What stress has to do with your digestion and what to do about it.
Omeprazole a.k.a. Prilosec, is the 7th most prescribed drug in America with over 70 million prescriptions written last year. It is used to treat acid reflux, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and ulcers. It is a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors. A proton pump inhibitor basically means it prevents your stomach from producing acid.
Makes sense right? Feel acid reflux, stop making acid. Duh.
Except something making sense has nothing to do with something being good or right for you. Remember frontal lobotomies for depression? Yeah, not one of the shining moments in mental health treatment.
Digestive distress is one of the top complaints in health care and most people resolve it with over the counter drugs like Tums, Pepto-Bismol, Rolaids, etc. Now you can even get Zantac and Prilosec at your local drug store without a prescription.
But maybe it's a good idea to understand why we are having digestion issues in the first place?
STRESS you say?! You got it.
In a 2019 study, reported in the NY times, Americans are among the most stressed people in the world.
"In the United States, about 55 percent of adults said they had experienced stress during “a lot of the day” prior, compared with just 35 percent globally."
Let's take a look at effect of stress on your nervous system. Notice what stress does to your digestion; "Digestion stops."
What?! What does that mean, "digestion stops"?! It can't just stop...can it?
Before we get into how stress stops your digestion, let's do a quick overview of what actually happens in digestion.
Digestion starts...in your brain. In fact, 40% of the stomach acid production and 20% of the pancreatic digestive enzymes happens because the brain is in anticipation of a meal. Let me say that again, IN ANTICIPATION OF A MEAL. Not wolfing down your food. Not eating on the run. Mouthwatering, eyes bulging anticipation of a delicious meal.
signals your Vagus nerve to relax and start secretion of hormones and digestive "juices."
Get the saliva glands to pump out saliva in your mouth.
Starts the stomach acids going
What does saliva do?
Saliva has three very important functions:
It has lysosomes, which are immune cells, to act as a first line of defense against pathogens. (Remember that your food is not sterile and neither is your digestive tract).
It begins the breakdown of food parts, particularly, carbohydrates with an enzymes known as amylase.
It "tags" your food. That's right. Your saliva actually puts a label on your food letting your body know that its a carbohydrate, protein or fat. Amazing!
The food then gets swallowed and enters into your stomach.
Your stomach acid has two very important functions:
It kills pathogens (1)
It starts to break down food into smaller pieces
Those smaller pieces go into your small intestines where digestive enzymes from the pancreas combines with bile from the gallbladder to further break down protein and fats into amino acids and fatty acids. This is also where the digested nutrients gets absorbed into the body. The small intestines has three parts: (nutrients primarily absorbed).
Duodenum: (Vitamin B9, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron)
Jejunum: Carbohydrates/ proteins.
Ileum: Most of digestion and absorption occurs here; vitamin B12
Now those nutrients pass through the intestinal lining, into the blood and has to pass through the liver before distribution to the rest of the body. Yes, your liver gets first dibs on all that nutrition.
Next comes the large intestines.
The main functions of the large intestines are:
Absorption of fluid and electrolytes
Formation, storage, elimination of feces
Houses bacterial flora- probiotic, which is responsible for 70% of your immune function
Of course, the left-over bulk becomes feces and we poop it out. And that's digestion.
You are now an expert!
So, getting back to stress and digestion. When you are under stress, real or imagined, your fight or flight response turns off that Vagus nerve stimulation and re-directs all your digestive energy into getting your muscles ready for action. This means:
No digestive hormones
No stomach acid secretion
No digestive enzymes
Reduced movement of the intestines
Dysfunction of the intestinal barrier and allows toxins to enter
This means that no amount of drugs is going to fix or improve this problem.
So, why does it feel like I have too much acid?
It's a complex answer but the simple version is that in the absence of proper acidity in the stomach, the partially digested foods create organic acids that can damage the mucosal lining of the stomach. There is also a weakness of the diaphragm that occurs from the changes in breathing from deep breathing to rapid, shallow breathing. The diaphragm muscle has an opening at the top that leads to the stomach. When under stress, sometimes that muscle weakness can lead to keeping that portal open allowing those organic acids to reflux back up.
What can we do?
1. Reduce stress. There are many techniques for this like meditation, exercise, being in nature, reading, writing, spending time with people (with appropriate social distancing ;-)).
But this discussion is about digestion. So what do we do about improving digestion?
2. Give your stomach a break. Like everything else in our bodies, our digestive system can benefit from a break.
Start with just two meals a day rather than three.
Consider intermittent fasting by not eating for about 12 hours between dinner and breakfast the next morning.
(this is the legal disclaimer where we state that we are not diagnosing or treating any disease or offering a cure. These products or recommendations have not been approved by the FDA. You all know the drill).
The following are Standard Process supplements: (can order via link)
When digestion is not working the way it should, support is required.
Parotid PMG- saliva support
Zypan- betaine HCl and enzyme support
Multizyme- complete enzyme support
Betafood- gallbladder/bile support
Lactic acid yeast- cleanses and supports lower intestines
Chlorophyll complex- supports immune and intestinal lining
Okra Pepsin E3- supports mucosal lining of intestines
Food (longer term support)
Apple cider vinegar- support acidity of stomach.
Slightly green bananas, papaya, pineapple- source of digestive enzymes.
Beets/Beet greens- supports proper bile function.
Fiber (35g per day)- supports intestinal health, vitamin production, probiotic function.
Omega 3 rich foods- proper bile manufacture, proper hormones, intestinal health.
Much of what causes us symptoms of upset stomach can be tied to an increase in stress combined with some less than optimal eating habits. Remember, everything can be repaired. Your intestinal lining almost completely repairs weekly! (2).
So say "ugh to drugs" and choose a healthier, more natural and sustainable path to improving your digestion.
Stay healthy. Be kind. Take care of each other.
General digestion knowledge: Rhodes, R., R. Pflanzer.Human Physiology 4th Ed. Thomas Learning Inc 2003., Pacific Grove, CA.