Have you ever considered the connection between gut health and chronic inflammation?
If you were to ask me what is one of the best things you can do for your gut health I would answer, “Stop stressing about food!” When you have digestive issues, it’s easy to get consumed by thoughts about what you eat and blame food for your symptoms. This fear around food, and living hyper-focused on your digestive issues, can be all-consuming. The constant worry about what you eat, and the toll it takes on your body, can leave you feeling frustrated, exhausted, and with more unpleasant symptoms. But here’s the thing: the way we approach our meals and how we manage stress plays a crucial role in our gut health and the prevention of chronic inflammation.
It is easy to JUST focus on what foods to eat to reduce inflammation, but instead, it is important to also consider that in order for our body to gain true benefit from the foods we are consuming, we must be in a relaxed state and actually able to digest food well.
So, before you spend hours scouring Dr. google for a list of “anti-inflammatory” foods to eat, please also consider how the following impacts how you digest your food (and ultimately whether we create or combat inflammation):
-The thoughts you have before a meal→ research shows that stressful thoughts impact stomach acid, pancreatic enzyme output, motility, and overall digestion.
-Your stress levels→ simply put, when your body is under stress, digestion is not a priority.
-Your eating speed→ the first step of digestion is chewing, and ultimately how well you mechanically break down your food. Digestion improves when you chew all of the way through and eat slower. Which one do you think is going to be easier to digest in the stomach, a big chunk of chicken or chicken that is applesauce consistency?
Now, to truly understand the correlation between gut health and chronic inflammation, we first need to understand the role of digestion in reducing inflammation in the body.
The Impact of Digestion on Inflammation
Digestion plays a pivotal role in reducing inflammation in the body. When our digestive system functions optimally, it helps maintain a delicate balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut, creating a healthy balance. However, digestive imbalances can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. When undigested food particles, toxins, or harmful bacteria leak into the bloodstream through a compromised gut lining, the immune system perceives them as foreign invaders and launches an inflammatory response to protect the body.
By prioritizing healthy digestion, we can reduce the risk of chronic inflammation. This involves adopting mindful eating habits, such as chewing food thoroughly and allowing time for proper digestion. Additionally, incorporating gut-friendly foods rich in fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties can support a healthy digestive system and help reduce inflammation.
When we’re constantly stressed and rush through our meals, it places undue strain on our digestive system. What’s more, our bodies can’t differentiate between stressors – whether they’re work-related or fears about how food might exacerbate our symptoms, our body perceives these the same. Consequently, our bodies divert resources away from digestion to handle these perceived threats. Picture yourself being chased by a lion. Do you think digestion is top priority?- no way! Your priority is to RUN from the lion, not to sit and digest your lunch.
This stress response wreaks havoc on our digestive process. It results in decreased salivation, reduced stomach acid production, and a decline in enzyme release – a combination that spells digestive disaster! It’s no wonder we experience uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating and acid reflux. The stress we associate with food actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, perpetuating our symptoms and hindering the healing process.
Try eating in a relaxed environment – sit at the table without the distractions of the tv or your phone, think posivitely about your upcoming meal and smell the food you are about to eat, then take a few deep breaths before you begin eating. These simple practices alone can help reduce our stress and prepare our bodies to digest our food properly.
Understanding the Gut-Immune System Connection
Our gut and immune system have an intricate relationship that significantly impacts our health. In fact, did you know that 70% of the immune system is located in the gut? A healthy gut acts as a protective barrier, maintaining a delicate balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria. However, when the gut is compromised, chronic inflammation can take hold, leading to a wide array of unpleasant symptoms throughout our bodies and inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, metabolic syndromes, irritable bowel syndrome, and irritable bowel disease.
Supporting your immune system is crucial for overall health and plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy gut. The gut and the immune system are closely intertwined, working in harmony to defend your body against harmful pathogens and maintain a balanced state.
Ways to Support Your Immune System, Stress, and Gut
- Get quality sleep (around 7-9 hours)
- Nourish your gut with an abundant diet (the goal is 30 plants a week from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, herbs, and spices)
- Stay hydrated (aim for 80-100 oz per day)
- Limit antibiotic and NSAID use
- Chew your food well
- Engage in 1 stress reducing activity per day (walking, meditation, taking a bath, dancing, gratitude journaling, etc)
Taking Control of Gut Health
Regardless of the dietary changes or protocols we undertake, unless we address our overall stress, as well as the stress and fear we associate with food, our symptoms will persist, and healing will remain elusive. To make real progress, we must cultivate a sense of safety and reassurance that the food we consume won’t cause discomfort or worsen our symptoms.
To achieve optimal gut health and reduce chronic inflammation, we must shift our focus from obsessing over what we eat to embracing a more holistic approach. Prioritizing stress reduction and supporting healthy digestion are pivotal steps in this journey. Remember, it’s not just about the foods we choose but also about how we approach meals and manage stress. By addressing the root causes and adopting a mindful approach, we can pave the way for a healthier, happier gut.
So, take that much-needed pause, prioritize your well-being, and remember that addressing stress and fear around food is just as crucial as the foods themselves.
Remember, the information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and should not replace medical advice. Consult with a healthcare professional for personalized recommendations.
Note: always consult your healthcare provider before trying anything new. This blog is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice.
Our comprehensive program offers a holistic approach to tackle the underlying root causes of your digestive symptoms, including how you approach meals and the stress you associate with food.
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