“All disease begins in the gut” - Hippocrates
Eating is supposed to be a pleasurable experience - not one met with anxiety and anticipation over whether or not you’ll be hunched over in pain 20 minutes later. It is very rare for me to come across a client who does not suffer from digestive discomfort of some sort. Whether this be bloating, flatulence, cramping after food, IBS symptoms, irregular bowel movements, reflux or extreme lethargy post meals. These symptoms are fast becoming something which is ‘normalised’ by so many people around me - how many friends do you have who tell you that they are ALWAYS bloated?
Believe it or not, feeling 6 months pregnant when you ain’t, just isn’t normal…
How do you respond to stress? Perhaps you totally lose your appetite, or perhaps you can’t seem to find the ‘off’ switch when it comes to food. How about when you think of or do something which makes you nervous or excited - do you feel the flutter of butterflies in your stomach?
This connection isn’t some weird phenomena - it’s merely an example of the physiological bi-directional communication that our gastrointestinal system has with our brain (and vise versa). The simple thought of eating one of our favourite meals can get the gastric juices of our stomach flowing, just as an inflamed and irritated GI tract (from poor dietary choices for example) can disrupt communication to HQ heightening feelings of anxiety, sadness and depression.
This connection has been of interest to me for years now… and it’s been proved time and time again within my own practice that the two elements cannot be treated without the other being considered.
Numerous studies now demonstrate the impact that stress has on our GI tract as well as its ability to shape and change the types of bacteria residing within our intestine. These bacteria play a crucial role in supporting our immune health, converting food into energy, and in the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Other than the impact on our bacteria, the inflammation caused by chronic, ongoing stress leads to inflammation within our body (including our brains) and essentially disrupts the communication pathways within our nervous system (including our neural pathways), therefore impacting our moods.
Just as stress can affect our gut, a poor diet can alter the way we feel or think. A diet rich in saturated fats, sugar, hydrogenated oils, and processed foods causes oxidative stress, dysbiosis and inflammation (just like stress does) - the only difference is that it happens from the inside out, rather than the outside in. In fact numerous studies have researched the link between patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and depression or anxiety, concluding that the likelihood of a person to suffer from anxiety/depression if they have IBS or vise versa is highly likely.
Approximately 10% of our global population suffers from IBS symptoms (bloating, flatulence, lower abdominal pain, fluctuating constipation/diarrhoea). The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry released an review which examined the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in patients with IBS. Of the patients who decided to seek treatment for their IBS, between 50% and 90% of them had psychiatric disorders including panic disorder, generalised anxiety, social phobia, post traumatic stress, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
The process goes both ways and is very, very closely interlinked. Whether it be a stressful situation or ongoing stress which causes the gut to react, or whether it be a physical interference within the digestive system affecting our psychological state, the need to address both elements at the one time are so important for effective treatment.
I have worked with over 30 women in the past 2 years who have specifically suffered from chronic stress, anxiety, and mild to severe depression who also presented with severe IBS symptoms. For some of these women there were significant life events/trauma which we could pinpoint as the start of a cascade of symptoms affecting the way their GI tract functioned. For others, a nervous or anxious tendency and/or lack of self-esteem contributed to years of ‘not caring’ for their bodies resulting in a highly toxic lifestyle.
If I have learned anything from these women and our time together, it is that a holistic approach to healing needs to be implemented in order to reach lasting results. A treatment plan needs to involve:
And finally… slow, steady, consistent effort - everything takes time, but with daily effort I have seen women transform their lives and heal their bodies.
I feel that many of us forget to pay respect to the very thing that keeps us alive, so before you hit the pillow tonight, do me a favour and tell yourself how much you adore you. Put in the time and energy to nourish your body and mind, and in return, your body and mind will thank you back.
For those who need support - you are not alone:
Beyond Blue - 1300224636
Life Line - 131114
Saying goodbye to the warmth of the Summer sunshine is never easy, and embracing Winter can often be met with a runny nose, and an inability to get out of bed in the morning.
When the cooler weather hits, its important to understand not only what is happening around us and to our environment, but also to how our bodies react to these changes… and ultimately, what we can do about it to ensure we minimise the chances of getting sick.
The physiological impact of stress on the body is nothing short of amazing. Stress is a necessary and needed reaction in the human body – it’s our ‘flight or fight’ response and it’s what gets us out of dangerous situations quickly, or what gives us that extra boost of energy when we are going through a tough stint at work or within our emotional lives.
When we are stressed, several things happen within the body to help us ‘cope’.
Firstly, our adrenal medulla secretes the hormone adrenaline which stimulates our sympathetic nervous system and suppresses our parasympathetic one. This hormone is what many of us might recognise in the physical form when we experience an increase in heart rate, shorter breaths, dilated pupils and perhaps even sweating. Other adaptations triggered by adrenaline are a suppression in our digestive and fertility functions allowing the blood circulation to move into our arms, legs, and brain giving us the energy boost we need in that moment. Once the stressor has passed, our body then reverts back into the parasympathetic state of ‘rest and digest’.
The second major hormone triggered when we are stressed is cortisol – released from our adrenal glands, this hormone enables the body to secrete and maintain steady supplies of stored glucose from the liver, which gets pumped into our blood stream to give us the increased energy we need during that moment. Whilst our cortisol levels are increased, our immune system is suppressed to allow for this process to happen effectively.
Both of these major stress responses are normal, and safe for the short term. Where stress starts to severely affect the body is when we are ‘on edge’ most of the time and therefore our body remains in the sympathetic state for much longer than desired.
Like much of our body, so many of us take our largest organ for granted - for us women, a quick coat of foundation or a few layers of make-up manage to hide the dryness, blemishes or dark circles... at least for a few hours.
When we have these temporary quick fix solutions, it can become all to easy to give up on actually trying to do the 'right' thing by our bodies. Excuses come pouring in and we manage to convince ourselves that 'this is just how I am an how I will always be'.
When it comes it our skin, the saying 'you are what you eat' resonates strong and true. So much of what we put into our bodies shows up in our skin - whether it be through dry patches, pimples, inflammation, flakiness, rashes or the like.
Chronic skin conditions are best managed and treated by a practising dermatologist but general skin conditions, can often be adequately managed through a healthy diet, a monitored external environment, and a reduction or management of stress.
Factors affecting skin conditions are often those which trigger an inflammatory response in the body. This could be anything ranging from an emotional stressor, a specific inflammation caused from an allergy to a particular food, material or plant, or an inflammatory response from too much of a certain food, or too little of the crucial vitamins and minerals required to support healthy immune function.