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Last Updated on January 18, 2022

How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People

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How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People

Does your digestive system seem off lately? Or has it been like that for a while? Have you been experiencing feelings of stress or burnout? If the answer to both these questions is yes, it could be the stress that’s driving your digestive system out of whack. You might also be wondering how you can improve your digestion.

Studies show that your stress levels can wreak havoc on both your mind and body.[1] One of the biggest ways that stress can impair your body’s condition is by disrupting the performance of your digestive system, resulting in a variety of adverse health consequences.

How Stress Affects Digestion

Some of the most common digestive issues caused by stress include heartburn, acid reflux, ulcer, diarrhea, and indigestion. Stress can also indirectly trigger the development of irritable bowel syndrome by affecting your immune system.

Researchers have also shown that individuals already suffering from IBS tend to have frequent flare-ups of systems when they are under considerable stress.[2] Conditions such as IBS and other gastrointestinal tract diseases are considered stress-sensitive disorders. Effective treatment usually entails the patient learning to cope with and manage their stress levels.[3]

A scientific review also discovered that there could be a strong correlation between high levels of stress and eating disorders, such as overeating and obesity.[4] When an individual is experiencing stress, their adrenal glands release cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. This hormone is known to increase appetite, leading to overeating and other related eating disorders. People with high cortisol levels are more likely to consume foods with high fat and/or sugar content, resulting in more digestive issues and weight gain.

Effectively reducing your stress levels can help reduce inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract and lower the sensitivity of your gut. Moreover, lower stress levels contribute to easing any gastrointestinal distress you may be experiencing, while at the same time optimizing nutritional uptake.

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If you find that your stress levels are high affecting your digestion, here are some tips that can help heal your gut.

1. Increase Your Level of Physical Activity

One way to boost your digestion and, at the same time, lower your stress levels is by engaging in moderate physical activity regularly. Physical activity helps increase blood flow to the different parts of your digestive system, which makes it easier for food to move along the digestive tract while improving the efficiency of the digestive muscles.

This movement of food along the digestive tract is known as peristalsis. Common signs that your peristalsis is not working optimally include constant constipation and diarrhea, and in some extreme situations, motility disorder.

Movement and exercise are also important in triggering the release of endorphins, which help relieve tension and are considered natural pain relievers. Endorphins are also quite effective at boosting one’s sleep quality, which is essential in combatting high levels of stress.

Physical activities that are known to improve digestion include regular running, walking, and biking. Yoga poses that focus on improving posture and alignment are also helpful in easing and eradicating gastrointestinal distress and act as a potent stress reliever.

2. Consider Foods That Are Natural Stress Relievers

Scientists have also discovered that some foods naturally contain mood-boosting properties. Consuming such foods can help relieve your stress symptoms while still providing your body with critical nutrients for optimal health.

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Almonds, for instance, contain high levels of magnesium, a mineral that has been proven to help manage cortisol levels in the body. Almonds also contain high levels of vitamin B, which, together with magnesium, help in increasing the production of serotonin, a powerful mood stabilizer and feel-good hormone.

Moreover, low levels of serotonin in the body have been linked to the development of irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, and duodenal ulcers, as well as episodes of bloating, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.[5]

Dark chocolate is another type of snack that can help boost your digestion and bring down your stress levels. It is considered a highly efficient mood booster, but it also has a direct impact on your body’s digestive system. For starters, dark chocolate has a high concentration of flavonoids, a major antioxidant agent.

This chocolate also has high fiber content, mainly because of the cocoa used in production. When the gut bacteria ferment the antioxidants and fiber contained in the dark chocolate, anti-inflammatory compounds are released.[6] These compounds are not only essential in fighting inflammation within your digestive system, but they also play a crucial role in improving cardiovascular function and combatting inflammation-related disorders throughout your body.

Cocoa has also been shown to trigger the production of more healthy microbes in the colon, a further boost to your digestive system. It is also highly recommended to eat foods that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics. These compounds are critical in the production of good gut bacteria.

The abundance of good bacteria in the gut is essential for proper digestion of food and controlling inflammation within your digestive system and other parts of the body. Examples of foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, and natto.[7] Fruits and vegetables rich in prebiotics include the likes of onions, asparagus, garlic, and bananas. Consider making these gut-boosting foods part of your regular diet for enhanced digestive performance.

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3. Try Probiotic Supplements

Probiotics can also help improve your digestion. If you find that you don’t like probiotic foods or find them difficult to obtain, try a probiotic supplement instead. Research has shown probiotics to have remarkable effects on digestion, stress levels, immunity, and much more.[8]

Look for a probiotic that uses time-release tablets as these are more likely to deliver the probiotic bacteria safely past your stomach acid. Most probiotics in capsules are damaged or destroyed before they reach your intestines.

4. Avoid Foods That Can Impair Digestion

Just as there are good foods that can help improve digestion and simultaneously provide stress relief, there are foods that can wreak havoc on your digestive system.

Remember, when you are experiencing high levels of stress, your appetite increases, and you are more inclined to consume foods with a lot of (added) sugar and fats. Both these things are known to increase inflammation in people’s digestive systems, resulting in a variety of GI issues like constant bloating, diarrhea, and excessive gas.

Other major food culprits that can disrupt your digestive function include processed bread, white chocolate, coffee, and highly acidic foods.

5. Identify and Avoid Your Stress Triggers

An examination into what triggers your high-stress levels can help you identify these factors, and allow you to mitigate their impact on your physical and mental well-being.

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that helps you uncover the source of your negative thinking as well as the triggers that cause your stress levels to elevate. CBT has been shown to reduce stress in individuals with IBS. Consequently, these individuals suffered fewer IBS symptoms. This demonstrates the effectiveness of therapy in minimizing stress, which then directly boosts the digestive health of the individual.[9]

Meditation and mindfulness are also powerful techniques that can help you ease your stress levels. Studies have also shown that these practices can also help ease inflammation across the body, including along your gastrointestinal tract. Meditating as well as doing some breathing exercises before eating can help relax you, which in turn allows your digestive system to function optimally.

6. Quit Smoking and Excessive Consumption of Alcohol

Our stress coping techniques can also significantly impair our digestive function. If you are using cigarettes and/or alcohol to cope with your stress, you are inadvertently introducing a host of dangerous chemicals that will affect your digestive health.

Smoking and alcohol consumption have been linked to a variety of GI diseases including heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcers, gallstones, pancreatitis, liver diseases, and Crohn’s disease.[10] It’s imperative that you look for healthier stress coping mechanisms, such as meditation and exercise to avoid exposing your digestive system to dangerous compounds.

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering how to improve your digestion, the first thing you should know is that your stress levels actively impact how well your digestive system functions. Addressing your stress triggers, through exercise, therapy, and physical activity will help bring down your stress levels and allow your body’s digestive system to function optimally.

Moreover, consume foods that are good for your digestion, including foods rich in magnesium, vitamin B, serotonin, fiber, and antioxidants. Lastly, avoid stress coping mechanisms that put your digestive system in jeopardy, like smoking or excessive consumption of alcohol.

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More Tips on How to Improve Digestion

Featured photo credit: Eugene Chystiakov via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Lisa Richards

Nutritionist, Creator of The Candida Diet, Owner of TheCandidaDiet.com

How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People 6 Health Benefits of Turmeric (And How to Take It for Good) How to Take Probiotics for the Best Health Benefits 3 Steps to Get Rid of a Candida Overgrowth When to Take Probiotics for the Best Health Benefits?

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Last Updated on January 27, 2022

5 Reasons Why Food is the Best Way to Understand a Culture

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5 Reasons Why Food is the Best Way to Understand a Culture

Food plays an integral role in our lives and rightfully so: the food we eat is intricately intertwined with our culture. You can learn a lot about a particular culture by exploring their food. In fact, it may be difficult to fully define a culture without a nod to their cuisine.

“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825).

Don’t believe me? Here’s why food is the best way to understand a culture:

Food is a universal necessity.

It doesn’t matter where in the world you’re from – you have to eat. And your societal culture most likely evolved from that very need, the need to eat. Once they ventured beyond hunting and gathering, many early civilizations organized themselves in ways that facilitated food distribution and production. That also meant that the animals, land and resources you were near dictated not only what you’d consume, but how you’d prepare and cook it. The establishment of the spice trade and the merchant silk road are two example of the great lengths many took to obtain desirable ingredients.

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Food preservation techniques are unique to climates and lifestyle.

Ever wonder why the process to preserve meat is so different around the world? It has to do with local resources, needs, and climates. In Morocco, Khlea is a dish composed of dried beef preserved in spices and then packed in animal fat. When preserved correctly, it’s still good for two years when stored at room temperature. That makes a lot of sense in Morocco, where the country historically has had a strong nomadic population, desert landscape, and extremely warm, dry temperatures.

Staples of a local cuisines illustrate historical eating patterns.

Some societies have cuisines that are entirely based on meat, and others are almost entirely plant-based. Some have seasonal variety and their cuisines change accordingly during different parts of the year. India’s cuisine is extremely varied from region to region, with meat and wheat heavy dishes in the far north, to spectacular fish delicacies in the east, to rice-based vegetarian diets in the south, and many more variations in between.

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The western part of India is home to a group of strict vegetarians: they not only avoid flesh and eggs, but even certain strong aromatics like garlic, or root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Dishes like Papri Chat, featuring vegetable based chutneys mixed with yoghurt, herbs and spices are popular.

Components of popular dishes can reveal cultural secrets.

This is probably the most intriguing part of studying a specific cuisine. Certain regions of the world have certain ingredients easily available to them. Most people know that common foods such as corn, tomatoes, chili peppers, and chocolate are native to the Americas, or “New World”. Many of today’s chefs consider themselves to be extremely modern when fusing cuisines, but cultural lines blended long ago when it comes to purity of ingredients.

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Black pepper originated in Asia but became, and still remains, a critical part of European cuisine. The Belgians are some of the finest chocolatiers, despite it not being native to the old world. And perhaps one of the most interesting result from the blending of two cuisines is Chicken Tikka Masala; it resembles an Indian Mughali dish, but was actually invented by the British!

Food tourism – it’s a whole new way to travel.

Some people have taken the intergation of food and culture to a new level. No trip they take is complete with out a well-researched meal plan, that dictates not only the time of year for their visit, but also how they will experience a new culture.

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So, a food tourist won’t just focus on having a pint at Oktoberfest, but will be interested in learning the German beer making process, and possibly how they can make their own fresh brew. Food tourists visit many of the popular mainstays for traditional tourism, like New York City, San Francisco, London, or Paris, but many locations that they frequent, such as Armenia or Laos, may be off the beaten path for most travelers. And since their interest in food is more than meal deep, they have the chance to learn local preparation techniques that can shed insight into a whole other aspect of a particular region’s culture.

Featured photo credit: Young Shih via unsplash.com

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