So many things can affect our gut health - environmental toxins, food additives, high-stress jobs or lifestyle, dieting, birth control, antibiotics.... and on and on and on.
But all of these causes come back to one main root - stress on the system.
And for me, postpartum was full of stress - physically, mentally, and emotionally - as well as a season of depletion.
Stress affects digestion... and everything else.
According to Parijat Deshpande is an Integrative High-Risk Pregnancy Specialist, and she explains stress as "a physiological chain reaction that happens anytime we are presented with a threat." In a recent podcast, she goes on to say there is no choice, decision, or any kind of judgment of what that threat is to the body.
Wow. Please go listen to that podcast before we continue on because it is THAT good.
Here's my over-simplified attempt to break it down for you.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the "rest and digest" branch of our nervous system; the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is our "fight or flight" branch.
If our SNS is activated through a stress event or through chronic stress (physical, mental, and/or emotional), our ability to properly digest food (break down the food, absorb the nutrients, and excrete the waste) moves to the bottom of your body's "to do" list.
The body can't expend precious energy digesting food when it perceives a major threat (as it does when the SNS is activated). Your body wants to keep you alive in this moment. It isn't concerned with what this stress response will do to you later on in the day, next week, or even a year from now. The body operates in the present space.
If we are stressed (in any way because our body cannot effectively differentiate stressors from physical to mental or emotional), digestion is slowed or halted.
When we are in a state of stress, chronically or acutely, stress hormones begin to pump out. These hormones are responsible to slowing the digestive system as they are activated by the SNS.
But what does chronic stress (physical, mental, and/or emotional) do to the digestive system?
While some stress is healthy and normal, and balanced our by our PNS, if the stressors and stress continues without a moment for our "rest + digest" system to kick on, this leads to inflammation in the body and depletion.
In regards to digestion this looks like a break down of the lining of the intestines increasing gut/intestinal permeability and our immune response (can cause food allergies or sensitivities), disrupted balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut (which plays a role in mental health), decrease absorption of nutrients and minerals from food (depletion), and doesn't allow for the adequate removal of excess estrogen in our small intestines (this will in turn further affect hormonal balance, the menstrual cycle, and fertility).
Our world is full of stressors - physical, emotional, and mental.
Some of these stressors we can eliminate or decrease on our own by making better choices when it comes to what goes in and on our bodies. We can also control what we consume via social media and TV, and who we spend out time with.
But some things are beyond what we can control.
Our ability to regulate the stressors we encounter in daily life via the parasympathetic nervous system (or the PNS - the "rest and digest" branch of our nervous system) impact every bodily system. Therefore, learning to not only manage our stress, but begin eliminating where you can will help decrease the burden on your body and allow rest and healing to occur.