Our ability to properly digest the foods we eat determines how many nutrients we get from those foods. It doesn’t matter how healthily we eat; if we are unable to digest our food properly, we will struggle to achieve good health. Knowing this, we must start to ask the question, “What promotes good digestion?” This article will reveal new scientific findings showing how impactful our state of mind is on our ability to digest our foods.
In 1822, the physiologist William Beaumont treated a man who’d been shot in the stomach. Many months later, after multiple surgeries, the man defied death and managed to recover. However, the incident left one glaring mark: he had a hole in his stomach. This hole enabled Dr. Beaumont to see into the man’s stomach — literally. Beaumont took advantage of this, and decided to start studying the man’s digestion. This would be the first time that anyone had observed the digestive process in real time. In his observations, he noticed that when the patient became feverish, his digestion would slow, indicating that disease has an impact on our ability digest foods properly.
Those observations spurred a new way of thinking about digestion, and scientists started to look at how it is affected by our emotional state. Today studies are revealing a strong correlation between digestion and our state of mind. The gastroenterologist Emeran Mayer talks about these findings in his book, The Mind–Gut Connection:
“When you are fuming in traffic, your brain sends out a characteristic pattern of signals to your digestive system, just as it does to your facial muscles; the digestive system also responds dramatically. As you sat fuming about the driver who cut you off, your stomach went into vigorous contractions, which increased its production of acid and slowed the emptying of the scrambled eggs you ate for breakfast. Meanwhile your intestines twisted and spit mucus and other digestive juices. A similar yet distinct pattern happens when you’re anxious or upset. When you’re depressed, your intestines hardly move at all. In fact, we now know that your gut mirrors every emotion that arises in your brain.”
Dr. Mayer goes on to explain that the stronger the emotion, the more our digestion suffers. If we are angry, or stressed, food can take up to four times longer to digest. When we are depressed our digestion virtually stops, and can even reverse.
Negative emotions also cause food to empty from the stomach before it has been digested. When food leaves the stomach undigested, our intestines are unable to pull nutrients from it, making our food almost useless to the body. In other words, a healthy diet has much less impact on our health if we are always stressed, angry, depressed, etc.
The Roseto Effect.
In 1961, heart disease was the number one killer in America. At that time, there was a community of about 2000 Italians living in Roseto, Pennsylvania, and within this community, heart disease was nearly non-existent. This led two scientists to investigate the cause for such abnormally good health. (source)
These doctors hypothesized that diet was the basis for such good health. Yet, to their surprise, this wasn’t the case. Here’s an excerpt from a PBS article detailing the phenomenon:
“Wolf and Bruhn decided to study the health records of Rosetans, launching a multiyear effort that began in 1961. They discovered that although the residents indulged in salamis, cheeses, sausages, and cigarettes; although they abandoned their healthy native extra-virgin olive oil for artery-clogging lard; although they transformed traditional flatbread pizza with olive oil and salt into New World versions with sausage, pepperoni, salami, ham, and egg, the Rosetans weren’t dying of heart disease.”
The doctors had to reevaluate the cause of the Rosetans’ good health. They eliminated genetics after discovering that relatives of the Rosetans living in other parts of the country were not experiencing the same quality of health. They then eliminated environment as the cause, given that people in surrounding towns weren’t as healthy. Ultimately, the doctors came to the following conclusion:
“After years of study, Wolf and Bruhn concluded that the town’s communally supportive behavior — later dubbed the ‘Roseto Effect’ — made all the difference. Rosetans chose to live a family- and community-centered egalitarian life. Those who had prospered didn’t flaunt their wealth and lent support to the less fortunate, residents almost exclusively patronized local businesses, and they predominantly intermarried. Doctors couldn’t tell wealthy from poor Rosetans because everyone dressed alike and lived in modest homes.”
To conclude, although diet is important for our health, it is only a small piece of the puzzle. Taking control of our peace of mind is vital to achieving good physical health. Without this peace of mind, many of our efforts to be healthy are undermined.
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