The Gut-Brain Connection and its Effect on Digestion
As a naturopathic physician, digestive complaints are one of the most common reasons patients seek my care. It also seems like the majority of Americans suffer from some sort of digestive complaint- heartburn, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, diarrhea AND constipation, you get the picture…
When we think about improving a patient’s digestion, we typically dive right into what they are eating, but we frequently overlook HOW they are eating! But it’s not simply the food we consume, but the way we consume it that is important.
The digestive tract operates with a few key components- the enzyme action and mechanical activity that moves and digests food (our “digestive fire”), the health of our gut flora, and the third (and often overlooked) component of the enteric nervous system (ENS) , often called our “second brain”.
According to Jillian Teta, ND of Fix Your Digestion, the ENS is a plexus of nervous tissue in the GI tract that coordinates nearly every aspect of digestion including motility and production of digestive factors such as enzymes. It can affect your mood as well as your how frequently you have to use the bathroom. Disruption of the ENS has been identified as a key feature in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
So, how do you hack the ENS to ensure optimum digestion? Dr. Teta recommends the following:
- As you sit down to eat, take 6-10 deep breaths before eating. This sooths the ENS and also the autonomic nervous system, pushing it away from “fight or flight” and more towards “rest and digest” mode.
- Practice mindful eating. Look at your food- notice its color and texture. Pay attention to its taste as you chew
- Chew well. Make sure you aren’t swallowing large pieces of food.
- Take your time- remember, “rest and digest”!
Dr. Jaclyn Chasse, ND