More and more Americans today experience digestive symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, hiccups, and bad breath. Some go on so chronically that it leads to more obscure symptoms like numbness and tingling in hands or feet, headaches, dizziness, irritability, or fatigue. These are all signs of improper digestion and malabsorption of nutrients. The reason for an increase in prevalence is that we as a society are becoming more and more rushed and "on-the-go" that our bodies are not able to function as they are designed. We often blame many physical issues on stress, which is a valid reason, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. One way of combating stress, and improving digestion is to balance the nervous system. This is accomplished by eating your food in a parasympathetic state. We also refer to this as a time to "rest & digest." Typically, in today's hustle and bustle, we find ourselves stuck in a chronic sympathetic state, or "fight or flight." It is important to always take the time to be mindful of your food, because it really does play a large role in your overall health. By using all of your senses and paying attention to your food, you too, can take control of your digestion.
SYMPATHETIC STATE, "FIGHT OR FLIGHT"
When we are in a sympathetic nervous system state, we are in our instinctually human nature of preparing to defend ourselves or run away from danger (ie the bear, or now stress of work, home, relationships, etc). We put ourselves in this state when we are driving, arguing, stressed out, reading, watching TV, or walking. The sympathetic nervous state puts us on alert: eyes dilate, heart rate and respiration increases, blood vessels constrict, we perspire, goosebumps rise, and blood pressure increases. Moreover, gut motility and urinary output are put on HOLD. So when you are not paying attention to your food, you are not digesting! That leaves food to be improperly digested, enzyme release becomes dysfunctional, and nutrients are not absorbed efficiently. Thus, in time, we create a chronic picture of nutrient deficiency which eventually leads to physical symptoms.
PARASYMPATHETIC STATE, "REST & DIGEST"
Digestion works optimally when we are in a parasympathetic state. This is when we are completely present with our food. When we prepare and eat our food in this state, gastrin is released. Gastrin is a hormone that tonifies organ musculature, secretes HCl (acid needed in the stomach), and releases digestive enzymes from the stomach and pancreas. These are all essential steps to ensuring proper function of your digestive organs and getting the most nutrition out of your food.
HOW DO YOU STIMULATE GASTRIN?
1. Drink 1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar in a bit of water 10 minutes before meals to stimulate acid and enzyme release for proper nutrient absorption.
2. Say a prayer. Give thanks for your food, to who picked or produced it, to whom made it possible that you are eating it (the farmers, the cooks, the Divine). This 30 seconds to 1 min allows your body to know to shift into a parasympathetic state.
3. Take 5-10 deep belly breaths before your first bite to calm the nervous system and prepare for digestion.
4. SMELL your food.
5. CHEW YOUR FOOD - each bite should be chewed 31 times until it is a nice, creamy paste.
6. Take time to SIT and eat your food. LOOK at your food. No TV, no reading, no distractions.
7. The easiest way to accomplish many of the above- Cook your own food!
Questions? Contact Dr. Birr at Origins Natural Medicine to discuss how to balance your nervous system and optimize digestion.
Dr. Alicia McCubbins is a naturopathic physician who strives to educate, motivate and inspire. Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions so that we may collectively grow through knowledge.