When my stress level peaks, that baffled sense of anxiety comes with physical side effects. Headaches, insomnia, and breakouts are the three I’m most familiar with, but lately I’ve felt like my worries have thrown my digestive system off balance as well.
In search of relief from heartburn and nausea, I kept stumbling upon the idea of meditation and wondering if practicing could support my general gut health, whether or not I was stressed. After all, I have attended many meditation and yoga classes that touched on the concept of “rest and digestion” of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Dr. Jaclyn Tolentino, DO, Senior Physician at Parsley Health, gave me more insight into why stress relief like meditation is often discussed with digestive health.
“The idea that meditation or other stress management modalities can have an impact on our digestion stems from new research on the so-called gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is basically the complex, bi-directional path between the brain and the brain GI tract, “says Dr. Tolentino.
“This pathway actually encompasses a number of systems including the central nervous system, the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric nervous systems, and the gut microbiota.”
The brain and the gut, says Dr. Tolentino, can send signals back and forth – and this can affect the speed of the digestive process or even the bowel inflammation.
“Our intestines also have their nervous system, the enteric nervous system, which can communicate with the brain and regulate certain digestive processes and functions.”
An example of this brain-gut connection is the physical digestive symptoms that often occur when you are overwhelmed or overwhelmed.
Dr. Tolentino adds that stress has been linked to problems like heartburn, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and gas and could play a role in GI disorders like GERD, IBS, and IBD. It could also worsen symptoms of conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
“This idea that meditation, mindfulness interventions, or breathing work can have a positive impact on our digestive health is based on this emerging understanding of the close relationship between our brain and gut and how stress can negatively affect GI function and the gut microbiome “Says Dr. Tolentino.
“It’s definitely not quite as simple as ‘Meditation is good for the digestive system because it helps us deal with stress,’ but there is a growing interest in exploring the relationships between all of these things based on our emerging understanding of How the brain and the intestine brain interact with each other. ”
While meditation and mindfulness may not be the be-all and end-all of improving your digestive health, Dr. Tolentino that they can be used in one full Treatment strategy.
“What you eat when you eat, the health of your GI tract and your intestinal flora are all things that play a role in your digestion.”
It’s important to remember that controlling stress through meditation may not produce the same digestive results for everyone. Practicing every day for a week (although impressive!) Doesn’t mean your symptoms of problems will go away too.
“There won’t be a magical number of sessions or minutes or days after which someone will definitely see results. This is really about incorporating meditation into an overall strategy and lifestyle to improve digestion and even resolve certain ailments or problems. which in turn will vary from individual to individual and are most likely not caused by stress alone. Many problems are multifactorial, which means that they often require multifactorial solutions. ”
If you want to add meditation to your lifestyle to aid your digestive health, there are two different ways you can go about it, says Dr. Tolentino.
One way would be to use meditation to reduce your daily stress levels. From Headspace to Calm, there are tons of meditation apps that offer a variety of guided sessions for all levels, whether you’re experienced or just starting out. YouTube is another great option if you don’t want to spend money on a monthly subscription – this course from Yoga by Candace is specifically designed for digestive health.
The second way to use mindfulness for your digestive health is to practice mindfulness, says Dr. Tolentino. This consists of “eating slowly, chewing our food thoroughly, being present and really paying attention to the food we eat and how we experience it, and also being more aware of when we are actually feeling full.”
These practices could benefit digestion by preventing a person from eating too quickly or too much at once. But again, it’s important to remember that not all digestive symptoms are caused by stress or eliminated by stress relief. So if you have any concerns, speak to your doctor for personal advice.
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