Mindfulness & Digestive Health

Written by Jonene Ford

If you know me, you know I’m ALWAYS talking about the connection between the health of the body and the health of the mind.  They are sooooo interconnected, but people tend to ignore their mental health when addressing physical health.  If you want to see long-term results, you HAVE to work on both!

Let me start with my own story…it’s a little embarrassing, but hey, if it helps, I’m all for it! Here goes…

So as far back as I can remember, I have dealt with chronic constipation. UGH! Sorry, told ya…embarrassing! Anyways, yep, I was the kid who stopped up toilets all over town.  Sometimes I wouldn’t go for a whole week, sometimes even 10 days! And when I did go, I dreaded it because it was so painful.  This lasted all the way through my late 20s.  I had stomach pain frequently, and difficulty staying focused on tasks for long periods.  I had no idea the two were connected until I started learning about nutrition and physiology in undergrad.  I also didn’t know that if I wasn’t going at least one time per day, then I was considered “sick.”  Wow! Does that sound like anyone you know?

When speaking to clients, I would say a good 3 out of 4 complain about digestive issues.  Some have chronic constipation, others have frequent GI discomfort (like heartburn, bloating, and excessive gas), and even worse, many have autoimmune diseases like irritable bowel syndrome or colitis.  Needless to say, our population has some MAJOR stomach issues.

While there are many therapies that can help CURE these issues NATURALLY, the first things that I suggest are those things affecting MENTAL HEALTH and FUNCTION.  This is not just some hippy mumbo-jumbo…addressing mental wellness that has been scientifically proven to help improve digestion!

In one study, clients with ulcerative colitis participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, and as a result had lower c-reactive protein levels (inflammation marker), cortisol levels (stress hormone), and cytokine (another sign of inflammation).

Another study showed a STRONG link between childhood trauma and constipation.  In other words, people who experienced childhood trauma of some sort were more likely to have chronic constipation.  On the other hand, when those same people received cognitive behavioral therapy from a qualified psychologist, without any other changes, their bowel movements became regular.  Wow!  These outcomes cannot be denied.

Here’s one more…people who reported getting less than 6 hours of sleep nightly were more likely to have acid reflux.  When regular sleep was added, in addition to minimal dietary changes, acid reflux symptoms were alleviated.  Rest the mind, and your body will thank you!

Digestive problems are no longer my story. I’m a 2 or more times a day type of girl nowadays. But that only happened AFTER I started managing the stress in my life by including prayer & meditation into my morning routine, talking to trusted friends when I’m feeling overwhelmed, making sure I get adequate sleep, and including physical exercise DAILY! I also take some AMAZING supplements to help with digestive health, but that’s a different topic for a different blog post…

The moral of the story is this – if you’re experiencing chronic digestive issues, check your mental wellness! Yes, nutrition and physical activity play a large role, but overall wellness is a MAJOR FACTOR in improving your condition!

What will YOU do today to improve YOUR digestion?