What You Need To Know about Stress And Your Digestion

Things go wrong in the body for a lot of reasons. When we have a health crisis it is not because of chance but because of something real that is going on. There are a lot of different reasons that you can be unhealthy or disrupted. Many things can cause the same set of problems to show up. That is what stress is. Stress is not just what we commonly think of it as today. Mental and emotional stress is only one part of the equation when it comes to your health. Your exposure to processed foods, pollution, toxins, not sleeping properly or having your circadian rhythm out of sync are all stressful on the body. Your gastrointestinal tract is profoundly affected by all of these types of stress. When things are not going as they should with your digestion, you must take a look at the total amount of stress your body is under. 

What do you do about all of this stress?

Realistically you would want to do what you can to reduce all of these stressors and ideally eliminate some of them. What you cannot eliminate you want to be aware of. Take care of those things you know are causing you stress and use strategies that help to lower that stress response within the body to help heal the gut. 

A stress response in your GI tract can have an effect on things like inflammatory bowel diseases like Chron’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis both of which fall under the category of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. If you have food sensitivities or leaky gut you have a stress response. If you have a parasite or bacteria within the gut you have a stress response. When you have inflammation you have a stress response. 

There are many theories about IBS and how it happens or starts to affect someone. It probably isn’t just the stress on your body but that is definitely a factor contributing to such problems. What is known is that if you have a problem with an IBS disorder, how it affects you can be drastically different than how it affects your neighbor and the major factor in that is the load of stress on your body. 

One of the first things you will see a change in is peristalsis (an involuntary muscle contraction in the intestines that causes a wavelike movement pushing the stuff in your gut forward so it can eventually exit the body). When this mechanism stops working properly you can have cramping, bloating and even pain in your gut as well as toxins being reabsorbed due to slower elimination. 

The enzymes secreted along the way to help digest your food are also affected. You are no longer breaking down proteins or neutralizing the stomach acid as it moves through the small intestine causing inflammation in the gut. The hormones that tell you that you are full are all messed up too so you can end up over eating and overwhelming your digestive system. This can lead to leaky gut or intestinal permeability and the vicious cycle continues. You can end up with food intolerances and or even an autoimmune response. 

You are equipped with a nervous system that can put you in more of a relaxed state (parasympathetic) or in that fight or flight (sympathetic) state. Your body naturally maintains a flow of both without any help from you. The problem with most of us is that we are often in a constant state of fight or flight with very little time being in the rest and digest period which is a stressor and affects digestion. This also means that there is no time where your body can repair itself properly. The rest and digest state is also when you are in a state of repair. When your body doesn’t have time to heal you end up with problems like IBS or leaky gut. 

When you have leaky gut you probably also have an imbalance of gut flora too. There is a group of bacteria that plays a role in shifting your hormones.  The flora in your bowel affects the stress response within your gut. If your gut flora is not properly balanced it can create hormonal issues in the body. The hormones affected are things like cortisol, testosterone and estrogen among others.  When your body produces hormones there are conversions that happen in the liver and in the intestines to make them useful or to change them and excrete the leftovers. When there is an imbalance of flora in the gut and the bowel, these conversions don’t happen like they are supposed to. You can have no conversions happening or you can have too much conversion going on. It really depends on the balance of flora that you have. 

Besides reducing stress like controlling the stressors outside the body like our food and some of that mental emotional stress we can make sure to keep our circadian rhythm in check. What that means is you need to be looking at what time of day you go to sleep or wake up. Is it the same time everyday? Do you eat about the same time every day?  All of this is very important to how your digestion (and really your body in general) responds. 

Here is what you can do to help your circadian rhythm:

  • Eat breakfast no later than one hour after you wake up and eat some protein for breakfast.
  • Expose yourself to some sunlight right away. This will help you get a deep sleep at night and it will help make sure you break down the protein in your breakfast. 
  • Go to bed early. This will help you get the most restorative sleep where your body can then repair itself. Studies show going to bed before midnight allows this repair cycle to work much better. The earlier the better though (we were naturally set up to sleep and rise with the sun for the most part).  
  • Shift work is extremely hard on your body. You can’t always avoid it but if it is not required of you, try not to do it. If you have to do shift work you are better off maintaining a schedule with it. Just know that it is best for your body to at least have consistency. 

Being in this constant state of stress causes your body to store and hold on to fat around your organs. Your body is thinking it has to do it for survival. Your innate intelligence thinks there issome sort of need to come (like a change in the season or a long period of fasting) for this fat so it hangs on to it. It stores it for fuel. This stress response by the body can affect the digestive state and it can be affected by the digestive state. You see, the more inflamed you are in your intestines, the more your body will think it is in a state of stress which makes it more likely you will store your fuel as fat instead of burning it up right away. So just by having poor digestion you will gain weight. Stress is stress to your body. It can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is in your head. The stress response is pretty much the same. 

A good place to start to see where your intestinal inflammation is coming from is doing an elimination diet. You do have to watch for a shift in your gut flora once you eliminate something and add it back in after a time though. Your gut flora changes based on what types of foods you consume so be aware that you may see some reaction from something you previously had no reaction to before. Keeping track of each food you are adding back in and how you feel is a good idea. It can really help you pinpoint exactly what foods might be causing you distress. 

Other things you can do to minimize the stress response in your body: 

  • Maintain balanced blood sugar and use resistant fiber/starch. Your body doesn’t completely digest the fiber so it helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut which helps lower inflammation. 
    • Great sources of resistant fiber/starch are boiled and cooled potatoes, green bananas, green plantains and white beans. 
  • Breathing alternately through your nostrils is another way. It will reset your nervous system. What you do is plug one nostril while breathing in through the other, then unplug the other nostril and plug the one you just breathed through and breath out the one you unplugged. Continue to alternate doing this for a couple minutes. 
  • You can also just work on breathing slowly through your diaphragm. Just some deep slow breaths any time you feel yourself getting worked up. 
  • Mediation- just about 5-10 minutes a day is helpful. 
  • Cool down your room when you go to bed and keep your room as dark as possible. This helps you sleep much better. 

Let’s work on figuring out your digestive issues together. I am currently taking new clients and would be honored to work with you. You deserve to feel better!

In Health, 

Stephanie

20 Ways to Tell Your Blood Sugar Needs Balancing

The regulation of our blood sugar is so important to our adrenal health. The two things really go hand in hand. If blood sugar regulation is not working well then you cannot achieve health. It is THAT important. Blood sugar dysregulation leads to oxidative stress. Basically what this means is that there is more free radical damage in our bodies because we don’t have enough anti oxidants to neutralize the free radicals created in our body. It also leads to something called glycation which is when proteins in your body become sugared over and can’t communicate with other cells in your body. Blood sugar dysregulation also messes with the energy output in your cells. Your cells create energy with glucose which is a form of sugar. Our body is continually monitoring the levels of glucose in our bloodstream to make sure it stays balanced. Having too much or too little triggers hormones to be released to keep the glucose levels normal.  We were designed to use unrefined carbohydrates as well as quality fats and proteins as our best sources of fuel. We are not designed to run on carbohydrates alone, especially refined and processed ones. 

 

So how do you know if you have some issues with blood sugar imbalance?

  1. You crave sweets
  2. You wake up soon after falling asleep and have a hard time getting back to sleep
  3. You have binge type eating patterns
  4. You have an appetite that won’t quit
  5. You get irritable, jittery or hangry
  6. You get headaches that temporarily feel better after eating
  7. You crave coffee or sugar in the afternoon
  8. You are sleepy in the afternoon
  9. You get shaky if you miss a meal or eat later than normal
  10. You have a family history of diabetes
  11. You are thirsty a lot
  12. You have to pee a lot
  13. You crave bread, pasta or other refined grains
  14. You have poor concentration
  15. You have night sweats
  16. You struggle to lose weight even though you are eating a low fat diet
  17. You are frequently tired
  18. You get a boost of energy from eating
  19. You have anxiety or panic attacks
  20. You have spikes and dips in your energy levels throughout the day

If any one of these describes you then you are most certainly assured to have some issues with your blood sugar and probably your adrenals too. You see, the main organs involved in your blood sugar regulation are the Pancreas, the Liver and the Adrenal Glands. They each have a very important role in blood sugar. If they are constantly busy managing your blood sugar because you ate too many cookies or a huge bowl of ice cream or a box of crackers at work then they can’t do all the other things they need to do in a day, in a moment to keep you alive. 

Refined sugar is a recent invention compared to how long man has been around. We only have one hormone that lowers blood sugar and that is insulin. It wasn’t supposed to have the job of lowering blood sugar but to bring glucose to the cells.  The hormones cortisol, epinephrine (or adrenaline) and glucagon are all there to raise our blood sugar when needed.  It used to be that is what we needed- to raise blood sugar so that our brain, nerves and red blood cells got the glucose they needed. Today, we overload our bodies with sugar at around 200 pounds per person per year. 

So why do we love it so much?

Well frankly, sugar makes us feel good. It literally raises your endorphins but it also crashes and makes you feel worse after a short time. This is called the blood sugar roller coaster. It is addictive. So addictive in fact that in one study, mice chose sugar over cocaine. 

Our taste buds love it but our bodies do not. It is really hard on your body to be managing your blood sugar day in and day out. Your pancreas releases the hormone insulin which is just supposed to transport glucose to your cells from your blood so that it can be used for energy. When you overwhelm your body with sugar the pancreas will eventually wear out which leads to things like insulin resistance and then type II diabetes. Your adrenal glands will be exhausted from having to deal with managing blood sugar on top of all the other stressors in your life such as your emotional stressors, not sleeping or your every day frustrating commute to work. It will also depress your immune system. Your liver can end up having a hard time converting stored glucose back in to glucose for energy and you can end up with a fatty liver. 

You can develop something called insulin resistance where your cells decide they have had enough of insulin knocking at their door to deliver them some glucose and they just don’t answer the door anymore. This is when your blood sugar levels will be higher on a blood test.  You could have insulin resistance if you are tired all the time, can’t lose weight, you have joint problems, are depressed, have thyroid or fertility issues. 

Insulin resistance has a huge impact on female hormone issues like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, irregular periods and PMS. 

Consuming large amounts of sugar can mean you are what we call a sugar burner. This means your body is able to burn sugar or glucose rather than fat for energy. This here is key to weight loss for many people and if you have weight gain due to hypothyroidsim or Hashimoto’s, converting from a sugar burner to a fat burner can be ultra helpful in dropping some of those pesky pounds. Other signs you are a sugar burner are: 

  •     you are less satisfied after eating
  •     you are hungry all the time
  •     you can’t use fat for energy
  •     you crave carbohydrates and you eat them 

Reducing the amount of sugar you consume on a daily basis can turn this around and you can teach your body how to burn fat for energy.  All that extra sugar you have consumed in a day that your cells can’t use gets stored as fat. You can teach your body how to use it. 

Let’s talk more about how the adrenal glands and your adrenal health is affected by blood sugar imbalances. 

If you have Hashimoto’s you may not tolerate carbohydrates as well as other folks. Your blood sugar can rise quickly after eating carbs which can lead to too much insulin being released which can end up causing low blood sugar and make you feel anxious, nervous and tired. This also stresses your adrenal glands because cortisol is released when your adrenals are working overtime. Every time your blood sugar gets low epinephrine is released to help restore it to normal levels.  This can also mess with your immune system. 

Here are some general symptoms of low blood sugar: 

  •     brain fog
  •     blurred vision
  •     hard time sleeping
  •     heart palpitations
  •     fatigue
  •     dizziness
  •     headaches
  •     depression
  •     irritability
  •     cravings for sugar
  •     hunger

How do you avoid blood sugar imbalances?

Look at your diet. Look at your lifestyle. 

Do you eat a large amount of refined carbohydrates in the form of breads or cereals for breakfast? Do you skip breakfast? Do you eat things like pasta salad or a sandwich for lunch? Do you eat all the “good for you” yogurt you see in the grocery store? Have a look at the sugar content of your standard grocery store yogurt. It is pretty high. 

Are you running all the time with no time for rest and relaxation? 

 

Here are some generally good ideas for balancing your blood sugar:

  1. Have some protein at every meal (see this post for learning all about protein)
  2. When you first start to balance your blood sugar, eating more often is better- try having a snack between breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just something small like a few nuts or a piece of cheese
  3. Don’t have any sugar before bed
  4. Keep your caffeine intake to a minimum (really would be a good idea to take it out of your diet while you balance your blood sugar)
  5. Don’t eat any grains or dairy 
  6. Eat breakfast within an hour of getting up
  7. Avoid all sweeteners including artificial ones (limit your fruits to 1 serving a day at most)
  8. Keep the carbs to a minimum eating only complex carbs
  9. Consume high quality healthy fats

You would want to do this for about two weeks and then slowly add back things like full fat dairy and continuing to limit grains if you tolerate them. If you have Hashimoto’s you will want eliminate gluten containing grains for good. Eventually you may be able to tolerate some other grains once in awhile. I would not recommend switching your glutenful products with gluten free ones. They will react the same in your body as far as blood sugar is concerned.  Staying low carb is not beneficial for everyone. I find I have much more energy when I consume more starchy carbs regularly like sweet potatoes and veggies. I feel my best when consuming a significant amount of veggies daily. If you feel exhausted after awhile of being low carb it is a sign you will do better with more complex carbs in your diet and that is okay. 

You can try this on your own or you can come to me for help. I have a special plan just to convert you from a sugar burner to a fat burner that helps keep your blood sugar balanced which will help in the recovery of your adrenals as well.  Send me an email and we can chat about it!

Thanks so much for reading. I sincerely appreciate your time. Please tell me in the comments what symptoms of imbalanced blood sugar you might have. I look forward to hearing from you. 

In health, 

Stephanie