If you have ever experienced or are experiencing chronic digestive issues, you know how challenging they can be to overcome and how much they can impact your everyday life. Not only do digestive issues cause physical symptoms such as bloating, pain, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation but they can also lead to a change in mood or mental state. We know how connected the gut is to our brain, so much so that we call it the second brain. Therefore, it's no surprise that when we experience digestive issues, we may feel more anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, irritability, and sometimes even depression. This may be due to real physiological changes in the gut and brain as well as the mental stress that comes with managing digestive issues. Dealing with chronic gut issues can in some cases lead to the cessation of engaging in regular activities due to fear of not having access to a restroom or the inability to eat out due to food restrictions. The good news is that there are healing tools that can provide long-term relief. After years of treating chronic digestive issues, we have found that by combining the use of physical tools such as nutrition with mind-body tools to improve resiliency, patients have found long-term healing and better management of chronic digestive issues.
When it comes to physical healing tools, there are a few places we can start. First, we know that exercise has been shown to drastically improve digestive symptoms. According to a study published in the journal Microbiome, "Exercise has been shown to beneficially impact the gut microbiota and may be an adjunctive treatment for chronic gut conditions." The study found that "Exercise was associated with a decrease in pro-inflammatory markers, an increase in anti-inflammatory markers, and alterations in microbial composition and function." This provides evidence that exercise can be a helpful tool in treating chronic gut issues.
Nutrition is also a very necessary healing tool for treating chronic gut issues. However, there is no one size fits all approach. While we can use dietary theory, studies, and very specific meal guides such as those provided by IFM (Institute for Functional Medicine), we must keep in mind that each person has unique needs, requirements, and biological backgrounds. A great first step is to start including more whole foods (foods that grow on a plant) and less processed foods (foods produced in a plant). Keep a food journal to record meals and symptoms, as this may help you begin to see patterns between your symptoms and certain foods. Gluten, dairy, artificial sweeteners, and certain additives are known to be common triggers, but there are other types of fiber that may be triggering to some. Keep in mind that food triggers may change and improve over time, as you get to the root of your digestive issues and begin to heal. However, it is great to follow a nutrition plan that supports overall gut health, consisting of high-fiber, phytonutrient-dense plants, high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains as well as fruits moderately. More specific individualized guidance will most likely be needed to make lasting changes, so it is recommended to schedule a visit with one of our coaches or registered dietician!
Sleep is essential for maintaining gut health and healing any chronic digestive disease. We know that after losing one night of sleep, the gut flora undergoes a microbiome shift, meaning there may be a bit of an overgrowth of not so health bacteria. If struggling with chronic gut issues, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night which might mean prioritizing an earlier bed time and adjusting your night routine. Replace T.V. and screen time with reading, avoid caffeine at least 9 hours before bedtime, and try some magnesium to calm a restless nervous system.
It was mentioned previously that mind-body tools are just as necessary as physical tools, such as nutrition in order to promote gut health. This is because when we are under a significant amount of stress, our autonomic nervous system will not be in a state of balance, meaning we do not digest our food as well, motility may become a bit sluggish, and there may be a lack of blood flow to our digestive system during and after meals. None of these factors are ideal when it comes to dealing with digestive issues, but with the help of a mind-body coach, you can learn valuable tools to get your nervous system back into balance. Mind-body medicine promotes self-awareness and body awareness, which will make it easier for you to discover your unique triggers contributing to digestive flare-ups. Techniques such as biofeedback and autogenics can help establish balance in a frazzled nervous system. Breath and movement as well as meditation can create an internal atmosphere for healing and resiliency. Learning and applying these skills in a group setting can be so healing, as we are social creatures wired for community.
Dealing with chronic digestive issues can feel so debilitating at times. However, there are tools, resources, and support systems within your reach to promote a lifestyle for healing. Contact us today to discover potential options that resonate with you!
Monda, Vincenzo, et al. “Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5357536/.
Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflügers Arch Eur J Physiol. 2012;463(1):121-137.doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0.
Wright KP;Drake AL;Frey DJ;Fleshner M;Desouza CA;Gronfier C;Czeisler CA; “Influence of Sleep Deprivation and Circadian Misalignment on Cortisol, Inflammatory Markers, and Cytokine Balance.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25640603/.