Saturday, August 31, 2019

Digestion: The Mind-Body Connection

by Dr. Leena Athparia, ND, AAWC

The gut is often referred to as our 'second brain'. The Ayurvedic system of medicine has examined the connection of mind-body for thousands of years and now modern medicine is beginning to understand that the gut makes serotonin - an important neurotransmitter also made in our brain that helps us feel good.  So, does what we eat affect our mood or does our mood affect our digestion?

When you are angry or upset - how's your appetite?
When you are happy - how's your appetite?
When you are nervous - how's your appetite?

Everyone has experienced a time when their appetite was instantly affected by a thought, bad news or something someone said to them. There is no doubt a link between your mental state and the quality of your digestion.

In Ayurveda, there is a concept called 'agni' which means fire. This metabolic fire is omnipresent in your body: from your cells, to your mind and your digestive system. An example of this metabolic fire is stomach acid that your body makes to break down food. When you are stressed, the stomach doesn't make as much stomach acid. People who are chronically stressed have hypochlorhydria or lack of hydrochloric acid which leads to a host of other issues such as parasites, yeast and undigested food. Whenever the nervous system gets a jolt, 'agni' immediately dwindles. This happens in every part of your body including your stomach. Just think of what happens when wind (vata) blows your campfire out and you can't cook your hot dogs! This is a rough analogy of what happens in the body as well.

There is a lot of focus on the physical aspect of digestion - digestive enzymes, probiotics, healthy foods - all of which play a very important role in breaking down your food. However, we need to address some of the subtler aspects of digestion and support a balanced nervous system. When you experience stress, your sympathetic nervous system is dominant (your survival response) meaning your body is preparing for fight-or-flight and digestion is not a priority at that moment. IBS is commonly associated with stress leading to abdominal cramping, diarrhea and constipation and it's a common fact that your stomach acid is altered by increased stress levels which has a cascade effect for next stages of digestion. Taking steps to build resilience to stress, support ease of mind are critical aspects to healthy digestion.


Here are a few tips to support digestion from a mind-body perspective:


1. Do a diet diary: track what you ate and any associated symptoms such as digestive upset, gas, acidity and note how you were feeling that day (such as rating your stress levels from 1-10). You can bring it into your ND to help make connections on what factors in your mental-emotional state may be weakening your digestion.

2. Eat in a relaxed environment: when you are in fight-or-flight (sympathetic mode), your body's resources divert away from digestion, and towards your muscles for survival. When you are relaxed, (parasympathetic mode) your body is in a state when digestion is at it's strongest. To support relaxation, minimize talking at meals and focussing on your meal. Keep your phone away, or turn it on silent to minimize distractions. You can play relaxing music or practice mindful eating - bringing awareness to your experience of eating.

3. Have a routine before you eat: say a prayer, a chant, take a few deep breathes or simply close your eyes to give gratitude for the meal you are eating. When you take a minute or two to settle your mind before your eat, this creates a healthy routine to prepare you to eat in a relaxed way. Sit in a comfortable position and avoid eating on the go (walking, in the car). Here's a simple 5 minute yoga practice you can try involving breathing which helps balance your system.

4. Eat food prepared with love and care: many people say their mom (or grandma's) cooking is always the best. Compare that to a take-out meal. Regardless of the recipe, food that is prepared with care, always tastes better! When food is prepared with positive intentions, the food imbibes those qualities. If you are preparing food for your family, try paying attention to what intentions you are putting into your food. When you put your heart into it, everyone will notice it tastes better - and will digest better.

5. Replace food cravings: when you are feeling a certain way (sad, upset, angry, stressed), subconsciously people tend to go for food to feel better. Food cravings are often a sign of a deeper imbalance, rooted in the mind. Instead of looking for food for instant nourishment, work with your practitioner to find other ways to help support and nourish you in a deeper way. This can be through meditation, exercise, healthy food preparation, homeopathics and more. According to Ayurveda, sugar cravings are associated with the feeling of lack of love. Is it a coincidence that sugar intake in modern society has increased dramatically?

With busy lifestyles, it is not always possible to create a perfect atmosphere to eat your food, but as you bring more awareness to your eating habits and as you feel more at ease at meals, you will notice your digestion will also be more at ease. If you are taking probiotics, enzymes and other supplements for digestion but still not noticing enough change, speak with your ND to address subtler aspects of digestion. There are many tools, from herbs to yoga, to help you enjoy your food and digest with a relaxed frame of mind. When you take steps to be mentally at ease in your day, your digestion will thank you for it - and you will feel better!

Dr. Leena Athparia is a Naturopathic doctor & Ayurvedic practitioner at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus on joint health, pain and chronic disease. If you are healthy and looking into preventing disease or learning more about your constitution, Dr. Athparia can help you. Please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reading Labels - a Necessity for Health

By Dr. Iva Lloyd, ND

If you have a sense that it is not as easy to achieve or maintain health today as it was even 10 years ago you are correct. The number of factors affecting health is increasing on a daily basis.

As a naturopathic practitioner I have found one of the most consistent and annoying factors is food. There are just so many variables that come into play - organic versus non-organic, the "hidden" aspect of genetically modified food, the pesticides and herbicides and antibiotics used on  or added to food, food allergies and sensitivities, and the chemicals and additives used in the preparation of food.

Many of the food factors are difficult to deduce unless you are inclined to do a lot of research, which can be a worthwhile and eye-opening exercise, but is not practical while shopping. Reading labels on everything you buy is an easy way to identify and eliminate the chemicals, preservatives, additives and fillers that are added to food. Any food that comes in a box or package is going to include some of these. Getting into the habit of reading the ingredient list of all food is an essential part of achieving and maintaining health.

Food labels include the calories, fat, protein and sugar content as well as key electrolytes such as salt or potassium. This is important information especially if you are managing diabetes, cholesterol, weight or other health issues. What is equally, or even more important, is the ingredient list. The ingredient list is what conveys what has been added to the food. You will be surprised how much of the "food" that is sold on store shelves are actually "chemical cocktails" that contain additives and fillers that negate the health benefits of the "real food". For information on the health impact of food additives and colourings check out the these links:


Often when people are "doing the right things" like avoiding food sensitivities such as dairy and wheat, they are actually substituting foods that have a lot of chemicals and additives.  There is growing concern that many chronic health complaints are associated more with the additives and fillers than they are with actual food sensitivities. For example, there is a link between food colourings and ADD/ADHD behaviour.  The website for genetically modified food looks at the link between genetically modified foods, such as soy and corn, and the rise in gluten sensitivity. Some individuals with a gluten sensitivity find that by cutting out genetically modified foods they are able to handle wheat and other food sensitivities improve.

I encourage you to adopt a "Label-Free Diet" for awhile and get a sense of how your body responds when it  is fed only "real" food. At a minimum you want to avoid the following:
  • soy lecithin
  • carrageenan
  • xantham gum
  • MSG
  • nitrates
  • sulfites
  • all food colourings
For more information on this topic contact our clinic at 905-940-2727 and talk to one of our naturopathic doctors who can guide you to health.