Stress Effects on Digestion

Have you ever scarfed down a burger in a hurry only to have a stomach ache 20 minutes later? In our modern and over-scheduled lives eating on the run is normal, but is it healthy? No, it is not and I will explain why.

When we are in a hurried state or stressful state, our bodies rise in cortisol, which also causes a decrease in stomach acid and enzymes from the stomach. Eating on the run is common because there is limited time in the day and too many obligations to fit into the day. Daily obligations and occurrences can be stressful, like traffic, whining kids, work deadlines, action movies, sticking to a strict schedule, using social media to remain over-stimulated, drinking coffee, eating sugar, constantly keeping busy, and rushing from one task to the next.

Stress causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol which stimulates the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system response. This response is evolutionary beneficial for times that our ancestors were prey. This response gave them the capacity to run from a lion or survive a major trauma. The sympathetic nervous system responds by directing blood away from the digestive tract and reverting it to the heart and muscles. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid which releases glucose into your blood stream for immediate use by muscle cells for running or fighting. Immune system function is optimized for about 30 minutes. Sensory functions become acutely in-tune optimizing sight, hearing, smell, and decision making. This body response is important for survival like when driving in traffic or fighting a bear, but if trying to eat a meal while in this state, the body will have a hard time digesting and assimilating food. This chart details the impact that stress has on digestion:

Limiting stress is important for digestive health. Digestion of healthy food is important for overall health, so how can we manage stress every day so that we nourish ourselves at every meal?

-Keep blood sugar steady throughout the day by eating three complete meals that include quality protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates.

-Limit caffeine consumption. Drink one cup of coffee or tea in the morning to help wake up, then switch to water.

-Support your body to cope with stress by nourishing it properly. Do not rely on snack foods loaded with sugar to sustain your energy through the day. Sugar is actually energy and nutrient depleting.

-Incorporate stress reducing techniques into your day like working out, walking in nature, yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation.

-Do something that you enjoy every day. For example, play with your pet, a sport, or a musical instrument, create art, laugh with friends or watch a funny movie.

Rather than eating on the run, to optimize digestion, prepare a meal from scratch and plate it beautifully, we eat with our eyes first. Sit at the dining room table with straight posture. Take-in the magnificent meal that you just prepared for yourself, what does it smell like, what does it look like? Is your stomach rumbling with hunger yet? Take a deep breath and give thanks for the meal before you. Now, with conscious effort, prepare a fork-ful of food and begin to eat. Chew, taste, chew some more. Go slow, there is no rush to finish. The only important thing right now, is this wonderful meal. Give it the time and attention it deserves. Give yourself the time and attention you deserve by thoroughly enjoying it. By the end of your meal, you should feel satisfied, nourished, and content.



*These recommendations are for educational purposes only.  They are not intended as treatment or prescription for any disease, or as a substitute for regular medical care.