GI sensitivity and your Spine
We’ve all had our moments of over eating, let’s be honest. Sometimes we do it intentionally, other times we are just so hungry we want to scarf down everything insight. I’m going to share the epiphany I had during my most current “Cheat Day”. Everyone knows what a cheat day is. You’ve been making good decisions towards your health so consistently for so long, you’re going to “treat yo-self” to the indulgences you rarely afford when your diet is on point.
I’d been eating a pretty strict diet for almost 6 months at that point and figured I deserved a day to eat the stuff that would typically be my kryptonite. After the gluttony transpired I found myself:
In a hot sweat,
breathing very shallow, and
still feeling absurdly hungry.
Even worse was the sleep(or lack there of) I had the same night. It felt like there was no room in my abdominal cavity for anything to move or expand. It occurred to me then what was really happening. My body was rejecting the garbage-quality food I ingested and was still seeking proper nutrition, which was why I was still so hungry even after that big meal. We’ve all heard the gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerant buzz words that have been thrown around, but now I was getting a chance to clearly feel their effects. There are a number of additional ways the components of these foods can cause cellular breakdown, but we will focus strictly on the cascade of physical, mechanical breakdowns that can happen with a reaction to these foods.
Essentially, when I, or people who are also sensitive to these foods or any other food/chemical compound, ingest the foods that don’t work well with my digestive system I get bloated.
Our gut is basically one really long tube. Different parts of the tube(small intestine, large intestine, duodenum, colon) that all have different specific responsibilities, but all in all, are part of the tube. When we eat things that “upset our stomach” what’s really happening is we are creating these air/gas bubbles or pockets that not only slow down the movement of whats in the tube(food:nutrients) but also causes the tube to expand. With enough air bubbles in the tube, movement of the food inside the tube is dramatically slowed down making me feel…constipated! The expansion of the tube restricts proper absorption of nutrients because the wall of the tube has very small holes to let good stuff in. It’s a lot like mesh fabric, when its relaxed, the spaces between are nice and open, allowing nutrients to pass through the wall. When that mesh is pulled tight or stretched, the openings become MUCH smaller.
That’s what’s happening on a cellular level when we get bloated, gassy, inflamed(whatever you want to call it). Unfortunately, its effects start to restrict other physiological mechanisms in the body, breathing being the main one we’ll focus on. There are a few different way to take in a breath. I like to think of it as two different ways: Belly(diaphragmatic) breathing or Barrel Chested breathing.
To most successfully take a full deep breath using your diaphragm, inhale primarily through the nose and sink the diaphragm towards your feet. This will cause your lower abdomen to fill with air as well as depress the shoulders. Your diaphragm is a muscle that also serves as a wall for your internal organs.
For barrel chested breathing, we are typically breathing in through our mouths, primarily, and our chest cavity expands. This also causes our shoulders to shrug and elevate towards our ears.
When you are feeling bloated or overly stuffed, the tendency is to become more barrel chested of a breather. When that tube is fully expanded it’s really difficult and uncomfortable to breathe through the diaphragm because the diaphragm will push against the already increased pressure tube(full tummy) in order to create space for the breathe to come in. When you are bloated/full your body looks for the most comfortable way to take in a breathe and breathing with the chest becomes the outlet.
The problem is that when we want to digest and sleep we ideally want to breathe through our diaphragm. Taking a deep diaphragm breathe through your nose stimulates the part of your nervous system that is responsible for “wine and dine” actions called your parasympathetic nervous system. When your parasympathetic system is active it helps aid digestion and SLEEP. The added benefits on digestion when you breathe through you diaphragm is increased muscle contraction around the gut. This aids a mechanism called peristalsis, which is when the tiny muscles of the gut tube slowly contract to move the inner fillings(food) along the path.
When we breathe through our mouth it physiologically puts our body in an amped up state ready to attack or act. What it also does is inhibits blood from going to the digestive tract and instead allows more blood into your muscle tissue. This is typically very useful when we are doing high intensity workouts or training. It helps us get a lot of oxygen to our system but does so at a cost of using extra energy. Breathing through your diaphragm is a lot less work on the body, from an energy expenditure perspective, because you don’t have to engage nearly as many muscles in order to accomplish the full breathe.
So, getting bloated not only slows down nutrient absorption but it also can stimulate barrel chested breathing, leaving our bodies more SYMPATHETICALLY driven, making it even harder to breathe, sleep and digest. But the dysfunction doesn’t stop there. When we take a diaphragmatic breathe we also allow proper pumping of Cerebral Spinal Fluid(CSF) via proper, unison motion of the tailbone(sacrum) and skull. CSF is the “blood” of the nervous system. It helps nutrients get to the brain and other parts of the spinal column as well as move wastes out of the area for proper removal.
Conversely, barrel chested breathing disrupts that natural CSF pumping motion created by the spine. When joints of the body stop moving properly they cause joints to compensate by moving more than they were made to. This, overtime, is what leads to arthritis and other signs of dysfunction. A principled chiropractor aims at re-establishing proper joint motion in the spine to restore nervous system function. If this example sounds like you or someone you know, you can bet your bottom dollar there are areas in their spine that are no longer moving/functioning well which impedes on the brain’s ability to signal and adequately heal the body.
Something to keep in mind is that I felt these negative effects more intensely after giving my body a chance to cleanse. I was working with a pretty clean slate. How drastically would I react if i consistently ate these foods? I would feel a more consistent, subtle effect that, chances are, I’d get used to and never think twice about the daily headaches or chronic joint pain that they are causing.
Long story short- Eat your organic meats, veggies and fruits. The cleaner you eat the higher your body can function on all levels. Every 7 years or so, every cell of the 50 trillion in our body is regenerated except for the cells of the nervous system. Therefore, you are indeed what you eat so don’t be cheap and you only get one nervous system, TAKE CARE OF IT!
Dr. Asad is a chiropractor and functional movement specialist in Walnut Creek and Concord, CA. For additional info, FHSchiro.com.