There is no doubt that good digestion is the key to good nutrition. But where does digestion start? The brain! In other words, when you feel good and relaxed, you digest well.
The brain controls and communicates with the body through various nervous systems. Amongst which, the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is the one that controls internal biological functions and is the key to better digestion.
The two components of ANS, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System, are the ones that tell the body to either “alert and action” or “rest and digest.”
You may have known the SNS as the “right and flight “ system. When a threat or a need is present, SNS increases heart rate and blood flow, heightens senses, and converts stored glycogen into glucose to get our body into action.
The Parasympathetic System does precisely the opposite: when the threat is over, it tells the body to “relax”; it slows down breathing and heart rate, decreases blood pressure, increases salivation and digestion.
As you can imagine, these two systems work in partnership to help us get through the day.
However, here is the thing: our body does not differentiate emotional threats from physical threats. That is, if you are constantly troubled by work events, people around you, demands on your shoulder, your next project, or your children’s grades, your body will continue to remain in the heightened mode, and your Parasympathetic Nervous System will not be able to get to work.
If this is you, you may experience some of the following:
- dry mouth
- bowel issues
- blurry vision
Age, chronic fatigue, and conditions that involve damage in the nervous systems such as Parkinson’s Disease may all impact the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
The first step to improving digestion is to prepare the body for mealtimes. Here are a few things you can do before a meal:
Create a Transition
Walk away from what you are doing, even when working at home. Set your meal area apart from your work area.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is one of the best ways to slow down your heart rate and promote relaxation. Do some gentle stretch or take a walk if you have been sitting.
Take Your Time
Allow yourself time to enjoy the food in front of you and take time to chew. The look, smell, texture, and sound of your food and surrounding are all messages to your brain to let that body know what it needs to do.
Other things you can incorporate in your schedule to help restore balance are mind-body practices such as meditation, yoga, or Pilates; spend time in nature, build positive social relationships, pick up a new hobby or get a massage.
Whatever you are facing, make sure you have a stress management strategy that includes ample rest. Having a routine will help the body understand when it needs to do what.
Digestion is about breaking down and absorbing nutrients from the food we eat. Without proper digestion, we are losing out on our nutrition, no matter what we eat.
There may be many other reasons that could cause indigestion and bloat. This is only one small piece in the puzzle.
Next week, we will take a completely different look at this: how your food may be stressing you out!