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Stress and Our Digestive System

One very common way that stress can manifest in our bodies is through the digestive system. Thinking again from an evolutionary point of view, if we are about to try and run from or fight a lion, we don’t want to be halted by our bowels or trying to digest a heavy meal at the same time. Therefore, the opposite nervous system action to the Fight or Flight response is the Rest and Digest response. When we are relaxed and comfortable, our digestion works well. We don’t get indigestion, we don’t get reflux, and we don’t get painful stomachs or horrible bowel movements (not counting allergies and pathogens). When the Fight or Flight response is initiated under stress, the Enteric Nervous System, which runs our digestion, is switched off. Everything slows down, it becomes sluggish, and if stressed for a long period of time, everything starts to stagnate. Adding to this our generally very bad food habits of eating too fast, on the run, watching the news, or at work, and we begin to see why our digestion isn’t as good as it could be.

Chinese Medicine is very clear on the importance of eating regularly, small meals, slowly and thoughtfully, without exposure to stress. TCM indicates that health begins at our digestive system, and when our digestion is compromised, disorder will follow. If this carries on for long enough, serious disease is also a potential. The practitioners at the Maitland Wellness Centre can’t stop your stress in its tracks, but through acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and massage we may be able to assist your body to achieve a more harmonious balance. We can also provide you with the tools and knowledge to improve your diet and food habits throughout your day.


Over a long period of low grade steady stress, our bodies attempt to adjust to the constant flow of stress hormones. One way our body attempts to do this is store fat, as a mechanism to prevent the stress of famine. Cortisol, one of the major hormones released during stress, is more typically produced during long term low grade stress, like the one we experience at work, and is well known for increasing the storage of fat around the abdomen, and the internal organs. Combining this with jobs that are mainly sitting down at computers for 8 hours a day, or the hormonal disruption of shift work, it is easy to see how our weight can creep up quickly around our bellies and how difficult it is to get rid of it when we try.

Part of any good weight loss regime should always include the means and methods to deal with our stress in a healthy manner, both to curb comfort eating, and to deal with the deep physiological effect stress has on our metabolism.

lady in a plate full of pastry