Our Social Need for “Slow Food” – Stress and Digestion

In my article on enzymes, I mentioned the hiatal
hernia problem. Anyone who can’t take a deep abdominal breath, where their
stomach expands as they inhale and contracts as they exhale, has a digestive
problem. They may not have a full-blown hiatal hernia (where the stomach
protrudes through the diaphragm muscle into the chest cavity), but they do have
a digestive problem.

When the stomach
tenses against the diaphragm, blocking its downward movement to inflate the
lungs, it always puts pressure on the vagus nerve. This may directly impede
secretion of hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach, but even if it
doesn’t, it is a sign of chronic, internally-held stress and stress always
interferes with digestion.

It’s really quite simple. Your sympathetic nervous
system, which is activated under stress, shuts down the digestive organs and
limits their secretions. The parasympathetic nervous system (which helps you
relax) activates the digestive system. Chronic stress tenses the stomach
permanently and results in very poor stomach and digestive function.

The solar plexus tenses under the
sympathetic response and relaxes under the parasympathetic response. So, the
inability to take a deep abdominal breath is a sign of excess sympathetic
nervous stress and an inability to relax. Since just about everyone I see has
this problem, I wind up teaching people how to learn to breathe correctly to
reduce their stress level and improve their digestive function.

So, chronically ill people practically
always need help with stress management and digestion. It’s interesting to note
that many herbs that aid digestion also reduce tension and stress, including
chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm and catnip. This is because they activate the
parasympathetic nervous system, which helps a person relax and also helps
stimulate digestive secretions.

There is
a lesson in all of this. Eating is meant to be a relaxing, pleasurable
experience. In fact, in order for digestion to work properly, it has to be a
pleasant, relaxing experience. You just can’t digest food properly when you are
hurried, stressed, worried and upset. These stressful emotions will always
interfere with digestion.

So, when we eat, we should take time to enjoy
what we are eating. Mealtime conversation should be pleasant and happy. Don’t
talk about problems at the dinner table! Don’t eat on the run orwhen stressed.
Relax and breathe deeply while you eat. It’s a simple thing, and used to be an
important part of family and social life, but it’s hard to remember to do in
modern society.

After all, we live in a
fast food culture. The odd thing is this-most fast food is “bad” food. It is
lacking in flavor, color and satisfaction. It does contain chemicals and
additives that make it addictive and that “mask” its bad flavor, but it
certainly isn’t good food.

Good food
takes time. It takes time to grow good food. It takes time to prepare good food.
And, it takes time to eat and enjoy good food. That’s why there are many people
pushing for “slow food.” In fact, there is “a non-profit, eco-gastronomic,
member-supported organization” that was founded in 1989 to “counteract fast food
and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling
interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our
food choices affect the rest of the world.” You can learn more about the slow
food movement at www.slowfood.com.

Whether you choose to join the slow food
movement or not, you can improve your personal health by slowing down when you
eat. If you have a tendency to digestive problems, don’t just change the foods
you eat, change how you eat them.

Chew your food thoroughly. Put your fork or
spoon down between bites and take a breath. Talk about pleasant things at
mealtime (laughter is good for digestion). Have a cup of a nice, soothing
nervine tea such as chamomile, peppermint, catnip or a blend of these types of
herbs with meals. These things will activate your parasympathetic nervous
system, which will turn on your digestive system, and help you get the most out
of the food you eat.

Enjoy a little slow food. Your stomach will
thank you for it and reward you with better health.

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Posted: 03/03/2007 at 04:00 PM
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Posted: 03/03/2007 at 04:00 PM
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