Bowel routine slightly off?
Experiencing digestive grumbling, “butterflies in your stomach,” cramps, or heartburn?
Any of these common discomforts can be a sign of disturbance in your enteric nervous system (ENS). What? You’ve never heard of it? You’re not alone. As important as this system is, the ENS is forgotten just as often as the lymph system I discussed in the last newsletter. Today, I’d like to shed some much-needed light on what your ENS does.
The ENS is independently responsible for the movement of food throughout the digestive system. It produces the enzymes digestive organs need for the mechanical and chemical processing of food.
The catch: Your GI tract is sensitive to emotions, from anger, anxiety, sadness, joy, to stresses of every kind. Why? A constellation of receptor sites for emotion hang out in your gut. These receptors communicate through the vagus nerve, a two-way superhighway connecting the gut with the brain. This gut-level emotion-detection system is so sensitive and powerful you could even think of the ENS as a “second brain.”
Consider what this means in your everyday life. Your emotions may be dictating the health of your digestive system while at the same time your gut discomfort could be aggravating your lack of focus, irritability, restlessness, and weight gain.
Be sure to check with your doctor first. With the aid of a health professional, you can often address both the stress you’re feeling and the digestive complaints your increased tension causes. The following simple steps may be useful in improving the interaction of your emotions and your digestion.
Use food as medicine. Eat smaller, more easily digestible meals, such as steamed vegetables and fish. Decrease intake of inflammatory foods, including tomatoes, peppers, and onions.
Reduce stress. Talking to a friend or professional, yoga, meditation, massage, and acupuncture are just a few holistic methods you can try. Not only is stress reduction a good idea in and of itself, but research strongly suggests that emotions and stress may have a role in such persistent conditions as heartburn (acid reflux), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and “sensitive stomachs.”
Go herbal. Natural herbal remedies that may assist in reduction of the stress caused by emotion include ashwagandha, rhodiola, and Siberian ginseng. Digestive stress in particular may respond to deglycerized licorice, L-glutamine, aloe vera leaf, slippery elm, and marshmallow root.
Bottom line? Emotion and digestion are profoundly linked through the ENS. How you think can determine how well your digestive system works; lack of balance in your digestion can affect your responses to people and situations, and your mood. Isn’t it worth the effort to care for your enteric nervous system?
Take action to improve the relationship between your ENS and your feelings. Review the steps above. Consider trying at least one of them immediately. If you need guidance, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-686-0939, and I’ll help you determine where to start. Your body just may reward you with calmer thinking and quiet digestion.