In This Article
Emotional Stress and Digestion
As children, we often cope with adversity by enduring emotional stress through the digestive system, most commonly with a “tummy ache.”
Studies have now mapped this process by locating 95% of the body’s serotonin, (a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood) in a surprising place: only 5% of it is found in the brain and the rest is manufactured and located in the intestinal wall (1).
As adults, we often struggle emotionally and aim therapies at balancing brain chemistry while overlooking the role digestion plays on mental health.
New research has found that one of the most popular nerve tonics in Ayurveda does more than support stress tolerance, intelligence, immunity, memory and sleep. It also supports the skin on the inside and outside of the body. This herb can help support circulatory heart health and acid imbalances in the digestive tract.
Read how this amazing herb helps balance the mind by healing the gut with a fascinating side benefit of protecting the body from the ravages of stress.*
Is Your Digestion Sabotaging Your Mental Health?
Stress, hard-to-digest foods, some medications and a toxic world slowly compromise digestive strength. Stress produces stress-fighting neurotransmitters in the gut which can overwhelm and inflame the intestinal mucosa, which is the skin inside the gut. Once the intestinal skin is inflamed, the ability to assimilate the nutrition needed for optimal mental health as well as the ability to detoxify the body are both compromised.
The lack of nutrient assimilation triggers cravings for those nutrients. This leads to overeating because the mind over-stimulates hunger centers in the brain that don’t get satisfied through undigested food.* As a result, typical American portions have gotten larger and larger in an attempt to gratify the mind. This nutritional strain stresses the nervous system and decreases one’s overall tolerance to stress.
Since we process stress through the gut wall, this symptom of “intolerance to stress” further inflames the intestinal wall, which compromises digestive efficiency and mental health. Some of these digestive imbalances are hidden and are underlying factors to stress intolerance.
QUIZ: Identify Digestive Weak Spots That May Be Caused By Stress
- Do you feel tired after a meal?
- Do you regularly have a 2-4PM low?
- Do you have trouble digesting wheat or dairy?
- Do you tend toward looser stools?
- Do you modify your diet or take supplements to keep regular?
- Do you finish your day exhausted?
- Do you crave sweets, coffee, chocolate, tea, chips or any stimulating foods?
- Do you feel terrible after eating a high fat or greasy meal?
- Do you ever get heart burn?
- Do you ever see mucus in your stool?
- Are you not satisfied by a meal unless you over eat?
- Do you feel the need to snack or graze throughout the day?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, this is an indication of a digestive weakness that might be effecting your ability to handle stress well.
Ayurveda’s #1 Stress Herb
Brahmi (Gota kola) or Centella asiatica is touted as the most rejuvenating herb in Ayurveda. It has been used for thousands of years as the main herb for revitalizing the nerves and brain cells. According to The Yoga Book of Herbs, Brahmi (2):
- Supports intelligence
- Supports longevity
- Supports memory
- Balances aging and senility
- Supports immunity
- Rejuvenates the adrenals
Clinically, Brahmi is such a great rejuvenative that I recommend it to support sleep. It can be taken in the morning for energy and mental clarity and before bed for a good night’s sleep. It gives the body the energy it needs to sleep through the night. This is the sign of a true adaptogen – when an herb can give energy and allow the body to sleep at the same time.
The Stress-Skin Connection
As I have written in my past newsletters, we have skin all over our bodies. It is called epithelium. It wraps our bodies and lines our arteries, veins, heart, respiratory tract and the entire digestive system.
If the skin on your body is sagging, it is likely that the inside skin is also sagging. As we age, we lose adequate blood supply to the skin and distal tissues inside and out.* Stress also compromises blood supply to the skin. When we become tense, this tension cuts off optimal blood supply to the skin all over the body. Without an optimal blood supply, the body naturally lays down fibrous tissue or scar tissue. Scar tissue is a tough, non-elastic and thick tissue that doesn’t require much blood and is, therefore, a good band-aid for areas of the body without adequate blood supply.
The buildup of tough thick scar tissue is most notably seen in an autoimmune condition called Scleroderma where the skin throughout the body (inside and out) thickens with scar tissue. In numerous studies, Brahmi has been shown to support Scleroderma, as it remodels collagen production and thus reverses scar tissue production or thickening of the skin (3).
Brahmi has been shown to support circulation and periodontal health (4).
Digestive Tract Scar Tissue
As we age, the intestinal skin endures emotional stress, toxic food, chemicals, pollutants and preservatives and reacts by producing scar tissue. This scar tissue can render the gut less able to digest, assimilate and detoxify. If you were to flatten out all the villi of the gut they cover an area as big as a tennis court, so we have many to spare – or do we?
Recently Brahmi has been found in one study to support 64 elderly patients with peptic (stomach) and duodenal ulcers (5). This study suggests that the Brahmi (Centella asiatica) may play an important role in the stomach’s and intestine’s ability to heal itself.
These recent studies indicate that Brahmi may be an herb that supports the nervous system and brain function by helping to restore optimal function of the skin that lines the intestinal tract.
Brahmi Fights Arterial Plaque
In two 12-month clinical trials, Brahmi stabilized both carotid and femoral artery plaque as measured by increased ultrasonic echogenicity (less plaque) compared to the control. (6, 7) Arterial plaque is another form of fibrous tissue or scar tissue proliferation. At the end of the study, patients taking Brahmi with carotid artery plaque had cerebral damage only in 7% of the cases, whereas the control group had cerebral damage in 17% of the cases (6). This may be due to Brahmi’s traditional use as a brain tonic.
I believe we can all have the digestive strength and mental health of an eighteen-year-old. This starts by reversing the cumulative damage to the skin on the inside of the body. Research suggests that Brahmi may be a valuable agent to protect the gut from intestinal irritation and resultant scar tissue formation while offering support to the nervous system and brain function.
- Gershon MD. Curr Opin Gastroenterol 2000; 16:113-20.DO
- Yoga Book of herbs, Frawley, Lad. Lotus Press. 1986. p-173
- Bonte F et al 1994; Maquart FX et al 1999; Widgerow AD et al 2000
- Guseva NG et al 1998
- Rhee J, Choi KW. [Clinical Effect of the Titrated Extract of Centella Asiatica (Madecassol®) on Peptic Ulcer]. Korean J Gastroenterol 1981; 13(1): 35-40.
- Cesarone MR, Belcaro G, Nicolaides AN et al. Increase in echogenicity of echolucent carotid plaques after treatment with total triterpenic fraction of Centella asiatica: a prospective, placebo-controlled, randomised trial. Angiology 2001; 52(Suppl 2): S19-S25.
- Incandela L, Belcaro G, Nicolaides AN et al. Modification of the echogenicity of femoral plaques after treatment with total triterpenic fraction of Centella asiatica: a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Angiology 2001; 52(Suppl 2): S69-S73.