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There is strong evidence to suggest that psychological stress has marked impact on gastrointestinal health and digestion. Stress is processed through the intestinal tract where 95 percent of the body’s serotonin and other neurotransmitters are manufactured and stored –leaving only 5 percent of the body’s serotonin in the brain at any given time. (2) Over-stimulation of the intestinal epithelium or “skin” can alter the gut microbiology and send stress signals to the brain via the gut-brain access. (1) Once the brain gets the message that there is an emergency brewing—it sends this stressed message to every cell in the body and, in particular, back to the gut, where more stress, intestinal discomfort and altered microbiology ensues. (1)
For optimal intestinal health, one must take a comprehensive approach that includes:
- Stress prevention techniques
- Protecting the gut and nervous system from the effects of day-to-day stress
- Supporting the intestinal skin
- Rebooting beneficial microbiology
But first, let’s examine the individual nature of your intestinal health.
Your Individual Plan for Intestinal Health
While stress will be processed through everyone’s gut, we are all individuals, and our digestive tracts do not always respond in the same way. Some folks will become sluggish while others battle discomfort, mood issues and, occasionally, loose stools. Ayurveda has mapped out some of these individual tendencies by linking them to your body type.
Vata intestines are marked by symptoms of the nervous system’s impact on digestion. In highly sensitive vata body types, the individual often has a strong radar and feels everything. This can easily overstimulate the intestinal skin and alter the good bacteria and the neurotransmitter production. The result can be sluggish, slow, dry, hard elimination and mood-related and sleep concerns.
The protocol for vata intestinal support is to help soothe the nervous system, lubricate the intestinal skin and support a new population of beneficial microbes. For this, I suggest:
- A combination of slippery elm, marshmallow root and licorice to be sipped throughout the day as a concentrated tea.
- A combination of triphala, licorice and slippery elm to reboot bowel function (4,5) through a more lubricated intestinal tract.
- To support the nervous system, I suggest some of my favorite herbs such as brahmi, bacopa, shankpushpi, skullcap and passion flower. (6-8)
Pitta intestines are marked by occasional heartburn and the reactive production of intestinal mucus that can cause a looser stool and abdominal discomfort. This is commonly triggered by overworking or pushing the body too hard.
To balance the pitta-based intestinal concerns like acid production and sporadic loose stools, I suggest the following:
- Herbs like amalaki and avipattikar to cool and strengthen the digestive fire. (9, 10)
- Bilva in combination with triphala, licorice and slippery elm to support healthy bowel function. (4, 5, 11, 12)
Kapha intestines are marked by a slow, boggy digestive system. If this body type becomes stressed, it is also processed through the intestinal skin where there is a natural predisposition to produce excessive reactive mucus. This can result in seeing mucus in a looser stool with digestive congestion. This can begin to prevent the intestines and microbes from assimilating the needed nutrients and detoxifying effectively through the intestinal wall.
To support a kapha-based intestinal tract we have to pull the mucus off the wall of the intestines and de-congest the intestinal tract. To accomplish this, I suggest:
- The bilva mentioned above for pitta.
- Turmeric is traditionally used to dry and reduce unwanted intestinal mucoid material. For best absorption, use turmeric in combination with black pepper at a ratio of 16:1. (3)
Support for all 3 Doshas: Boost the Microbiome & Gut Health
Stress influences the health of the intestinal mucosa – where our microbes either live or die. Such stress alters the function of the gut microbiome. (13) In fact, in one study, a group of subjects that had intestinal discomfort and bloating had 5 times less Bifidobacteria (a well-known beneficial bacteria) than another matched group without intestinal discomfort and bloating. (14)
In another study, stress was found to damage the intestinal mucosa and the gut microbiology in such a major way that it caused an increase in gut permeability – allowing toxins and pathogens to enter directly into the bloodstream. (15)
A logical strategy for a probiotic regime would be to introduce colonizing microbes into the gut and digestive tract that support microbial diversity, and ultimately promote digestive self-sufficiency. In an effort to accomplish this, I suggest a four-step comprehensive plan for perfecting your gut health:
Step 1: Support the intestinal mucus membranes by introducing prebiotic soluble fiber to create the best possible environment for healthy microbes to thrive.
Step 2: Introduce healthy, colonizing probiotics that will remove undesirable, non-functional microbes and simultaneously make way for new beneficial, permanent residents to proliferate.
Step 3: After the gut is primed, boost colonizing microbes to complete the process of achieving thriving microbial diversity.
Step 4: Maintain with colonizing probiotics as needed and small amounts of fermented foods and seasonal eating.
To accomplish this, I suggest using a specific progression of synergistic prebiotic and probiotic products, formulated to efficiently create a healthy microbiome.
Learn To Meditate to Handle Stress
Try my One Minute Meditation. Repeat this 5-10 times a day for best results.
For a deeper, more transformational experience, consider my 6-week meditation eCourse, called the TAT or Transformational Awareness Technique.
To learn more about the relationship of stress and digestion, please watch my videos and read my articles on digestive health here.