The Biggest Enemy to Your Gut
If you or a loved one is having ongoing digestive problems, I’m going to share with you an alternative option to medication that is safe, extremely effective, and that is being utilized by the medical community more and more today.
To better understand this option, let’s first start with the basic premise of digestion. The digestive system is controlled and regulated by one part of the nervous system that regulates all functional processes. This same system also handles any type of threat or danger. It is only able to move in one direction or the other, so it can’t go in both directions at once. In other words, if you’re jumping out of the way of a car that’s coming right at you, this system disengages from restorative processes like digestion, and shifts resources to the legs to RUN. It’s a great system to have when it’s working correctly!
Here’s the challenge. When you’re in chronic stress, this system is not fully engaged in digestion because, as I said earlier, resources are needed to manage the stress response. So what happens? You can’t digest, absorb, and assimilate nutrition for your body to function at optimal levels, not to mention normal daily processes.
Another critical factor is when most people tell me they just learned to live with it. Have you ever said that? What they’re really saying is that they’ve developed a way to cope with their condition at a conscious level so they can get through the day. The problem with that is the nervous system is still interpreting and processing it as a stressor and therefore still reducing gut function, and shifting blood flow to the legs to run, or to the arms to fight or protect.
Here’s where it gets even more interesting. I have patients come in and tell me that they have acid reflux, bloating, and/or nausea especially right after they eat and they often need to take antacids. These folks initially assumed that the more stressed you are, the more acid you produce in your gut. In fact, the exact opposite happens.
Let me explain… The production of acid in the stomach is part of a digestive process, not a stress response. This is because acid, specifically hydrochloric acid, naturally increases when food (especially protein) goes into the stomach. So why do people often get digestive issues like acid reflux following meals especially when under stress? When you’re stressed, digestion shuts down to shift resources to areas needed to respond to danger. So if the gut is shut down and you put food into it, that food will just sit there!
What would happen if you put a steak in a warm, dark place and left it there for a day? That’s right, it will begin to putrefy. If you put a banana in a dark warm bag, it begins to ripen much quicker and rot! So when you put food in a stomach that’s not fully functional, that food will begin to putrefy and ferment leading to acid reflux, gas, bloating, and other digestive issues! So why do the antacids still work? Because antacids are reducing the acid byproduct of undigested foods, but they are not addressing the cause. That’s why you have to keep taking them! Now, are these medications going to reduce your suffering? Sure they are. Is there a time and place for them? Of course, as all medicines have their place. When it comes to crisis and/or significant suffering, medications are front line therapy because they’re powerful. However, are they addressing the underlying cause? Absolutely not! So don’t confuse no symptoms with no problem.
Now there’s more! When you are chronically stressed, you release a powerful stress hormone called cortisol that floods your system. This hormone also begins to thin the lining of your stomach. So think about this. Even when you are producing a normal amount of acids, in a stomach that now has a thinner lining, what do you think will happen? That’s right, the lining will get irritated and ulcers can occur over time.
So what do we do? Move to Hawaii to start a sunny new life? Sure, but the only problem is you take you with you! The issue is not the environment, but how you respond to the environment. And I don’t only mean the part that you have control over – I also mean the part that’s automatic inside of you that you don’t have direct control over. This is the same part of you that goes on automatic pilot driving your car to work while you’re thinking about what has to be done that day or talking to the passenger next to you. It’s that same part that keeps your heart beating, and your lungs breathing! Good thing you don’t need to think about those things.
Over time, within this same system, you’ve developed reactions to the environment that automatically put you in a state of anxiety, fear, worry, and anger. And you say, “Why am I feeling like this?” According to research, it’s this system that is running the show over 90% of your day. So if you do not develop strategies on interrupting, resetting, and reprogramming these patterns, you’ll just keep repeating the same problems over and over again.
Now, this concept is not new! The Chinese figured this out 3,000 years ago. From a Chinese medical perspective, we must look at what we call the branch and the root. The branch is how your nervous system responds to the environment. In other words, it’s the behaviors, symptoms, signs, and disease. Meanwhile, the root is the habituated negative patterns of thinking that have created those symptoms, signs, and disease.
So let’s dive in a bit deeper to unfold this process.
If you’re stuck in stress, such as chronically thinking about a past bitter memory or a future worry, that stress response is no different than you running from say, an enemy tribe. Think about it. If you are running from an enemy, is it more important to have blood flow in the digestive system to break down that nutritious meal, so that you can assimilate it and have vitamins and minerals dispersed in your body? Or is it more important to have blood flow into the arms to fight or protect? Fight! Protect! Let’s go downstream a bit further. If you are chronically losing function in the gut, what downstream symptoms, signs, or diseases can you have? You’ll have gut problems like nausea and bloating!
If you can’t break down minerals like calcium, what could happen downstream? What kind of disease could you end up having? Osteoporosis! Also, if you have reduced gut function and your hydrochloric acid levels and your enzyme levels start to go down, you can’t break down proteins. Downstream, what can that look like? And I’ll give you a hint- protein is the building block of what? That’s right, muscle! And did you know what one of the primary biomarkers of aging is? Muscle loss! So, what’s the solution here? Do we address the nervous system or do we fix the gut? The answer is yes! Both! If we just work on the gut and you haven’t interrupted the stress response, it will return, bigger, badder and meaner simply because it’s been conditioned to do that. Basically, it’s simply following a habit.
In Chinese medicine, we cross boundaries. We do not get stuck in specific areas of the body. This is different from the traditional medical approach of going to a specialist. Think about it. If you have digestive problems, where do you go? A gastroenterologist. Right? And when you’re there, you say, “Doc, I’m getting really depressed.” Your GI doc will then send you where? To a psychologist or psychiatrist. If you tell your psychologist that with all this stress and depression, you’re having a tremendous amount of neck pain, where are they going to refer you? That’s right, to an orthopedic doctor who specializes in the spine! Now if you tell your orthopedic doctor that with all this stress, depression, and pain, you’re starting to get sick often and are developing chronic ear, nose, and throat problems, where are they going to refer you? That’s right, an ENT specialist.
We’re having fun here, but I want to point out that medical doctors, specifically in the area of specialty, specialize! So you absolutely need and want to have them on your team. They’re experts in how to address those major downstream health conditions called disease! But you don’t want to live there.
Now if you have an emergency, you’re not coming to our Center. You’re going right to the emergency room. If you’re diagnosed with a severe life-limiting disease, you want a specialist on your team. At the same time, you also want more drug-free options to your health care that will improve your health! You don’t want to just get out of discomfort. If that were the case you would just take more medications. Medications are powerful, and there is a time and place for them. However, we are here to give you more safe and effective options that are being used in the medical system such as biomedical acupuncture and herbal, dietary and nutritional therapy. Learning stress reduction techniques that the Chinese have developed and evolved over 3,000 years that WORK! If not for you, think about family and friends that are looking for another option.
If you’d like to find out more about how we can assist you with your specific health concerns and how we can best integrate the use of biomedical acupuncture and other natural medical modalities along with your current health care, in a safe and effective way, contact our office at (619) 287-4005 to schedule a free consultation where we can answer any questions you have to find out if and how we can help you with your health care needs.