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Stress, Digestion and Immunity

Stress has become an inherent parf of modern life, and possibly even more so since the Spring of 2020. In my practice, we talk about stress in just about every appointment.

Featured image: Digestion Vectors by Vecteezy

Strong Immunity is the Product of Good Digestion

In my years of practising Chinese medicine, part of my work has always been helping patients address the root cause of their health imbalances. Given proper support, our physiology knows how to protect us and keep us in optimal health. Our body has an incredible self-regulatory system but sometimes we need to bolster it. Our digestion can often be a barometer of our wellness. Chinese Medicine has a long tradition of putting a lot of emphasis on good digestion and modern medicine and science are coming to the same conclusion.

How to Build a Strong Immune System

To build a strong immune system, we need a healthy diet and a supportive lifestyle but good digestion also depends on a balanced nervous system. When we manage stress and eat healthy and nourishing food, we flourish.

Managing stress is often an underestimated part of achieving health. Excess stress is detrimental to our immune system because stress hormones suppress the immune response, they also suppress digestive functions, deemed unnecessary when the body goes into a fight or flight state. For the past 18 months most of us have been under chronic stress, which has kept us in that “fight or flight” state in which our parasympathetic nervous system cannot function well. Incidently the main purpose of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is to conserve energy to be used later and to regulate several bodily functions, among which digestion (itself a crucial factor for good immunity). So, now we are clear on how stress affects digestion which itself affects immunity, what can we do for optimal digestion and immunity?

Follow a Routine

Did you know that simply by creating a daily routine we could mitigate stress? This gives our nervous system reassurance that we will have moments of ease and predictability, and helps reduce stress and preserve immune function. One of the easiest routines to implement is to go to sleep and get up at regular times. Another is around meal times, so try and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner roughly at the same time every day.

In Chinese Medicine when the digestive system (ruled by the Spleen and Stomach meridians) doesn´t function well, food is not digested properly, which can lead to “damp”. COVID- 19 is said to be a “damp” condition. If stress suppresses the digestive funcitons rules by the Stomach and Spleen, we can’t process and absorb our food properly, our appetite goes away, our cells do not get nutrients they need and our immunity suffers.

We can’t talk about digestion without the liver and the detoxification system. Liver helps to cleanse the blood and detoxify the body so we want to stay away from unnecessary toxins and chemicals. In addition, in Chinese medicine, the Liver plays a role in digestion but is also very much affected by emoitonal states, especially irritability, frustration, aggression, impatience, stubbornness, and anger. So here again stress and emotional upset can effect our digestive process.

7 Simple Ways to Boost Immunity 

  • Create a daily routine
  • Consistent meal times
  • Consistent bed and wake-up times
  • Avoid sugar, dairy, gluten (in Chinese medicine those are considered “damp forming foods” and physiologically they are inflammatory and more often linked to allergies and intolerances)
  • Avoid cold foods and drinks (raw salads, ice cold drinks, lots of smoothies) as the Stomach likes warm temperature foods and eat more cooked foods like soups and stews.
  • Eat mindfully, chew your food well (digestion starts in the mouth where the saliva starts breaking it down)

According to Chinese Medicine, your tongue can show a state of imbalance so I suggest looking at it daily. It should be pink and have a very thin coating.

If there is a thick coating this is an imbalance in the digestion. For example when sickness is coming there will be a thicker coating. If you suspect an imbalance, get in touch and we will assess how to best support your digestion and immunity with acupuncture and herbs.