Is it possible that when your were a child, your grandmother, like mine, wouldn't allow you to study at the dinner table? "You see," she would say, "when you concentrate on worrisome tasks while eating, the food turns into poison." This adage contains some truth. Digestion does, indeed, start in the head. There is an intimate relationship between digestive disturbances and psychological stress.

The further relationship between poor nutrient status and degenerative diseases has become more clear over the past several years. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can contribute to the development of degenerative diseases. It is not surprising that today we have more allergies, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and degenerative diseases such as lupus, arthritis, cancer, heart disease and presenile dementia.


To begin with, we have problems with our food supply. The impoverished quality of our soils and the depicting effects of commercial food processing greatly diminish the availability of vital nutrients. These inadequacies place us at higher health risk when confronted with increased demands for nutrients necessary to activate the Krebs Cycle (energy production cycle) or to buffer excess production of free radicals, the highly reactive chemicals produced in the body and capable of damaging cell structures.

There is a compounded negative effect when we combine the intake of devitalized foods with emotional stress. Most of today's food is a poor source of nutrients and contains pesticides, heavy metal residues, and other toxic substances. These toxic substances create a need for a higher intake of nutrients to metabolize these foods and nourish tissues. In essence we have the paradoxical situation that while we need more because of the increased toxic substances, we actually wind up with less because of the deficiencies of nutrients in the food.

If we combine the intake of foods that are inherently poor in nutrients, with deficits of incomplete ripening, added toxicity of pesticides and common malabsorption problems (often induced or worsened by stress) we can more clearly see the need for nutrient supplementation.


Stress is a common factor in the malabsorption of nutrients. Stress begins its action at the level of the midbrain. A disagreement with your boss or a client may be an upsetting event. The image of this event travels from your cortex (the outer layer of the grey matter over most of your brain) to your brain's deeper structures.

One of the most important of these deeper structures is the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus works like a dispatching station of a telecommunications center. Once it receives the message of an uncomfortable or dangerous situation, it sends stimulating impulses that prompt the adrenals to produce adrenalin.

The hypothalamus controls the autonomic or involuntary nervous system. This system consists of two opposing systems, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which in turn control all of our visceral functions. These functions occur automatically in the large organs of the body. The contraction of the heart, the movement of the gut, the secretion of digestive enzymes, the process of perspiration, are just a few of the involuntary physiological functions attended by the autonomic nervous system. These functions occur in response to events experienced, without conscious awareness.

In general, stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system is associated with fight or flight emotions and the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with quiet vegetative functions, such as digestion. Strong emotions stimulate sympathetic (adrenergic) responses. One of the detrimental effects of sympathetic predominance is diminished production by the gastrointestinal tract of digestive enzymes needed for the breakdown of food stuffs and the extraction of vital nutrients.


The first thing to be disrupted under stress is the ability to digest food and consequently extract micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (amino acids, glucose, fatty acids) from the diet. If people were aware of this fact they would wisely choose not to consume difficult to digest foods like meat and dairy products while under stress. A healthier and easier to digest diet during stressful periods consists of vegetables, grains and fruits; basically, a more vegetarian style diet.

When people are not relaxed when eating they cannot properly convert food into the critical products of digestion, such as: proteins to amino acids; carbohydrates to glucose; fats to fatty acids and glycerol. The result is nutritional deficits due to faulty digestion.

Amino acids, glucose and fatty acids are among the vital nutritional components required for tissue rebuilding and for the energy necessary in this process. Very simply, this is how they function:

Amino Acids from the ingested proteins are reassembled into our own protein. Some of these proteins are in themselves vital to the formation of enzymes and hormones (eg.; insulin).
Glucose, not to be confused with sucrose or refined sugar, is the most immediate source of energy. Slow release of glucose from complex carbohydrates (entrapped in fibers) is important to prevent a hypoglycemic rebound (kick and drop effect.) Excess glucose is stored mostly as glycogen, or animal sugar, or it is converted into lipids and fatty deposits (adipose tissue) and stored on the body as body fat.
Fatty acids from the breakdown of fats also enter into the burner for energy. If we consume more than is needed for immediate energy, like the glucose process, it will be stored as lipids and fatty tissues.
These events are vital and must be preceded by optimal digestion and well functioning glands (thyroid, pancreas, adrenals.) The liver, where most conversions and metabolic manipulations take place, is the most vital organ of the entire body. Each cell is a laboratory where these metabolic transformations take place.

The stress response causes a shutting down of the digestive process and diminishes the availability of nutrients to the body. Stress also increases the process of intestinal fermentation if the gut does not have sufficient lactobacillus acidophilus to discourage such a process. Flatulence and belching, often the first signs of a compromised digestion, are commonly found in patients with digestive problems.


Holistic medicine repeatedly demonstrates that the body can better cope with stress when properly nourished. This However often does not coincide with what is known as abundantly fed. An individual may eat sizeable amounts of foods that are nutrient poor (eg., fast foods) and may be malnourished while actually being overweight. Similarly, an individual may be malnourished if healthy foods are eaten but faulty digestion lessens nutrient absorption; weight loss often results.

In summary, I recommend that you follow these basic guidelines for healthier eating during periods of stress:

Do not eat animal proteins when under stress. In place, use vegetable proteins such as tofu or beans combined with grains. If you choose to eat meats, obtain them from natural, organic, grain-fed sources. These products will not contain added estrogen or antibiotic residues that can effect your endocrine (glandular) system
Consider digestive aides. If you suspect you have digestive difficulties, try using natural digestive aids such as papaya during your meal. Remember that caffeine, sugars, high fat, fried and greasy foods can be causes of digestive problems. If you avoid these dietary errors and still fail to find relief with a natural digestive enzyme, have your digestive system tested. Most complementary physicians use Heidelberg testing to determine the functioning of the stomach and upper small intestine. Stool analysis for examination of undigested food is another commonly performed test.
Drink lots of pure water (high quality, spring brands) and/or herbal teas (36-48ounces a day.) Liquids are necessary to wash away toxic substances which are especially abundant during periods of stress.
Eat foods rich in fiber to clean the gut from fermenting bacteria and to lower oxidized cholesterol and diminish the chance of colon cancer.
Take supplemental lactobacillus and other beneficial cultures such as bifidus and bulgaris. These will also assist in the digestion and absorption and will diminish the process of fermentation in the intestines.
Stay away from stressful situations especially during meals. Be aware that food can take 2-4 hours for digestion, depending upon the particular food and its composition. Protein and fat-rich foods take longer amounts of time to be digested.
Maintain a sensible exercise program. Brisk daily walking and other forms of exercise can improve digestion and act as a stress buffer.
Learn relaxation techniques such as breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation and biofeedback to buffer your physiological responses to stress.
If the above suggestions fail to bring you relief, you are best advised to consult a complementary physician who can more specifically assess and treat your condition.

Article copyright FAIM.


By Serafina Corsello

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