3 Reasons Mindfulness Is Critical For Gut Health, According To This GI Doctor
At mbg, we know that gut health is super complex and comprehensive, and it has a major effect on our immune systems, anxiety, and overall mood.
Board-certified integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D., agrees, as he tells me on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast that caring for your mind might be just as important as nutrition when it comes to optimizing our gut health.
While we discuss everything from intermittent fasting to the best low-FODMAP foods, Singh also believes in the power of mindfulness for our guts—something we don't necessarily hear from a lot of GIs. As a passionate advocate for integrative medicine, Singh has an unparalleled view on how we should approach digestive issues, coupling both gut-healing remedies and friendly foods with meditation and breathwork.
Here are three reasons mindfulness practices are just as important as nutrition and probiotics in terms of gut health, a true "soul meets science" mentality if we ever heard one:
1. Gut health affects the whole body—so we must look at the whole body.
"If we focus on just nutrition and symptoms of the gut, that's part of the picture, but you have to look at the whole body and the whole person," Singh says.
It makes total sense—our guts affect so many other processes in the body that it's only fitting that other parts of our body affect the gut. While Singh is a huge proponent of adding probiotics and gut-friendly foods to our diets for optimal gut health, he recognizes that the vast world of gut health is a much bigger story to be shared.
"A lot of times, we focus on one topic, maybe because it's simpler or it's easier to understand," he shares. "Gut health, yes, means microbiome, but that's not the whole picture."
That's why, in his practice, he looks at the microbiome (and stresses the importance of adding healthy bacteria), and he also measures things like nutritional genetics, whole-body brain imaging, and cardiac imaging. That way, he can get a complete look at all the factors that may be affecting the gut and can prescribe accordingly.
2. The mind-gut connection works both ways.
We're familiar with the mind-gut connection here at mbg. But Singh stresses that this connection is a two-way street, meaning the brain affects the gut just as much as the gut affects the brain.
Think of the mind-gut connection as an information highway, Singh advises.
And like most highways, traffic flows both ways. "Oftentimes, it's not necessarily from the bottom up, from digestive tract up to the brain; it's also from the top down, from the brain down to the digestive tract."
The digestive tract has its own nervous system, Singh explains, called the enteric nervous system, that actually works in tandem with our central nervous system to control our body's digestive demands. So, just by focusing on our stress, anxiety, and depression, we can actually respond to many issues going on in our digestive system. If you still weren't sure that the gut acts as a "second brain," let Singh's integrative perspective convince you otherwise.
3. Sometimes, mindfulness is all it takes.
Of course, this is not always the case. But Singh recognizes that for a handful of patients, gut problems can be solved by introducing them to mindfulness training. He offers one particularly inspiring story about a patient who was experiencing abdominal pain and was convinced he had pancreatic cancer.
Turns out, according to Singh, he was feeling severely depressed. After comprehensive mindfulness sessions and breathwork practices, the patient was completely transformed—no more stomach pains. "That was the beginning of his healing journey," Singh recalls.
Now, this is only one case, and Singh acknowledges that every patient is different (he truly believes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to medicine). But it's a classic example of the power of mindfulness and just how effective it can be for gut health.
So, as you sip on kombucha and eat any fermented veggies you can get your hands on, keep in mind that mindfulness is an important factor for optimal gut health. Like many aspects of wellness, gut health is a holistic process that isn't so easy to pinpoint. Be like Singh, and experiment with what works for your body—simply adding a meditation practice might just do wonders for your digestion.
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