It’s no news that digestive tract affects our lives in many ways. From brain power through energy and longevity we depend on our digestive system. Science confirms that digestion significantly influences our health, behavior, and mood. A healthy person is generally happy and peaceful, and has a lot of energy. Unfortunately, we often neglect to pay attention to our digestive system and pay a high price with our health. We often ignore the dangerous signs of serious health problems. Many times they look so innocent that it’s practically impossible to recognize them. The heartburn once in a while or constipation wouldn’t usually alarm us. Unless we have a severe pain, we don’t normally pay attention to our bodies. It rarely occurs to us that most of our diseases begin with dysfunctional digestive system. What happens if digestion system is not working well? There are many ways we can disrupt the digestion. Some of them are junk food eating, constipation, stress, sleep deprivation, and lack of exercise. All of these reasons make digestive system weak and prone to different diseases.
Let’s talk about some of them. We tend to eat a lot more when stressed, and we generally crave for fat and junk food often called comfort food. Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” produced in the guts when someone is hungry would dramatically increase when we are stressed. While stress is very useful in dangerous situation as it provokes action to escape or fight back, chronic stress can be lethal for the body. As we eat more, our digestive system becomes sluggish and can’t function at its optimum level, and therefore, the nutrients can’t be fully absorbed, and the vicious cycle begins: we need more nutrients; thus, we’re constantly hungry, so we eat more than we need. As we eat more, we gain weight and exercising becomes close to impossible, and therefore we become more and more miserable and we eat even more.
Our bodies depend on the “building materials” such as vitamins and minerals. Once we have a meal, the digestive tract starts working on breaking down the food to achieve maximum absorption. Once all the necessary nutrients are absorbed, the blood will distribute them all over the systems and organs and then remove the waste through a process called defecation. Both, absorption and defecation are equally important for a healthy living. Defecation, however, can become an issue and bring to constipation. Chronic constipation will eventually lead to a full poisoning of the body and even cancer. Yogis often say that when in stress - don’t eat or drink. We may or may not believe in yoga’s philosophy; however, the science also confirms that the body will not absorb food while stressed. If we look at the anatomy of our nervous system we will see that the autonomic nervous system is subdivided into sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, where one brings “fight-or–flight” response and the other “rest-and-digest” response. The sympathetic system is responsible for reaction to stressful and dangerous situations. It releases the stress hormones like cortisol that will increase the chances of survival. At moments like this the heart rate increases, the pupils dilate, the bronchial tubes in the lungs dilate, and the energy is given to the muscles to run or fight. Digestion is considered unimportant by the body and is shut down immediately. The peristalsis slows down, so the food can’t be absorbed properly causing constipation. If we are chronically stressed by our daily life issues the inflammation and indigestion are unavoidable. The parasympathetic system comes to the rescue helping the body restore and balance itself. It’s responsible for the “rest-and-digest” mode and works best in the relaxed environment. It’s much slower and helps the body repair all the systems. The heart rate drops, the muscles relax, the digestive enzymes are released, and the blood flow increases in the digestive tract.
Staying calm and happy is the only way of being healthy. Despite all the obstacles life throws at us, it should be our goal. There are many ways to help our bodies achieve the results we are seeking. For instance, we can sign up for yoga classes and learn asanas along with the breathing techniques that will teach us to stay aware of our bodies’ needs. We can also sign up for meditation classes and release stress with mantras, chanting or other options offered in such classes. We can join the health clubs and workout to get rid of toxins by sweating. And we can always use our ancient sisters herbs who have accompanied us for thousands of years. They have continuously supported us in a journey towards our better selves. Their wisdom saved us countless times and continues to do so. They can definitely help us improve our digestive system in multiple ways.
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