There’s no question how important it is for us to be able to regulate our emotions. Holding on to fear, worry, shame, and other negative emotions is not only hard on the mind, but hard on our digestion. Be aware of how you eat; watching the news, eating while driving, or seeing something on social media that irks you or makes you feel as though your life is lacking (unfortunately it’s designed for this) only works to activate your sympathetic nervous system. When this is activated, the nerves to your gut act to constrict blood vessels, pulling blood away from the organs that digest your food. If we can’t break down our food efficiently, food passes down into the intestines without being properly absorbed, which can lead to problems with our intestines; maybe it’s just gas or bloating, or maybe something more serious. If we’re not absorbing all the nutrients we eat, the health of other cells in our body’s can suffer. The ability of our muscles to recover, the health of the connective tissues of our joints and skin, or poor functioning of our brain (fogginess or moodiness) and nervous system can be the end result of not creating the environment for good digestion to take place.
Your stomach, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas make up your foregut. The nerves for this region come from the solar plexus, located just under your diaphragm. Most of this plexus is formed of the vagus nerve, which sends impulses from your gut to your brain and is said to be the most important part of the gut-brain axis, and one of the most important actors in the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you rest, digest, and recover each day. A poor functioning vagus nerve can lead to problems with heart rate, blood pressure, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain/bloating, acid reflux and problems with blood sugar. In fact, Vagus Nerve Stimulation is being studied as a potential treatment for headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, bipolar disorder, obesity, and Alzheimers.
Can Osteopathy help? As a manual osteopathic therapist, my goal is to find restrictions in the body. You can find it in muscles, ligaments, fascia, or even within our organ systems. It may be physical trauma to the gut, or large or chronic stresses, but oftentimes I have to work to relax the nerves of the abdomen which are creating tension in between our organs, making it difficult for them to communicate with each other through the blood, or send normal nerve signals to the brain. In a sense, I perform very specific vagus nerve stimulation to help improve digestion, and your ability to relax so that you can sleep and recover better. Think of the downstream effects on your mood and willpower when you can actually sleep well!
Need a quick tool to help you digest better? Take 5 deep slow breaths before you eat, or when you feel stressed. This pushes the diaphragm down onto your organs, relaxing the nerves to these organs, improving the circulation to the area, and getting you set for good digestion!