With bloating, intestinal challenges, SIBO and digestive issues becoming more frequent than ever before, we wanted to provide you with some root cause solutions that can really help you make progress in your health and healing journey.
As a two part series we recently deep-dove into how our body's physiological, biological and chemical responses to stressful situations have far more of an impact on our digestive system than we realize.
For many, they think that fighting SIBO is about killing the underlying infection and supplementing against the bacteria. But the truth? There is a missing piece of the jigsaw. Stress.
If you struggle with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or digestive issues, you need to be looking into your body's stress response because an overactive or chronic stress response (driven by the HPA axis and a ton of cascading follow on effects) leaves your body wide open to being susceptible to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
If you are looking to manage your body's stress response more effectively, or want to spend more time in your parasympathetic state (rest and digest) rather than the sympathetic state (fight or flight), here are 8 holistic health hacks that you can look to incorporate into your daily wellness routine.
SIBO, be gone.
I've written before about my experience with meditation, and you can head here to a recent article on exploring what kind of meditation is suitable for you (as well as finding out which is my favorite!).
Meditation can help to gently move your body from fight or flight into rest and digest. Research shows that it changes your breathing patterns, promotes a deep state of rest, causes positive changes in your brain, and shrinks your amygdala (the stressful worry center of your brain) when you meditate over time.
You can also focus on chanting and one-word repetition to help you move towards a meditative state while taking some more' action'.
- Connecting with a pet, animal, or loved one
And if meditation really isn't for you? There's an even better type. Recent studies have shown that connecting with a pet during quieter times (like a morning cuddle when you wake up) can help you to fully activate the parasympathetic system. Think of it as a 'moving meditation' where you are entirely focused on your pet and bringing awareness to your breathing and gratitude in this relaxed state.
Similarly, for many of us (although not all), human connection and therapeutic / physical touch can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help us to calm down and feel safe.
A big hug or a cuddle at the end of a stressful or hectic day can play a big part in setting the stage for a restful sleep for the evening and, in turn, reducing the stressful environment that SIBO loves to flourish in. Really focusing on winding down before sleep and connecting with yourself, and / or your partner, can help your nervous system to feel safe, secure and regulated - and ready to rest.
- Epsom Salt Baths and at-home therapies
Organizing an at-home epsom salt bath is a low-cost, highly effective way to unwind and destress - and to push your body into the parasympathetic state and get it ready to enter ‘rest and digest’ mode.
I really love our holi (bath) here. The epsom salts used in holi (bath) are a nature-derived pure mineral compounds made up of sulfate and magnesium. Magnesium is critical to calm, it plays a role in over 400 biochemical processes in the body, and it is one of the most common deficiencies found in adults. It has been closely linked with stress and anxiety and so I love making sure I am taking a high quality magnesium supplement, as well incorporating holi (bath) into my wellness routine
Magnesium helps to:
- Restrict and release stress hormones;
- Prevent stress hormones entering the brain; and
- Stabilize blood sugar levels
Managing and monitoring these are important because when out of whack, overly excessive or depleted, these hormones can stimulate the release of additional stress hormones that further drive your SIBO and the SIBO-favorable environment.
My favorite add-on? Get out of the bath and into bed with a Himalayan salt lamp next to you. It's the most beautiful, calming glow before you go to sleep.
At-home therapies such as weighted blankets, at-home sauna blankets, and prana mats can also help to elicit a parasympathetic response from the body - helping to reduce stress levels and, over time, reducing the SIBO environment.
- Assessment of your diet
Diet is critical in the fight against SIBO (because putting the good bacteria into our GI tract becomes more important than ever when there is an overgrowth of the bad in places that there shouldn't be).
On top of the more general diet point, however, undereating has been connected to stress and cortisol level increases, and it is important to understand that low carb diets raise cortisol levels. And in today's society? A lot of people are not eating enough carbohydrates.
The connection between low carb and high stress is as follows: when your blood glucose levels drop too low, cortisol is released, which starts and provokes the process of gluconeogenesis. This breaks down amino acids from protein into fuel (in the form of glucose) for our brain and red blood cells (both of which need them to function.
So, if you are under-eating, restrictively eating or not eating enough carbohydrates, you are adding more stress to your body which is only further pushing you into a sympathetic nervous system state and building a breeding ground for SIBO.
Incorporate high-quality, organic carbohydrates into your diet and help your body shift towards a parasympathetic state.
- Getting out in nature
Walking is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to reduce cortisol within the body. Not only does walking help to stimulate feel-good transmitters dopamine and serotonin (created mainly in the gut, did you know?) but it also can help to reduce the production of the neurotransmitters and hormones associated with a stress response.
Focus on putting your phone away, being present, and taking in the beauty of the trees, ground, and sky around you. Breathing into the space and practicing gratitude for just a couple of minutes can also help to slow your breathing, slow your stress response and start to move you into your parasympathetic state.
- Vagus Nerve Work
When you understand that the parasympathetic system is activated by the vagus nerve ,you understand the power that the vagus nerve holds to help shift you into the parasympathetic state.
This work on the vagus nerve is critical for people with SIBO because their high chronic stress levels are likely to drive a weak vagal tone.
You can stimulate (and strengthen) your vagal tone and vagus nerve with some kinda unexpected activities, including singing, gargling with water or saltwater (before or after brushing your teeth), gagging (yes, weird, we know), and also humming. Humming, or making the 'om' or 'vooooooooo' noises stimulate your vocal cords and help to support a longer, slower exhalation which will tell the parasympathetic state that it's time to come and play.
Deep sighs also work really well here.
You can also try the Sensate at-home device that lays on your chest bone and helps to stimulate the vagus nerve through gentle vibrations.
- Deep full breaths
Breathing controls your nervous system, and intentionally focusing on your breathing can help to calm the response of your autonomic nervous system.
Whenever you feel stressed (and even when you don't - because the body gets very used to functioning well in the fight or flight state), take a conscious and active decision to slow down. Step away from your laptop, sit on a chair on a sofa with both feet on the ground and take a moment.
Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest and just connect into the beautiful presence of your body and notice as your chest rises and falls. When you inhale, fill your lungs fully with air, and focus on holding for a second or so. When you have notably held the breath, exhale in a relaxed way or with a deep ‘woosh’.
Try breathing in this way for 60 seconds.
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help you to relax more than the quick, shallow breaths associated with the more hectic, up-tight stress response. It works because the longer inhalations actually expand your bronchioles, whereas the stress response constricts these.
More oxygen, more life.
- Connecting with your lips
This is a new one, but did you know that your lips have parasympathetic fibers running through them? Something as simple as running your fingers over your lips can help to stimulate your parasympathetic state. Focus on the sensations this creates and notice how the mind and body begin to relax. Double points if you have someone to give you a kiss.
- Get a therapist
A lot of us carry a great deal of trauma and stress from many lived experiences from childhood, teenage years and adulthood. Often, when we are not conscious of these stories that our body is holding on to, our physical body can be stressed out by them and they can interrupt and interfere with our physiology.
Therapy is a really important tool for everyone, but a really good therapist will also be able to help you activate your parasympathetic space by making you feel safe, calm, heard, and cared for - as well as potentially taking you through some visualization exercises.
Working through past trauma is a great way to ensure that your body is balanced, calm - and ultimately, not allowing SIBO to thrive.
Understanding the connection between being 'stressed out' and 'SIBO'd up' is a big step forward in anyone's healing journey.
Life is busy, but see where you can introduce and incorporate small changes that can help inch you towards functioning in your calm, rest, and digest, rather than your hectic fight or flight.
You, your body, and your large intestine deserve it!
Love Jena x
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST**