Destress for better digestion

De-stress for better digestion

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Experiencing tummy troubles? Stress may be a bigger factor than you think, writes Kathryn Terrill.

We all know that stress can contribute to sleep problems, increased moodiness and low energy. But did you know it can also have a huge influence on your digestion? If you're feeling bloated, having irregular bowel movements or regularly suffering from digestive discomfort, stress may be the missing link in your hunt for a solution.

What happens when you stress?

Our body's autonomic nervous system (ANS) is made up of two main branches that usually act in opposition to each other: the sympathetic (or ‘fight-or-flight') division, and the parasympathetic (or ‘rest-and-digest') division.

The sympathetic nervous system gets going during physical and emotional stress. When this happens, blood is diverted away from non-essential organs (such as the digestive tract), and sent to organs involved in physical movement or to fend off danger (such as skeletal and cardiac muscle).

In other words, processes non-essential for dealing with the stressful situation are inhibited. That means a reduction in digestive secretions and muscular movements of the digestive tract. The effects of sympathetic stimulation are longer lasting than those of the parasympathetic nervous system, so even if you do relax regularly, the stress that you have been feeling may have a carry-over effect.

What to do?

Reducing your stress levels is the key, and fortunately the natural world offers several wonderful herbal remedies to address both problems – your digestive issues and your body's reaction to ongoing stress. Get started today, and kick that ‘rest-and-digest' system into gear!

1. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita )

Most of us know chamomile as an excellent herb for relaxation. But did you know it's also great for relieving stomach cramps, reflux and flatulence? Not only does a cup of good quality chamomile tea before bed help you sleep more soundly, it can help prevent stomach ulcers, has a mild anti-bacterial action and increases the ability of the liver to break down fat. So, get sipping!

2. Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Put away the liquorice sweets, and get yourself some pure liquorice root tea or herbal extract instead (which still has a pleasantly sweet taste). Liquorice lollies could potentially add to your digestive woes, since refined sugar sometimes contributes to candida overgrowth, makes you thirsty and delivers a taxing sugar slump after the initial high. Medicinal use of this amazing herb has occurred since the time of the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks. Not only is it a great tonic for the adrenal glands, it's also a potent anti-inflammatory for the digestive tract.

3. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Recent scientific studies have confirmed traditional evidence that lemon balm is useful for reducing stress and anxiety, and has a gentle sedative effect. It is also excellent for the reduction of pain, spasms and inflammation of the digestive tract. Lemon balm is available at many health food stores or specialty tea shops, and is also easy to grow in your garden. Think about reaching for a steamy cup of pleasant lemon balm tea next time you get that ‘nervous tummy' kind of feeling.

References available on request