are eating while feeling stressed our body won’t be in the right state to properly digest our food. Eating quickly, eating on the go, eating while multitasking (like at your desk, while working), can all disrupt your system from digesting properly.

What can you do?

Stop what you are doing, sit down, take a couple breaths, and eat in a relaxed environment – your body will thank you!

 

Not chewing your food sufficiently

Chewing is the key first step once the food enters our body, breaking it down and mixing it with saliva which starts the digestion process. If you aren’t taking the time to properly chew your food you are putting a lot of extra pressure on the rest of your digestive system to pick up the slack; the enzymes in your pancreas might not be able to complete the breakdown in the small intestine.

What can you do?

Take the time to properly chew your foods – think upwards of 30 chews per mouthful! Drink your solids and chew your liquids.

 


 

More Complex:

Having insufficient stomach acid

Some people might scoff at this one, considering how we all probably know someone who is often popping antacids. But did you know that a common cause of acid reflux is insufficient stomach acid? Let me explain… it’s not just about the quantity of acid in your stomach, but the level of acidity. Stress, excessive alcohol consumption, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and excessive carbohydrate consumption can all suppress your acid production. The stomach is churning and churning the chyme (what your food is called once it reaches your stomach for digestion) to try and acidify it and break it down – remember it aims to only releases the food into the small intestine once it reaches a sufficient acidity level. So if your food is hanging out in the stomach too long, in a nice warm environment, the carbs can start to ferment, the proteins can putrefy, and the fats can go rancid. This can cause gas build up and pressure on the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus – a recipe for acid reflux disaster!

The stomach also releases enzymes when food is present to aid in the chemical breakdown, but some of these, like the enzyme pepsin which breaks down protein, is only secreted when the acid level of the stomach is sufficiently low. Without pepsin, your protein won’t be broken down sufficiently, leaving the particles too big but also not making the nutrients available to your body for absorption. There are several vitamins and minerals that are absorbed in the stomach, but if the food isn’t properly broken down these won’t be made available.

Eventually, even if your chyme is not acidic enough, the stomach needs to make room for more food to be digested, so improperly broken down contents get passed into the small intestine. Now even though the chyme was not acidic enough by the stomach’s standards, it is still extremely acidic for your small intestine. With normal function the acidity of the food triggers the small intestine to secrete a protective mucous and the pancreas to release sodium bicarbonate which neutralizes the acidity. But if the chyme isn’t acidic enough, this trigger might not happen properly. The acid can burn the lining of the small intestine causing ulcers. Without the neutralizing process happening properly, the further breakdown or your food by pancreatic enzymes may also not take place.

 

Not consuming enough or improper fats

Healthy fats are a key component for the liver to produce quality bile and quality bile is needed to digest fats. It’s just one of many catch-22s within our body! If we don’t consume enough healthy fats, or over consume the unhealthy ones, our bile can become old and viscous, accumulating in the gallbladder and potentially causing gallstones. If this happens, when the gallbladder does try and release bile insufficient amounts will be released meaning the fats cannot be properly broken down and absorbed.

 

The gut lining can become leaky

With all of these issues potentially happening upstream, the result can be poorly digested food reaching the small intestine to be absorbed into our bloodstream. These food particles wreak havoc in your gut causing the gut lining to lose it selective permeability (aka. it’s ability to only allow certain things through to the bloodstream). The gut can become leaky and the undigested food gets through into the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response as your body will recognize these particles as foreign invaders.

 

Our gut bacteria can get thrown off balance

The large intestine has to deal with everything that is leftover from the digestion process. Of course, if everything is running smoothly, this isn’t a big deal. But if the earlier steps weren’t running optimally, it can mean poorly digested food coming in that could be full of parasites, microorganisms, and undigested fats that can throw off the balance of bacteria in your gut and weaken the cells of your colon. This could eventually lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, colitis, and celiac disease, just to name a few.

These are just some ways improper digestion can directly impact the organs of the digestive system. Poor digestion could be behind a whole host of other issues that you might not even think are related!

What can you do?

Don’t despair if you see some of yourself in the above descriptions. Nowadays digestive issues are all too common, but the great thing is that digestion is fundamental to our health, so if we can get it back on track the benefits can be truly profound. If you want to improve your digestion, the best thing to do is to discuss it with your doctor and work directly with a qualified professional like a Nutritional Therapy Consultant or Practitioner.

Nutrition 101 – Digestion Basics

Nutrition 101 – Digestion Basics

Digestion

Having a healthy digestive system is really the foundational aspect of health. You can eat all the amazing, nutritious food out there, but if you aren’t digesting those nutrients properly then you aren’t gaining any of their benefits! While studying to become a Nutritional Therapy Consultant, digestion was the first major process we covered, and throughout all the more advanced topics it’s also the process that you always come back to. Often just by working on improving your digestion you can already make major strides in bringing your body back into balance.

What does healthy digestion look like?

It starts in the Brain

The first, very important step of digestion actually starts in our brains! It’s the resulting chemical cascades as we start thinking about our meal. Our brain triggers the acid production to increase in our stomach (creating that “growling” you can experience) and you might already start salivating as your saliva glands get ready to start breaking down your food.

And then in the Mouth

Then we get into the actual eating! The first step of really digesting your food happens in your mouth. Your teeth, by chewing, already start breaking everything down in smaller bits that will be easier to digest further on in the process. Your saliva also contains digestive enzymes that begin the chemical breakdown of carbohydrates. Bet you didn’t know so much was going on in your mouth!

The Stomach gets involved

After you swallow, the food (now called the bolus) passes down your esophagus and into your stomach. Here your stomach acid is on deck to continue the chemical breakdown of your food. Your stomach acid, and specifically an enzyme called pepsin, is vital in proper digestion of proteins. The muscles of the stomach are churning the bolus, mixing it with the stomach acid to properly break down and acidify it.

Before moving to the Small Intestine

Once the bolus reaches the proper acidity, it is now called chyme, and it moves from the stomach into the first part of the small intestine. This entry signals our small intestine to secrete mucous and our pancreas to release sodium bicarbonate which alkalinizes the chyme (in other words, makes it less acidic). The presence of fats in the chyme triggers the gallbladder to release bile, which emulsifies and breaks down the fatty acids. Once the chyme is no longer acidic, the pancreas will release enzymes that finish the digestion of the carbohydrates, proteins, and fatty acids.

The chyme continues further on along the small intestines, and now that your food is properly broken down, little villi and microvilli (like little fingers lining the small intestines), begin to absorb the nutrients and pass them through your gut lining into the bloodstream.

And finally the Large Intestine

Eventually the remains pass into the large intestine, where the remaining water is recycled and waste products are used to nourish the microbiota of the large intestine. The remaining nutrients from your food are captured and your bowel flora also create some nutrients of their own for your body to use. Once this process is complete, what remains then passes out of the large intestines and, well, out of your body! (I think we all know this part of the process!).

So that is a brief overview of what healthy digestion looks like. But of course, as many of us have probably experienced, it is easier said than done; there are a lot of different ways our digestion can become suboptimal.

 

Up Next: When bad digestion happens to good people…

 

Meal Time Hygiene – Why how you eat can be as important as what you eat

Meal Time Hygiene – Why how you eat can be as important as what you eat

It might surprise some of you to know, but almost as important as what you eat, is how you eat. You can be eating all the so-called “right” foods, but if your meal hygiene is lacking, you might not be reaping the benefits!

So what do I mean with meal hygiene? Well, it’s basically your habits around eating your meals. Do you eat on the go, eat at your desk or in a meeting, or sit down for a family dinner? Do you eat quickly or slowly? All these things can affect your digestion.

Proper digestion is so important; you could be eating amazing, nutrient-dense foods, but if you can’t properly digesting them then your body isn’t getting all of the benefits! This could lead to subsequent cravings and unnecessary snacking, as your body calls out for the nutrition it couldn’t get from your meal.

Our autonomic nervous systems has two key states: sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic is stimulating the “fight-or-flight” stress response, a state of being a lot of us find ourselves in often in these modern times, from stressful commutes to work to managing relationships, finances, or high workloads. To contrast, parasympathetic mode is our “rest-and-digest” setting. It’s where the body can rest and repair/rejuvenate itself, and its the state we need to be in for digestion to function properly.

So what can we do to help ourselves get into rest-and-digest mode?

1. Carve time out for meals

Stay away from on-the-go meals and eating at your desk or in front of the TV and try as much as possible to sit down separately for your meal. Even though you think your brain can multitask while eating doesn’t mean your body is able to process that meal properly. The first part of digestion is triggered by the brain; the thought and smell of food can get the process kickstarted – for example, you start salivating which produces enzymes that help in the breakdown of carbohydrates.

2. Take your time

The first mechanical step of digestion is the act of chewing; if you inhale your food as fast as possible to move on to the next task, you’re only putting undue burden on the rest of your body, which won’t be able to take up the slack. Chewing mixes our food with saliva which as said starts the breakdown of carbohydrates. But the act of chewing itself also breakdowns proteins and fat into smaller pieces – the smaller the better and easier it will be for the rest of your digestive system to further break everything down. 

3. Breath

Before you start eating, try taking some deep calming breaths to help relax your system and switch over to that parasympathetic state. Be sure to pause between bites and repeat these breaths, it will help you stay mindful and present and less likely to rush through the meal. 

4. Enjoy yourself

Eating should be pleasurable! It’s a great time to relax with family, friends, or colleagues over a good meal, and that congenial atmosphere that is created with good conversation, laughter, and connection can actually help your digestion. Try to keep any potentially stressful conversation topics for another moment, away from mealtimes. Relax and enjoy yourself and the food!

Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

Digestion

So we’ve already talked about what proper digestion looks like. But with so many steps, and such a complex and interconnected process taking place, it means there are a lot of opportunities where something can go wrong. As I’ve said before, you can be eating the most nutritious diet, but if your digestion isn’t on point, those nutrients could be going to waste! Let’s take a look at some of the ways proper digestion can be compromised.

Some Basics:

Eating in the stress state

Digestion happens when our autonomic nervous system is in a parasympathetic state. This is the “rest and digest” mode when our system is calm, it can rest, repair, and of course, digest our food. In contrast, the sympathetic state, or “fight or flight” mode, is our stress state. Maybe you can already see where I’m going with this? If we are eating while feeling stressed our body won’t be in the right state to properly digest our food. Eating quickly, eating on the go, eating while multitasking (like at your desk, while working), can all disrupt your system from digesting properly.

What can you do?

Stop what you are doing, sit down, take a couple breaths, and eat in a relaxed environment – your body will thank you!

 

Not chewing your food sufficiently

Chewing is the key first step once the food enters our body, breaking it down and mixing it with saliva which starts the digestion process. If you aren’t taking the time to properly chew your food you are putting a lot of extra pressure on the rest of your digestive system to pick up the slack; the enzymes in your pancreas might not be able to complete the breakdown in the small intestine.

What can you do?

Take the time to properly chew your foods – think upwards of 30 chews per mouthful! Drink your solids and chew your liquids.

 


 

More Complex:

Having insufficient stomach acid

Some people might scoff at this one, considering how we all probably know someone who is often popping antacids. But did you know that a common cause of acid reflux is insufficient stomach acid? Let me explain… it’s not just about the quantity of acid in your stomach, but the level of acidity. Stress, excessive alcohol consumption, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and excessive carbohydrate consumption can all suppress your acid production. The stomach is churning and churning the chyme (what your food is called once it reaches your stomach for digestion) to try and acidify it and break it down – remember it aims to only releases the food into the small intestine once it reaches a sufficient acidity level. So if your food is hanging out in the stomach too long, in a nice warm environment, the carbs can start to ferment, the proteins can putrefy, and the fats can go rancid. This can cause gas build up and pressure on the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus – a recipe for acid reflux disaster!

The stomach also releases enzymes when food is present to aid in the chemical breakdown, but some of these, like the enzyme pepsin which breaks down protein, is only secreted when the acid level of the stomach is sufficiently low. Without pepsin, your protein won’t be broken down sufficiently, leaving the particles too big but also not making the nutrients available to your body for absorption. There are several vitamins and minerals that are absorbed in the stomach, but if the food isn’t properly broken down these won’t be made available.

Eventually, even if your chyme is not acidic enough, the stomach needs to make room for more food to be digested, so improperly broken down contents get passed into the small intestine. Now even though the chyme was not acidic enough by the stomach’s standards, it is still extremely acidic for your small intestine. With normal function the acidity of the food triggers the small intestine to secrete a protective mucous and the pancreas to release sodium bicarbonate which neutralizes the acidity. But if the chyme isn’t acidic enough, this trigger might not happen properly. The acid can burn the lining of the small intestine causing ulcers. Without the neutralizing process happening properly, the further breakdown or your food by pancreatic enzymes may also not take place.

 

Not consuming enough or improper fats

Healthy fats are a key component for the liver to produce quality bile and quality bile is needed to digest fats. It’s just one of many catch-22s within our body! If we don’t consume enough healthy fats, or over consume the unhealthy ones, our bile can become old and viscous, accumulating in the gallbladder and potentially causing gallstones. If this happens, when the gallbladder does try and release bile insufficient amounts will be released meaning the fats cannot be properly broken down and absorbed.

 

The gut lining can become leaky

With all of these issues potentially happening upstream, the result can be poorly digested food reaching the small intestine to be absorbed into our bloodstream. These food particles wreak havoc in your gut causing the gut lining to lose it selective permeability (aka. it’s ability to only allow certain things through to the bloodstream). The gut can become leaky and the undigested food gets through into the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response as your body will recognize these particles as foreign invaders.

 

Our gut bacteria can get thrown off balance

The large intestine has to deal with everything that is leftover from the digestion process. Of course, if everything is running smoothly, this isn’t a big deal. But if the earlier steps weren’t running optimally, it can mean poorly digested food coming in that could be full of parasites, microorganisms, and undigested fats that can throw off the balance of bacteria in your gut and weaken the cells of your colon. This could eventually lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, colitis, and celiac disease, just to name a few.

These are just some ways improper digestion can directly impact the organs of the digestive system. Poor digestion could be behind a whole host of other issues that you might not even think are related!

What can you do?

Don’t despair if you see some of yourself in the above descriptions. Nowadays digestive issues are all too common, but the great thing is that digestion is fundamental to our health, so if we can get it back on track the benefits can be truly profound. If you want to improve your digestion, the best thing to do is to discuss it with your doctor and work directly with a qualified professional like a Nutritional Therapy Consultant or Practitioner.

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