Stress, Burnout & Digestion
There have been significant discussions around people suffering from burnout while they struggle to cope with the difficulties we are facing both in personal and professional aspects of our lives, and so when talking about stress and burnout, it’s no surprise that it has the potential to cause an array of complications to our digestion. Naturopath, Georga Nat has joined us again to discuss this topic, giving us an overview of the phases of digestion, an understanding of how stress can impact digestion and finally, some tips on how to help improve our digestion during these stressful times.
Digestion can be broken into three phases; all phases play an important role in helping our body break down & absorb our nutrients, as well as protect our body against the bad guys!
Phases of digestion
The cephalic phase of our digestion occurs before our food enters our stomach, cool right? Our Cephalic phase is switched on when our body become aware of food (by sight, smell, thought or taste of food) – this can occur during cooking, thinking of food and/or when we see or smell food. The thought, sight or smell of food sends signals to our brain via the Vagus nerve to stimulate the release of stomach acid and enzymes to help breakdown the food.
The gastric phase takes place in the stomach and is where a lot of the digestion occurs. When the food enters the stomach, the Vago-vagal reflex communicates which nutrients are present which then determines the number of digestive secretions needed to be released in order to breakdown the food. Additionally, during this phase, the acidity released kills any harmful microorganisms that may have been consumed. During this phase of digestion, the muscles in the stomach wall will flex* to help mix the food particles & gastric juice together to prepare for the next phase of digestion.
The intestinal phase occurs in the duodenum which moderates the gastric activity through hormones and nerve reflexes responding to the arrival of chyme (consisting of gastric juices and partly digested food). This phase is where the bulk of your carbohydrate, fat and the remainder of the protein is metabolized. When this process occurs, our appetite halts to stop our body from overeating.
How stress impacts digestion
When talking about Stress, it’s no surprise that it has the potential to cause an array of complications to our digestion. The brain and gut are connected by the Vagus nerve and are constantly sending each other signals throughout the day & night. When our body is presented with a stressful situation, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) responds by provoking a ‘fight or flight’ response. This triggers a release of cortisol (stress hormone) which in return communicates to the body that it must stay alert therefore can’t enter the ‘rest and digest’ phase of our nervous system.
When our body goes into a ‘fight or flight’ response, it can impact our digestion by:
- Speeding up (diarrhea) or slowing down (constipation) your transit time.
- Reducing appetite
- Reducing Hydrochloric acid, therefore reducing the ability of the body to breakdown food & can lead to bloating and a reduction of nutrient absorption.
- Reduce circulation & oxygen to the stomach, resulting in cramping, inflammation & the potential to impact our microbiome negatively.
- & much more.
When you find yourself in stressful times, remind yourself of these few tips that you can include in your day-to-day life to maintain good digestion and help release feelings of stress and burnout:
- Don’t drink water 30 minutes before & after a meal
- Put away screens & distractions
- Don’t eat on the go
- Make sure to eat away from the work desk
- Move and get exercise
- Meditate – listen to a guided meditation or simply listen to your favourite relaxing music
Be present. Eat your meal consciously. Think about the food you are eating, how it tastes, how it feels, how you feel while eating it.
If you find that your digestion needs some additional support in keeping regular, then head to our online store or your local pharmacy to fund out more about our plant-based digestive solutions.
- Foster, J. A., Rinaman, L., & Cryan, J. F. (2017). Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome.
- Neurobiology of stress, 7, 124–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ynstr.2017.03.001
- Huerta-Franco, M. R., Vargas-Luna, M., Tienda, P., Delgadillo-Holtfort, I., Balleza-Ordaz, M., & Flores-Hernandez, C. (2013). Effects of occupational stress on the gastrointestinal tract. World journal of gastrointestinal pathophysiology, 4(4), 108–118. https://doi.org/10.4291/wjgp.v4.i4.108
- Livovsky DM, Pribic T, Azpiroz F. Food, Eating, and the Gastrointestinal Tract. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 2;12(4):986. doi: 10.3390/nu12040986. PMID: 32252402; PMCID: PMC7231022.
- O'Connor A, O'Moráin C: Digestive Function of the Stomach. Dig Dis 2014;32:186-191. doi: 10.1159/000357848