Take a deep breath and relax!
There is a very real connection between emotions and your gut. Do you know how we know that? We have butterflies in our tummies during a nerve-wracking situation, we experience bloating when we’re stressed and feel our stomachs drop after getting some bad news.
The relationship between emotional state and digestive health cannot be ignored. The relationship is strong, and could have a significant impact on anything from immunity and nutrient absorption, to levels of inflammation, digestive efficiency and regularity.
Not a coincidence that we have sayings like "gut instinct", "gut wrenching" and "go with your gut"- stress, nerves and other strong emotions could trigger discomfort and unpleasant digestive feelings - including, bloating, loss of appetite, cramping, nausea, irritable bowel, and spasms.
Chew your food
Saliva contains digestive enzymes, while chewing digestive enzymes start breaking down the food. This stage is particularly important for carbohydrate digestion - you are missing out on an important step in the digestive process if food is not being chewed thoroughly because you are bolting it down in a rush,.
All too often people eat when they are distracted, because they are in a hurry, are stressed or their mind is engaged elsewhere. How often do you eat at your desk or while watching TV?
Similarly, hydrochloric acid and enzymes are secreted in the stomach to digest protein. Stress inhibits all enzyme secretion - meaning that eating while feeling stressed could result in food that is incompletely digested, often followed by bloating, reflux and abdominal pain.
Partially digested food is bad news for gut health. It can result in fermentation in the stomach and small intestine, and then putrefaction in the colon - basically food rotting in the gut! This, in turn, results in increased bacterial activity and the production and the associated release of toxins. These toxins are then able to enter the bloodstream, through the colon, slowly poisoning the body over time.
The digestive system requires a high level of enzyme activity to extract nutrients from food and put these into action around the body. It follows that it is sensible to put the least possible strain on the digestive system, which includes eating while calm and relaxed (to promote maximum enzyme secretion) and eating foods that are naturally rich in their own digestive enzymes (such as 'living foods', sprouted foods, fermented foods, fruit, vegetables and other whole foods). Wheat-grass is a great example.
Keep in mind, that there is a limited number of enzyme activity in everyone; as we age, when we come under stress, when we are ill and when we eat 'empty' processed foods, for example, our pool of enzymes is further depleted. It is therefore important to rely less on your own reserves and instead choose foods that supply enzymes. Supplementation can also be useful in this respect.
Your gut is your 'second brain'
Studies show that stress and our emotions impact digestion. The digestive tract contains over 100 million neurons and the largest collection of neural tissue in the body, after the brain. This has led to the gut often being referred to as the 'second brain'.
Known as the enteric nervous system, this complex system of tissues in the gut detects emotional signals from the brain. Interestingly, it also works the other way - an unhappy, unhealthy gut sends signals back to the brain. So, look after your digestive system to promote a feeling of wellbeing and happiness.
Tip 1: Deal with inflammation. What leads to inflammation? A poor diet, stress, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria (dysbiosis), illness, medication and other lifestyle factors.
Inflammation has long been the focus of many holistic health practitioners, who promote an alkaline blood pH for health, longevity and vitality. More recently, scientific research has offered support for this approach, suggesting that too much inflammation in the body can contribute not only to illness, but also to low mood and depression.
Adopting an alkaline diet, by reducing your intake of acid-forming food and drink (such as meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol and caffeine), can help to control inflammation levels.
Tip 2: strengthen your immune system, the strength of your immune system can have a direct impact on how your feel - both physically and mentally. For instance, research suggests that there is a higher rate of depression among people with compromised immune function.
So, take proactive steps to boost your immunity by supporting digestive health and ensuring that you have access to a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and protective nutrients in your daily diet. In this way, you will be indirectly supporting your emotional well-being too!
Tip 3: Eat a well-balanced diet, it also promotes emotional health, stable moods and mental calmness. This is because diet and nutrient intake have a direct effect on physiological factors like hormonal balance, immunity and brain function. Nutrients such as iron, zinc, essential fatty acids and B vitamins, for example, play a central role in mood stability. Emotions can impact the gut, but diet can also affect the brain!
Therefore, support both a happy gut and a happy mind by eating a diet that is packed with nutrient-dense plants, fruit, vegetables and other natural whole foods, that will provide high levels of enzymes, as well as other cleansing and protective nutrients (like dietary fiber, antioxidants and phyto-chemicals).
Tip 4: Did you know that most of the body's serotonin (often referred to as the 'feel good' hormone) is found in the tummy? The beneficial micro-organisms (friendly bacteria) that naturally occur in the digestive tract have an influence on serotonin production, meaning that, changes to the digestive environment can have a direct impact on serotonin levels and therefore your mood.