Researchers have long known that stress can interfere with the proper functioning of the digestive system, causing problems from acid reflux to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, new studies are showing digestive disorders can also cause psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
In animal studies, laboratory rats exposed to digestive illness became anxious and depressed as adults, when compared to a control group. These rats possessed higher levels of stress hormones and more exaggerated stress response than the healthy rats.
Some 15 to 20 percent of the adult population struggles with recurring upper abdominal discomfort or pain typically beginning during early childhood. Studies have shown these people are also more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression. The brain and the gut are directly connected by the vagus nerve. Therefore, it makes sense communication between the two is bi-directional with each having some degree of influence over the functioning of the other.
Diet and Nutrition
Now that the connection has been discovered, doctors may now more closely examine a patient's diet and nutrition when treating for emotional or psychological disorders. If the patient is having acid reflux problems, they can recommended avoiding the foods that could exacerbate the problem: fatty fried foods, alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, citrus, tomato-based sauces, garlic, onions, chocolate and mint.
Improper food combinations that don't digest well together as well as any foods the patient may be allergic or sensitive to should be avoided. Other foods to avoid are:
Processed foods containing refined sugar and flour. These deplete the body of chromium, copper, manganese, zinc, cobalt and magnesium, making it more difficult to digest carbohydrates. Undigested carbs ferment, leading to indigestion, gas and bloating
Junk foods often containing large amounts of fat, refined sugar and flour, being high in calories and lacking in nutritional value.
Fruit, when eaten in combination with anything. Fruits are high in enzymes and need less than half an hour to travel through the system. When consumed with other foods their transit time is slowed, causing fermentation and gas.
Calming herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm, rosemary and valerian help relieve stress and improve digestive action. Fennel and ginger root help to diminish bloating and constipation while also providing a mild stimulant to the stomach and intestines.
Licorice, turmeric, slippery elm and marshmallow herb have various helpful properties, from reducing acid production and anti-inflammatory effects to forming a protective coating in the throat, mouth and stomach.
Acidophilus is a helpful bacteria that colonizes the digestive tract and helps break down food. Acidophilus may be taken in a supplement, consumed in a specially marked dairy product or taken by enema.
Calcium citrate powder mixed with water and taken immediately after meals and before bedtime helps tighten up the lower esophageal sphincter which is the main culprit in acid reflux disorders. For best effect, add in some digestive enzymes which speed up digestion.
Physicians have long blamed physiological disorders such as IBS on psychological causes like anxiety and depression and have only recently begun to explore other culprits such as diet, food sensitivities, bacteriological infections and more. Ironically, it now seems those very digestive disorders may be responsible for a patient's corresponding anxiety and depression.