Updated: Sep 2, 2019
These days when it comes to gut health it's pretty much common knowledge that probiotics are important, that refined sugar is not good and feeds bad bugs, apple cider vinegar taken before meals and or in the morning aids digestion. And anyone with IBS or digestive problems will tell you that certain foods upset their stomach, so to many it’s pretty obvious that foods we eat directly affect our digestive system. However, the one thing that we don’t hear much about is how emotions affect digestive health and in my professional opinion emotional health is the most important factor as it sets the foundation of gut health and it’s almost always over looked by Drs and natural health therapists alike!
The gut and brain are directly linked. We have many sayings like “it makes me feel nervous to my stomach”, or “I’ve got butterflies” these directly describe this connection. Our emotions directly affect our gut function. Here’s why:
We have two main types of nervous system in our bodies, the central nervous system (CNS), comprised primarily of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which controls pretty much everything else. The gut is part of the PNS and is controlled by the enteric nervous system also known as the ‘second brain’. The enteric nervous system controls gut function and it arises from the same tissues as the central nervous system during fetal development. It links directly into the central brain and uses many of the same chemical messengers as the central nervous system.
So when your mood changes, so does the mood of your digestive system. When you get a fright, or are stressed your digestive system literally shuts down and you can’t digest your food properly and are more likely to experience reflux, gas and bloating. When you feel anxious, so does your tummy and you won’t feel like eating. When you feel relaxed and happy your digestive system also relaxes and you can digest your food properly and will feel hungry.
People who have suffered from large traumas as a child or earlier on in life such as abuse, loss of a parent, a tricky divorce or ongoing disharmony in the family often suffer from gut disorders in adult life. This is because children don’t understand the emotions they feel, they don’t know how to release them, instead the emotions get suppressed and become trapped within the body. The traumatic situations described above make a child feel unsafe and scared. This sort of fear when not addressed can become an emotional framework for a child which is carried right through a person’s life.
A person who’s experienced trauma especially repeated or multiple traumas will suffer more from what I’ve described above than someone who experienced less. They will be set on a constant level of alert, always looking for danger. This means their body is never fully able to relax. From a physical health perspective, this explains why people who have suffered large traumas in their life often experience gut problems and other ongoing health conditions that never seem to fully heal or they just seem to go form one niggle to the next in a circular fashion. It’s because they carry this underlying level of fear within them wherever they go. When these traumas are healed and released from the body the brain can finally understand that they are now safe, they body will relax and health will return.
As a gut health naturopath, i consider a great tip for the parents out there is whenever your child gets a sore tummy, is to assume they have been feeling stressed about something. 90% of the time when asked or when the parents think about it they can relate it to a change in routine, or a stressful situation. Children are very sensitive and sometimes won’t be able to tell you what’s upsetting them as they often don’t understand the emotions they are feeling, but as a parent just knowing that emotional distress often presents as tummy aches will help. You can talk to them about what’s been going on helping them to identify what they are stressed about and then assist them in finding a solution to their distress.
Eating disorders whether it’s over eating or undereating are also linked in to emotional health and often people with these sorts of disorders will find they eat or binge when they are stressed. People who suffer from over eating tend to eat to distract themselves from the emotions they are feeling and people who under eat use the lack of food to feel like they have some control over their emotions and therefore their situation.
Learning to deal with emotions properly is not something we are taught and majority of us do not know what to do with emotions when we feel them, let alone how to release emotions from our body. The most common thing to do is to suppress the emotion by distracting ourselves from feeling them. Problem is this doesn’t release the emotion and the emotion literally gets trapped in our body, and it will stay in the body and after years and years of doing this these trapped emotions start to manifest into physical dis-ease.
Trapped or unexpressed emotions create disharmony in the gut and after years of emotional distress the digestive system becomes weakened. When you combine this with junk foods, chemicals, alcohol, recreational chemical drugs and prescriptions drugs such as neurophen or ibuprofen (proven to be very damaging to gut lining) it’s no surprise that so many people suffer from gut related disorders.
The keys to healing the gut from my perspective is to remove the causes of gut distress; trapped emotions, poor diet, over use of alcohol, recreational and pharmaceutical drugs, and to provide the body with nutrients and herbs that heal the gut and nervous system. I believe healing the emotions is the underlying key to good health particularly gut function so I teach people how to release old emotion form their bodies and deal with emotion in a way that encourages good health and happiness into their future.