Why stress screws with digestion

Posted August 22, 2011

We’re always being told that stress ravages our health. It causes cortisol levels to rise, adds pressure to your adrenals, hinders your immune system, messes with your hormones and keeps your mind separated from your body. But the one health/stress association we hear little about is the fact that stress puts an end to digestion. When we experience stressful situations, our bodies are unable to absorb any nutrients from our food. So, it doesn’t matter how much good food you eat, if you live a highly-strung lifestyle, all of the brown rice and broccoli in the world will do you little good at all. And without adequate nutrition, your body is unable to heal, thrive and survive.

I had known about the importance of eating in a relaxed environment in order to allow food to be absorbed efficiently, but it wasn’t until I read Suzanne Somers’ interview with Dr Nicholas Gonzalez in her best-selling book, Knockout, that it made such complete sense. Dr Gonzales explains how the two branches of the autonomic nervous system play such crucial roles in our healing process. He says that our sympathetic nervous system’s job is to help our body deal with stress by diverting blood to the brain and the muscles. This is so that in times of stress we can think quickly and our muscles can react quickly. Sympathetic nerves divert energy away from the gut to the brain and muscles. While this is happening our entire digestive system is shut down.

The parasympathetic system works in the opposite way, taking advantage of our restful state at night when we are sleeping to repair and rebuild our bodies. The parasympathetic system is responsible for digestion and increases the efficiency of digestion and secretion of hydrochloric acid, enzymes from the pancreas, and the bile salts from the liver. Dr Gonzales says that this system increases the absorption of nutrients, stimulates the repair of damaged tissues, and is basically a reparative system.

So what does this all mean for us? First of all it is proof that the majority of our healing happens when we are sleeping, which is why it is so uber important to get enough quality sleep each night. It also means that if you are constantly under stress, all of your energy will constantly be diverted away from your gut and your digestive system won’t ever be given the chance to perform it’s super important task of absorbing life-giving nutrients from your food.

If you’re the type who burns the candle at both ends, survives on little sleep and runs on adrenaline, stress and caffeine during the day, your health is most likely on the decline. Just something to think about next time you find yourself sacrificing your wellbeing for things like work, party and other superficial pursuits.

If you are a bit of a chronic stress head, you may benefit from reading my post called ‘How Often Do You Just Stop And Do Nothing?‘ – it has some great tips for injecting ‘nothing’ into your day.

Did you know this about your digestive system? Do you think you have chronic unmanaged stress levels?

Positive affirmation for the day: I accept full responsibility for everything about my life.

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Write a Comment

Tania says:

Definitely some food for thought – thanks a million! :-)

Jarrah says:

Would be awesome to see references to your claims, would feel allot more comfortable forwarding and sharing your articles…

Jarrah says:

Ignore that comment… Duh…

Vienda says:

Fabulous post, thanks Jessica! I’ve been really stressed the last few months which has been affecting me in all sorts of ways including digestion so it’s good to read about on here. I’ve made an appointment with my naturopath for Saturday!

Laura says:

Schedule a session with a local massage therapist. Massage relieves the negative effects of stress. Improving peristalsis of the digestive tract is one of the many benefits of massage,

Kirsty says:

Fantastic post Jessica!

As a ‘burn the candle at both ends’ kind of person I have often felt the negative effect this has on digestion… and just about every other body function too!

An Ayurvedic practitioner said to me recently, ‘before you do anything, do nothing’. How often do we actually pause between jumping from one task to the next. Before you do anything stop and take three deep breaths. Next time you jump in the car, try putting the keys in the ignition and taking 3 deep breaths before you drive off. Doing this really made me realise just how little ‘nothing’ I have in my life.

Thanks again Jessica. No matter what you’re posting about, it always seems to speak right to me. Thank you!

John in LA says:

Hi Jess,

Great article as always. Read The Kind Diet as was suggested reading. Some great recipes!

I have a unrelated question. I’ve read and seen a lot of controversy about which is better: juicing or blending. What are your thoughts? I personally love to juice and feel that I get an extra dose from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. And I do eat quite a bit of whole veggies and such so don’t really feel like I’m lacking any fiber. Gerson Therapy obviously uses juicing and I’ve read their reasons, but there seems to be quite a large number of authorities speaking up for blending. Any thoughts?

Jess says:

Thanks John! Juicing and blending are both great and I recommend both. Blending is great because it means the veggies have been pre-digested and there is very little work for your body to do to reap all of the benefits. But juicing is also great because your body has to do no work to receive all of the goodness. The juice, and all of its nutrients, are delivered right into your blood stream. I’m going to write a blog post about this soon – I was just thinking about doing this today, so stay tuned!

I am reading Knockout right now, well parts of it. Kind of bummed she doesn’t cover Gerson in there. But interesting reading!

Cyndi McFarland says:

Knockout was instrumental in setting me on a cancer prevention path. I LOVE that book! It caused more changes in my life than having cancer. LOL!

Letty says:

It’s because you were too busy thinking that strongly affects your digestion process. Have you forget that your mind rule over everything so whatever bothers you will be highly affects your body functions. Just refrain from thinking about those stuff while eating to avoid indigestion. :)