Is your gut-brain axis impaired?
Restoring proper digestive function involves more than just adjusting the diet, balancing the microbes, and calming inflammation.
Many doctors overlook the fact that your brain and nervous system are in direct control of your digestion. As well, whatever is happening in the digestive tract influences your brain. This is called the gut-brain axis. Do you know if yours is impaired?
Symptoms of an impaired gut-brain axis can be:
- Difficulty digesting foods
- Constipation or irregular bowel movements
- Increased bloating and gas
- Distention after meals
- Intolerance to food types such as proteins, starches, and/or fats
- Frequent abdominal discomfort after meals
The digestive system has its own nervous system, which we call the “enteric nervous system”. The brain sends signals to the enteric nervous system through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is responsible for controlling the movement of food through your intestines, releasing digestive enzymes such as hydrochloric acid, and carrying blood to the digestive organs to promote healing and repair.
If your vagus nerve is not working properly, then your digestion will be comprimised, causing you much discomfort. How do you know if your vagus nerve is working properly?
- Can your doctor hear bowel sounds with his/her stethoscope?
- Does your soft palate rise when you say “Ahhhhh”? The soft palate is adjacent to the uvula, that little nodule of tissue that looks like a punching bag at the back of your throat. Look in the mirror as you say “Ahhhh” and check to see if the soft palate rises.
- Do you have a strong gag reflex? Touch the back of your tongue or throat with a tongue depressor, spoon, or toothbrush. You should immediately gag due to stimulating the vagus nerve.
If you answered “No” to any of these questions, your vagus nerve may not be functioning properly and it could be part of the cause of your digestive discomfort.
What can you do to tonify your vagus nerve?
- Gargling with water: Do this several times per day, making it a challenging exercise when you do it.
- Sing loudly: Although your friends or family members may not appreciate it, tell them you need to exercise your vagus nerve.
- Gag: Purchase a box of tongue depressors and push down on the back of your tongue to stimulate the gag reflex. Do this at least 2-3 times per day.
You will need to do these exercises for several weeks before you see any change.
In addition, being in a parasympathetic nervous system state will tonify your vagus nerve. This is what we call “rest and digest”, as opposed to a sympathetic nervous system state known as “fight or flight”. Activities like meditation, breathing, yoga and just simply resting can develop the tone of your vagus nerve.
Don’t forget about the gut-brain axis! It contributes to the health of your gut!
You know the saying, “You are what you eat”. Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s more accurate to say, “You are what you digest”.
Digestion is a complex process that is essential to good health. It begins in the mouth with chewing, healthy teeth, and release of enzymes and ends up with elimination out the back end. There are numerous places where something can go wrong. When something does go wrong, we often fail to absorb the nutrients we need. Everything from minerals, vitamins, fats, protein, and carbohydrates are vital to keeping our bodies working properly.
One of the biggest problems that can occur, especially with age, is the lack of stomach acid. Without it, all sorts of complications result:
- Hydrochloric acid helps us break down the protein that we eat into amino acids. When this doesn’t happen, food allergies can develop. Undigested proteins that are larger than usual find their way into our blood stream. Our immune system reacts since it’s not used to seeing these large molecules. This results in food allergies, which can cause all sorts of digestive and systemic symptoms such as headaches, sinus congestion, rashes, and joint pain.
- Hydrochloric acid also creates the right environment in our digestive tract to prevent the wrong bugs from thriving. If the wrong bugs thrive, this can cause all kinds of troublesome digestive symptoms.
- Another very important function of hydrochloric acid is to help us absorb minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Low stomach acid can be part of the reason why older women get osteoporosis (along with lack of estrogen) and can also be a cause for muscle cramps.
- And yet, hydrochloric acid is just one part of a complex process. The liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, large intestine all have important tasks that can become compromised. When they do, there’s bound to be consequences.
Remember, our foods and proper digestion of them is where the body gets everything it needs to function.
You might be experiencing some digestive or other symptoms that you decide to just live with. Your body works hard to compensate for a weakness in one area, but eventually the nutritional deficiencies or improper environment that is created can worsen over time. You may begin to experience more symptoms that aren’t as tolerable.
Why not seek out help now, before your less than optimal digestion takes its toll?
The sooner we can address less than optimal digestion, the better. The rest of your body is depending on your digestion to get what it needs.
Optimal health depends on optimal digestion!
Don’t let your doctor tell you otherwise. You CAN get relief from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There is an underlying cause to your suffering. It is called a syndrome because the medical establishment can’t visualize any abnormality of the tissues in your gastrointestinal tract. But that does not mean that there is no solution. Every patient is different and Irritable Bowel Syndrome can have a combination of causes. One of these causes that your doctor may not be aware of is SIBO.
SIBO stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. The problem in this condition is that there is an abnormally high amount of bacteria in the small intestine. When the bacteria are in the small intestine, they wreck havoc. This is why you feel so awful! They munch on the foods that you’ve just eaten, some of which they like better than others. Then they produce gas in the small intestine, which gives you a bloated feeling. They cause you to have diarrhea or constipation, depending on the type of gas they are producing. And they also destroy the cells lining your gastrointestinal tract, making it harder for you to digest food because those cells contain digestive enzymes. Not only do they cause you pain and discomfort, but they prevent you from digesting your food!
How can you get you relief from the discomfort these bacteria are causing you? The first step is to test for the presence of them. It’s called the lactulose breath test. We will determine if there are bacteria present in the small intestine and what types of bacteria are there. Then we will eradicate those bugs that have been making you so uncomfortable, followed with a diet protocol that will keep them under control. Eventually we will work on healing the nerves in your gut so that there is proper movement of your intestines. This will help to keep the bacteria out of your small intestine and free from that horrible discomfort.
Perhaps you have heard of SIBO, have been treated and felt better, only to relapse into the same place you were before. Proper treatment involves healing the nerves, keeping the small intestine moving, and ensuring you have proper hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzyme production. Without that, your suffering is very likely to return. Many doctors don’t understand this and don’t include this in their treatment protocol. Make sure to find a doctor that is fully educated about SIBO and its proper treatment. And please know that you are not destined to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome!
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