Aug 27, 2013


 In studying natural medicine, gut issues crop up all over the place and we see them in almost everyone. It's where most therapists look to heal first as the cascade of events that follow are usually nothing short of miraculous. Our gut has everything to do with digestion of our food, but it is also inextricably linked to our liver health and function, our gallbladder, our pancreas, stomach acidity, how well we absorb the nutrients we are eating, our efficiency and ability to detoxify daily, our happiness and moods, ability to think properly, immune health, and so much more.
So whenever we hear "it all starts in the gut" yes I believe it. I've studied it, been taught it, read about it, and experienced it for myself. But it still didn't stop me digging deeper.

It appears that we can track most health issues and concerns back to our gut health; food allergies, skin rashes, mental health, anxiety and depression, etc etc. But what is it exactly that causes all this? It can't just be our gut going "ok time to wreak havoc just for sh*ts and giggles"... what is it that initially provokes our gut to run riot?

I have been toying with this notion; if it all starts in the gut, why is this so? And my answer - STRESS.

Think about it...

When we get stressed, blood supply to our digestive system pretty much disappears as it is not seen as an imperative place to be sent right now; unlike those periphery arms and legs which are getting ready to get you out of the situation (flight), or stay there and defend yourself (fight). This works in our favour really; do you want to have to run to the toilet to take a dump when you've just been in a car accident? Unlikely.

In addition to this is the brain-gut connection (thanks to a nerve called the vagus nerve); our gut is like our second brain and due to this link, stress can very well lead to gastrointestinal problems (and it does more often than not). Read more here, here and here.

When this stress is no longer an occasional jolt to our system making sure we're on the ball and participating in life, it can become chronic stress when we fail to properly deal with it. It then inevitably starts to infiltrate into all areas of our life and health, and this is the type of stress I'm seeing more and more of.

So how exactly do stress and gut issues interplay?

+ Irritable bowel syndrome; (or IBS); why is your bowel irritable? For the same reason we get irritable - stress! Ask anyone with this condition to think back to when their symptoms first appeared and no doubt, it was bang on some stressful event (for me it was my parents divorce)
Take home note: IBS is caused by stress

+ Constipation; high stress levels mean high cortisol levels which mean your body thinks it's in Fight or Flight (you've heard the whole running from a lion thing by now), and thus shuts down your digestive system so all blood is in your arms and legs so you can fight the lion or run away in flight. Of course hydration plays a key role, but if you're constipated and nothing seems to have worked for you, stress is your problem.
You physically and literally need to LET GO.
Take home note: Constipation can be caused by stress

+ Inflammatory bowel disease (ie. Crohns disease, Ulcerative colitis, Microscopic colitis and Ischemic colitis); similar in symptoms to those if IBS but with one very distinct difference; inflammation. And this can occur anywhere along the digestive tract, from the mouth to the rectum. Malabsorption and malnutrition are commonly seen in people with IBD, with current theories suggesting there is a genetic component involved, triggered by either infection, a hypersensitivity to antigens in the gut wall, an inflammation of the blood vessels that cause ischemia (lack of blood supply to the tissues), or food sensitivities. But again, I ask why do these occur? Genetics, ok. But what about epigenetics? This science goes further saying that we can influence our genes based on our environment. In short - if you have IBD genes and choose to eat crap food, live a crap lifestyle, never get outside, and have high stress levels... versus someone else who also has the gene but eats a particularly healthy diet, gets fresh air, rest and relaxes with healthy stress levels... One person might get it while the other may not.
Take home note: IBD can be caused by stress 

+ Diverticulitis; when pea-sized pouches have blown out of the intestinal wall, primarily in the colon, often caused by a low-fibre diet, lacking water, and thus resulting in constipation. These diverticula can become inflammed and infected which is what results in diverticulitis (-itis = inflammation), and this can be pretty serious. Again the biggy here is the inflammation. What caused it in the first place? Yes diet plays a HUGE role in gut health (if it didn't I'd be out of a job right) but at the same time if I only treat my clients with diet and never touch on anything else (ie. lifestyle, stress levels, activity levels, self worth and emotions, etc) I would not see such great results, and the client would not either. There are plenty of healing treatment options, as well as prevention options in the form of nutrition and diet alone, but again, if stress is not looked into here, the inflammation is sure to persist.
Take home note: Diverticulitis is without a doubt influenced by stress

+ Leaky gut;
more and more common these days, put simply, leaky gut is when the normally tight junctions in between the cells of the gut wall have loosened up, allowing large substances to pass through the gut wall, into the bloodstream. As these are not meant to be passing through, they then cause antibody reactions as they are seen by our immune system as foreign. Following this, a whole host of symptoms occur, with currently more than 8,000 research articles on this (1). What causes leaky gut? Well there a a bunch of things but I'm obviously going to focus on stress. Prolonged stress changes the immune system's ability to respond quickly and it affects our (body's) ability to heal. Our bodies can't tell the difference between stress every time we're late for an appointment, or have a deadline, and real stress when we need to get away from a vicious dog. So this chronic stress results in less immune defense, less DHEA (the antistress, antiaging adrenal hormone), a slowing of digestion and peristalsis, reduced blood flow to digestive organs, and production of toxic metabolites. Hooray! Not.
Take home note: Leaky gut is hugely linked to and caused by chronic stress

+ Food intolerances and allergies;
food particles get through to the bloodstream thanks to Ms Leaky Gut, and as these were not intended to go through our blood (being food, obviously, they are intended for our digestive system, not the circulatory system), and so our body will see them as foreign, inducing whatever type of reaction (skin rash, acne, sore joints, etc) in response to it. Case in point - eczema; a skin reaction that is very often gut related (as an intolerance to dairy) but first and foremost this is stress. Continual consumption of anything (even in small doses) for someone who's body does not like it, is a stress every single time it is consumed. And in this example, the stress elicates a skin rash.
Take home note: Food intolerances and allergies are caused by stress

In addition to all the anatomy and physiology and science based evidence, we can also look at the chakras and energetic fields - bear with me if you're not familiar with all this - as our third chakra is pretty much bang on our digestive region.

Anyone with gut issues in one form or another may want to look at the areas the third chakra governs as you may be experiencing blocks here.

Third Chakra / Solar Plexus deals with:

+ Confidence
+ Willpower
+ Personal Power
+ Self esteem
+ Self worth
+ Self respect
+ Centre of personal identity
+ Freedom of choice
+ Inner peace


So what do we do about it?

Any gut issue needs to be looked at both on it's own and in relation to all other bodily systems in the whole. Each individual will also be different so this must be addressed and not merely looked at "generally speaking". But there is for sure one thing that can and will help anyone and everyone who has gut issues of any sort and that is relaxation and meditation.

Both these activities lower stress levels and lower cortisol levels. When stress is the number one cause of something, regardless of the symptom/s, it is stress that needs to be treated. So suss out what works best for you and start there.

> Do you love baths but never take the time to have them? Cultivate a daily bath ritual to step in, sink down, and bliss out in peace
> Do you enjoy getting to bed early but end up staying up later and later checking Facebook? Commit to unplugging earlier
> Meditate everyday; if only for 1 minute initially
> Working waaaaay too much? Take a break. Or negotiate different hours. If your boss is a total duche-bag demanding all your time and energy be spent at work, perhaps you need to rethink your job. Is your health or your job more important? Did God put you on this planet solely to work your butt of? 
> Take 3-10 deep breathes every hour; set your phone alarm to remind you to do so
> Get a regular massage; weekly, fortnightly, monthly; studies prove massage lowers stress levels AND they get out all the knots and tight bits only exacerbating the problem too
> Get out into nature and amongst those negative ions (which make you feel positive)
> Lie in a hammock; on a tropical island ;)
> Read your favourite book for half an hour each day
> Have a weekly night in with a glass of red, a hilarious movie, a doona and a loved one
> Eat lunch on the grass
> Stare out your window some more
> Bliss out with a walk along the beach
> Get away from computers, mobile phones, wireless areas, and the TV more than you do now; the electro magnetic radiation emitted from these is hard to avoid these days but as we are all getting bombarded so are our precious body's... and the effects are far from negligable

Solar Plexus affirmation

If you have any gut-related issues, whether they appear to only be minor or if they are something more serious, first up I hope you are seeking help for whatever is going on, but secondly, have a look at the stressors in your life as these will without a doubt be playing a role in your gut health (or lack thereof).
Try implementing any of the above suggestions, or if you know the direct cause of your stress, get it out of your life! It's not worth it.

Christie xx

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(1) Lipski, Elizabeth, 2012, McGraw Hill, Digestive Wellness

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