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The link between stress and poor digestion

When it comes to poor digestion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or simply a bloated tummy, stress can be a major contributing factor.

Your body always has your best interests at heart. Even if bloating or digestive discomfort doesn’t feel like it’s in your best interest, it can serve a purpose as part of the bigger picture of your survival. When you make the stress hormone adrenaline, and your sympathetic nervous system is driving the ‘fight or flight’ response, the last thing your body wants is for you to recall that it has been a few hours since you last ate and be distracted by a focus on food.

Additionally, in order to power your fight or your flee from danger, your body diverts the blood supply away from your digestive system towards your arms and legs—so that the muscles in these have an ample supply of energy. This means that when food arrives in your digestive system and you are in this state, your body does not have the resources to digest it optimally. And it is this that so commonly leads to symptoms of digestive distress as so many people, unknowingly through their lifestyle, their thoughts, beliefs and perceptions, as well as their food and drink choices, consistently churn out stress hormones.

If you have been diagnosed with IBS (which is typically diagnosed once sinister bowel diseases have been ruled out and if certain criteria are met) or you experience a bloated tummy, and you have tried every dietary change under the sun to no avail, and you have used medicinal herbs and/or medications under the guidance of a qualified and experienced practitioner to resolve any potential gut bacteria/parasite problem—and you still have your symptoms, then I encourage you to see your digestive system symptoms as a sign that something else potentially needs to change. Because, unfortunately, no amount of dietary change or supplementation can make up for the effects of chronic and unrelenting stress.

Your body might be crying out for you to treat yourself differently. It is time to stop trying, to stop coming up with strategies that will “fix” you and instead begin to explore your perception of pressure and urgency in everyday life, and how this may be affecting your digestion. When we address the daily worries and concerns that cloud our brain and drive the body to experience stress even when we’re not in physical danger, and save our stress response for the times when we really need it, it truly can have an incredibly beneficial effect on our gut health.  It is time to honour the gut feelings you have, trust your inner guidance and employ measures to both counteract and reduce the activity of your stress response.

Dr Libby Clinic
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