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!
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.
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.
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.