Updated: June 2023
I consult with patients from around the globe who have been to “specialty” clinics and weren’t able to get help. Many have even resorted to seeking out “natural” doctors or home remedies and failed in those efforts as well.
Some “do better” for a while but then get frustrated because it can be really difficult without the knowledge to navigate such a twisted and winding road.
Whether it’s a patient with thyroid problems, diabetes, autoimmune disease, digestive problems, or someone carrying some extra weight, certain findings are similar across almost all chronic illness and patient types.
How Does Stress Factor In?
The common denominator = stress. When you are in poor health or a state of “chronic sickness”, your body is “stressed”. Even if you don’t feel stressed, you are not immune to the stress responses that happen to the body when are in poor health.
You may be thinking, “I’m not in a state of poor health.” Let’s do a quick and friendly fact check:
1. Are you carrying a few extra pounds? If so, your liver is storing toxins in fat cells (fatty liver) and that alone will make you more inflamed. Inflammation leads to ALL disease in the body.
2. Are you taking any prescription or over the counter medications? If so, your body was telling you that something was going on and you are taking medications to suppress the problem but the problem still exists.
How Do Medications Solve My Problem?
Last I checked, medications don’t get rid of problems. If they did, you could take a high blood pressure medication and not have high blood pressure any longer.
Or, you could take a cholesterol medication and get rid of your high cholesterol. Or, you could take an antacid and no longer have acid reflux or heartburn. Right?
That seems like it would be common sense. So, if you are taking a medication for something then you are in a chronic state of sickness.
I really enjoy working with Type 2 diabetics. Many have digestive health problems as well. Most recognize that they need help and that their health is not headed in the right direction.
It has been my experience that most diabetics become really good patients because they are willing to take ownership. They usually get much healthier in a surprisingly short amount of time.
Do You Feel Sick?
Someone who is a diabetic may not feel “sick”, but ALL diabetics are most definitely existing in a state of chronic sickness and poor health.
Diabetes is a sneaky disease. It causes a condition called “systemic vasculitis”. Systemic vasculitis is inflammation of every blood vessel in the entire body from head to toe.
When your blood vessels are inflamed, it can affect oxygen exchange and passage to the tissues and cause disease. Some of the most obvious effects of diabetes are loss of vision and decreased kidney function.
How is Diabetes Related to Poor Digestion?
Everyone always talks about diabetes, and the effects on the eyes and kidneys but the digestive tract is also heavily dependent on blood vessel health.
When the blood vessels in the intestines are inflamed, it can decrease nutrient absorption and lead to malnutrition.
Are you Sympathetic?
When you are unhealthy, your body can move into what is called a chronic state of Sympathetic Nervous System activity. That is horrible for digestion!
Healthy digestion relies on the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PANS).
The PANS is the “rest and digest” side of the nervous system. It’s easy to understand that stress of any kind will keep the body in a sympathetic state, and out of the “rest and digest” state.
Since most of my patients come to me in a chronic state of “fight or flight”, one of the techniques I recommend to improve digestive health is the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
It is a small part of my comprehensive approach but has great benefits for the body overall and that is why I recommend it for my patients. By stimulating the rest and digest side, it can help with improved sleep and also aid in digestion.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique Instructions
1. Hold your tongue to the top of your mouth where your teeth meet your gums
2. Breath in deeply through your nose while you count to 4
3. Hold your breath for a count of 7
4. Breath out of your mouth for a count of 8
This process is a cycle. You can do just one or repeat 2, 3 or 4 times. It is common to feel a little “rush” to your brain when first learning to do this technique.
If you feel “light headed”, dizzy or any other abnormal sensations, stop immediately and consult your physician before continuing this technique. If you have difficulty meeting the time requirements, count faster while still counting 4-7-8.
By now, it should be easy to see how the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique could help with digestion, but let’s put some science behind it.
Let’s Talk About Neurotransmitters
Glutamate is an amino acid. It is also a neurotransmitter. It is “excitatory”. Without glutamate, nerves can’t send signals to the tissues that they are going to.
The human body can make glutamate but glutamate is also found in food. Glutamate is what gives many of our foods their taste and is also found in breast milk.
Glutamate can also be broken down in the body and turned into energy. It is used to make proteins for our bodies to maintain, heal, and repair.
Glutamate is also the number one producer of energy of the intestines. This tells us that healthy glutamate levels are critical.
If you a digestive disorder causing poor digestion, you may not be breaking down your food proteins and absorbing the amino acids (glutamate) properly.
Since your body can make glutamate, it will pick up some of the slack but for how long and at what consequence?
In our bodies, the counter to glutamate is Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a calming neurotransmitter and therefore is directly tied in with the rest and digest side of the nervous system.
GABA vs. Glutamate
GABA and glutamate are always working “against” each other to balance out the nervous system. Glutamate excites and GABA relaxes.
In patients who are unhealthy and in a chronic state of fight or flight, glutamate levels can exceed GABA levels. Since glutamate is the neurotransmitter that excites the nervous system, it can be like driving a nail in the nervous system, anxiety/stress coffin.
Interestingly, serotonin is another neurotransmitter. 95% of serotonin is made in the “gut” or digestive tract. Serotonin is an enhancer of GABA. Just another reason to cultivate and maintain a healthy gut and digestive tract.
The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique is a known stimulator of the GABA neurotransmitter. That is how breathing and GABA can stimulate healthier and better digestion. So, what are you waiting for? Get breathing!
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie