Mindfulness: The Key to Improve Digestion

wellbeing wellness Apr 23, 2019

How mindful are you of the impact stress has on your digestion? If you haven't noticed, stress wreaks havoc on the digestive tract. It can cause heartburn, gas, bloating, abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements, and it takes more than just eating right and some nutrients to help.

In order to improve digestive health long-term, it is key to target the nervous system effectively. Your nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, sends out messages to control your digestive tract.

If you are stressed, the brain is not signalling your body to digest your food. Rather, it is focused on increasing blood sugar, heart rate, muscle tension and breathing rate all to prepare your body to literally fight or flight. Thus, your state of mind while you eat influences your ability to digest your foods due to this connection between the brain and gut.

When you are eating on the go and in a state of fight-or-flight, or sympathetic drive, this reduces the glandular output of the digestive tract, meaning less stomach acid, digestive enzymes and hormones to regulate motility of the gut.

Without these proper signals, many commonly experience heartburn, gas, bloating, burping and irregular bowel movements.

How to Stop the Stress Response

The key to improve digestion is to reduce sympathetic drive. This is effectively done through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness trains the brain to be in the present moment. This practice is shown to reduce stress hormones and promote relaxation to improve attention and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and worry.[i]

Clinical programs even utilize this practice to treat a wide range of conditions, such as anxiety in women with PMS, stress, depression, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). [ii] , [iii], [iv]

What is Mindfulness?

A beautiful definition of mindfulness is by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

"Mindfulness is learning to pay attention moment by moment, intentionally, and with curiosity and compassion”.[v]

This includes the deliberate attention to both internal processes, such as body sensations, thoughts and emotions, or external objects. The key is curiosity and compassion, to only observe and not engage or place judgement on what feelings, thoughts or sensations come up.

How to Practice Mindfulness

To get you started on the path to practicing mindfulness to improve your digestion, below are three of my favourite resources. Mindfulness is an integral part of our 12 Week Gut Restore Program, which takes you through the necessary steps to repair your digestion, create healthy stress coping strategies and give you the knowledge to prevent recurrences of symptoms.

1. Mindful Breathing

Set aside 5 to 10 minutes in a quiet location to sit and listen to this 4-7-8 breathing exercise.

2. Mindful Eating

It is so common to eat on the go that many fail to appreciate the consequence this has on our digestion. The less you chew, the harder it is to digest. Get into the habit of focusing on eating.

Avoid multi-tasking and take a moment to breathe, slow down and appreciate the food in front of you. Listen to this 5 minute guide to mindful eating.

3. Mindful Walking
Walking is the best exercise for the gut. If you can combine mindfulness while walking, you can give yourself the opportunity to reduce stress AND improve your gut anytime you walk. Even on
the way to a meeting or catching your bus. Listen to this 5 minute track to get you on your way.

 In best of Health,
Dr. Robyn Murphy
The IBS Academy
[i] Bruin, Esther I. de, J. Esi van der Zwan, and Susan M. Bögels. “A RCT Comparing Daily Mindfulness Meditations, Biofeedback Exercises, and Daily Physical Exercise on Attention Control, Executive Functioning, Mindful Awareness, Self-Compassion, and Worrying in
Stressed Young Adults.” Mindfulness 7, no. 5 (October 2016): 1182–92. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016- 0561-5.
[ii] Hoge, Elizabeth A., Eric Bui, Sophie A. Palitz, Noah R. Schwarz, Maryann E. Owens, Jennifer M. Johnston, Mark H. Pollack, and Naomi M. Simon. “The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Biological Acute Stress Responses in Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
Psychiatry Research, January 25, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2017.01.006.
[iii] Panahi, Faeze, and Mahbobeh Faramarzi. “The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy on Depression and Anxiety in Women with Premenstrual Syndrome.” Depression Research and Treatment 2016 (2016): 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/9816481.
[iv] Zernicke, Kristin A., Tavis S. Campbell, Philip K. Blustein, Tak S. Fung, Jillian A. Johnson, Simon L. Bacon, and Linda E. Carlson. “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for the Treatment
of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms: A Randomized Wait-List Controlled Trial.” International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 20, no. 3 (September 2013): 385–96.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12529-012- 9241-6.
[v] Groves, P. “Mindfulness in Psychiatry - Where Are We Now?” BJPsych Bulletin 40, no. 6 (December 1, 2016): 289–92. https://doi.org/10.1192/pb.bp.115.052993.

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