Parasympathetically Yours

I’m back from my mini beach vacay and all refreshed and ready to blog again!  My posts may be a bit spotty over the next couple weeks as I’m studying for my final exam for my certification, but hang in there with me and I promise I’ll be back again in full force!

Just for fun, here is a pic of me and some of my sisters at the beach a couple of days ago. We're never too old to dress alike!

So today I want to talk about a crucial aspect of healthy digestion.  As you might guess, digestion is fundamental to our health.  Every cell, tissue, organ and system depends on the digestive system to provide it with the nutrients it needs to function properly.

If you think digestion begins in the mouth or stomach, then you would be wrong!  Digestion begins in the brain.  Just the sight, smell or thought of food triggers our salivary glands to begin producing salivary amylase, or saliva, so that we can begin breaking down our food.  That explains why simply seeing a commercial or billboard for a food product or smelling the cooking fumes from a restaurant can get our stomach growling.  Our brain is telling the rest of our digestive system that food is on the way and to start preparing to digest it, and our digestive system is answering back by growling!

Since digestion starts in our noggin, it’s really important that we are in a parasympathetic state when we eat, which is just a fancy way of saying that we need to chill out!  While our sympathetic system activates the glands and organs that defend the body against an attack, or our  “fight or flight” response, the parasympathetic system helps us relax and renew.

The problem is, with all the stress that comes with our daily lives, most of us live in a continuous fight or flight mode.  Our sympathetic nervous systems are constantly directing more blood to our muscles and brain, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure and decreasing the blood flow to the digestive and elimination organs.  Some of us can’t even relax our brains long enough to get a quality night’s sleep!

The whole idea for this post came from reading my friend Shira’s blog post entitled “Junk Food Take the Wheel,” where she discussed the growing number of people who are eating the majority of their meals while driving their cars.  We can’t possibly get into a parasympathetic state if we’re sitting in traffic, listening to the radio or talking on our cell phone at the same time!  Many of us are also eating lunch at our desks and dinner in front of the television.  We never give our brains a chance to relax and initiate healthy digestion, immunity and elimination.

Another downside to multi-tasking while we eat is that we end up eating way more than our bodies need.

So what can you do to get into a parasympathetic state come meal time, especially in the midst of the chaos of daily life?  When it’s time to eat, do your best to eliminate distractions and focus in on your food.  This will help you chew well (Chew, chew, chew! It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system!) and feel satisfied faster.  (For those of you trying to limit your portion sizes and lose weight, this will help you consume fewer calories!) Sit down, turn off the tube, put the cell phone on silent, and get away from any other electronics, situations or even people who make you feel anxious.  Even if you don’t have enough time to get away from the office for lunch, at least walk outside and find a quiet place to sit and eat for a few minutes before returning to work.  Before you start eating, saying a quick blessing, taking a few deep breaths or even just thinking about something calming can help relax you faster and set the digestive system into motion.

Whenever possible, find a peaceful place to unwind during your lunch break so you can have relaxing meal before getting back to the grind.

The parasympathetic nervous system, when activated by rest, relaxation and happy thoughts, is essential for physical and emotional balance, healing and healthy digestion.  Find a way to de-stress and stay in a relaxed state as much as possible, and your health will be all the better for it!

Are you getting in a parasympathetic state when you eat?  (I just love saying the word “parasympathetic,” don’t you?  Say it to your friends so they think you’re all smart and fancy!)  What meal or time of day is the biggest challenge for you?  What are your tricks for finding your “happy place” at meal times?  I love receiving your feedback, so speak (or type) up!

P.S. If you have other digestive concerns, feel free to contact me.  The Longevity pharmacy is stocked with high-quality probiotics, enzymes and detoxifying shakes and supplements to help facilitate better digestion.

3 Comments

Filed under Healthy Tips, Rants and Cravings

3 responses to “Parasympathetically Yours

  1. Great blog JoAnna!

    I totally agree – so many of the patients I see have digestive issues and when you break it down – it’s about:
    * stress,
    * unhealthy eating habits (not chewing properly, watching TV or working etc.),
    * unhealthy food choices (including allergies or intolerances)

    Slow it down!! Mindful eating is the way to go! Not only will we be healthier (huge bonus), but we will enjoy our food more too!

    x Adele Pelteret
    Nutritional Therapist
    Cape Town, South Africa

  2. janice hurley

    I definitely have digestive issues! I can’t eat a meal at night at all! I eat a grapefruit every night instead of dinner except on the weekends! If I eat, it lays in my stomach and just makes me so uncomfortable! I wish I could find a good digestive enzyme! I eat the papaya, pineapple tablets from Trader Joes but don’t know if they really make a difference or not! Any suggestions as to why this digestive upset occurs would be appreciated! thanks! Janice Hurley

    • Jan, there is a lot we can do to support and improve your digestion at our clinic (located right in Roswell). We have some probiotics and digestive enzymes that are higher quality than the stuff you see at TJs. I’d love to talk to you further about your digestion and some ideas as to why you’re experiencing all this discomfort. Perhaps we can chat at zumba, or feel free to stop by our pharmacy at any time. We could also schedule a comprehensive nutrition consultation to look at your entire diet and areas where you could improve.

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