Erin Cave is the driving force, passion and expertise behind the beautiful Hallow Naturopathics and Ilk Photography. I first got to know Erin as an amazing wholefoods chef while she was working at Wild One and quickly learnt the incredibly vast, inspiring and swoon worthy skill set this girl has. But its more then that too. Her unwavering love and passion towards wellness, people and creating a better world runs deep and is ever prevalent when in her company. Today she is sharing a tiny slice of her knowledge surrounding the importance of digestive health, managing our stress and how the “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality can be the route to outbreaks in auto immune disease and cancer along with a few tips on how to realign our goals, habits and perspective to decrease the odds.
“Health is a huge conversation. There’s more and more evidence that shows that our health is a result of where we come from, everywhere we’ve been, who we hang out with and what exactly we eat, bringing about the idea of ’n of 1’ medicine, meaning that medicine should be entirely specific to the individual, rather than relying on a ‘one size fits all’ model. In this environment, the science is never really ‘settled’, and facts are hard to recognise, as new studies are published on the daily and often debunked by an opposing lab shortly there after. With science reaching religious status among many groups, the terrain is getting even harder to navigate.
On top of this, we equate success with money and productivity and sometimes, it looks like we’d die for it. Buying a house in the most desirable suburb, becoming a successful entrepreneur, raising good kids, having your shit together. These are all wonderful ideas in text, but in real life they add up to productivity in excess, and as it seems, we’d sacrifice our health to succeed.
Social media amplifies our common expectations in regards to success, making them super big and often unattainable. And with the strive to meet all of these expectations, comes a whole lot of stress. While a little can be a great motivator and teacher, don’t get me wrong - hard work can be highly rewarding - but too much can wreak havoc on our bodies, which is the reason that we’re seeing movements like the current self-care trend, and not a moment too early.
Chronic stress has been implicated in the cause, onset and duration of every auto-immune disorder studied (1), the majority of cancers (2), foetal development issues (3), digestive issues (4), hormone imbalances and, the all too common adrenal fatigue, which is stacking up to be our generation’s ‘cross to bare’. We’re wildly busy and ‘getting somewhere’, but we’re tired, sick and unhappy.
To unravel this stuff, where do we start? A good place, is checking in with your personal health, on as many levels as you’re prepared to, but let’s say - specifically, your stress levels and gut health are square one. You can do this with a whole lot of research or via an accredited naturopath, as they’re your best bet in finding the correct protocol to follow to fix any issues.
Your digestive system wears the brunt of chronic stress and is implicated in the health of every other body system, so if it goes down, it takes everything with it. When we’re chronically stressed, our bodies direct ‘energy’ (blood flow, nutrients, gastric secretions, nerve and chemical signals) away from digestion, because it isn’t involved in the famous ‘fight or flight’ response like our muscles, heart and lungs are. And unfortunately, in this sense, getting caught in traffic creates the same internal response as running from a lion, as our bodies often can’t tell the difference between the scenarios. So it makes sense that, when your digestive system takes a hit, other life-sustaining processes are impacted - think nutrient absorption, liver function, neurotransmitter synthesis, detoxification, healing, mood and immune function, etc, which is why we’ve come to the conclusions that a) almost all disease starts in the gut and b) diet and lifestyle changes can work wonders.
So let’s get really nerdy for a minute, how does getting stuck in traffic affect our digestion? When we’re stressed out, we tend to lean in to convenience, for example, grabbing a takeaway coffee and sandwich for lunch because we’re late for that meeting, and eating it in the car. Even if the food we’re eating is good, the process by which we get it into our stomachs, is a far cry from ideal. This robs the body of two important phases of digestion, 1 - contemplation: thinking about the food you’re about to eat is like the ‘brain’ phase of eating, where the very thought of food stimulates a rise in stomach acid, enzyme and bile production along the GI tract, which is why commercials with good looking food can make you drool. This preps your stomach for the incoming food, (note that stomach acid is incredibly important and you want there to be enough, and contrary to popular belief, having too much of it generally isn’t the cause of indigestion) and boosts your capabilities of absorbing it. It’s very common, in modern society, to have lower than average stomach acid, which increases indigestion, malabsorption, peptic ulcers, IBS type symptoms, food poisoning, frequent infections, gas, bloating and dysbiosis, etc. and 2 - eating on the run prevents us from chewing our food properly. I know, you’ve heard this before, but it’s a big deal. Our salvia contains enzymes that begin the breakdown of certain macronutrients in the mouth, like carbohydrates, so that by the time they reach the small intestine, which is where most absorption occurs, they’re good to go. Also, chewing your food properly keeps your teeth in good health, provided your diet isn’t based on sugar. 3 - the brain/gut link, this one’s the most obvious, for example, when you get nervous and your belly gets loud, this is your ‘second brain’ or ENS stepping up. The ‘second brain’ is essentially a layer of neural (brain like) tissue embedded in the wall of your gut, communicating back and forth with your brain, digestive system and your microbiome. In saying that, your gut can control your mood to a large extent, which is why many IBS sufferers also have run ins with anxiety, depression and insomnia, why a mentally supportive diet can benefit both digestive and mental health and why a stool sample can potentially reveal causative factors in brain health issues.
The other, incredibly important part of the digestive system, is the micro biome. Although it’s been gaining fame in the last couple of years, it deserves a lot more. Try to imagine that your digestive tract is a tube, that goes from your mouth to your butt, and is considered to be part of ‘the outside world’ with ‘you’ in the shape of a donut around it, because it is open to the environment at both ends. Inside that tube, are perfect conditions for bacterial growth, which you want to encourage, but you only want specific types in there. And this is why taking the correct probiotics can work wonders. Why would you want anyone living in there? Because they’re incredibly complex, and can take care of some of the jobs that we, as humans, aren’t capable of doing ourselves, like synthesising B12, supporting our immune systems and binding vitamins, for example. The digestive system also produces up to 80% of our neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, so it stands to reason that science links mental health with that of the gut, in a somewhat chicken vs egg cycle, explaining a portion of the growing incidence of mental health issues in our modern society. But stress can affect digestion, affecting our ability to cope with stress and the process starts over. Bit of a worm hole, isn’t it? In short form, you get stressed, which impairs your digestion and prevents your body from being able to get what it needs, opening the door to diseases of both the body and the mind.
So self-care: taking a long bath, walking, having a little sleep in, sitting in the sun, going for a swim, laying on your shakti mat, going to yoga more often, being mindful as much as possible, taking stock of your health on a daily basis and implementing a stress management plan - all of this - has been proven to lower the risk of disease as a whole. That’s all diseases. Because stress plays a part in every one of them, regardless of which part of your body they affect.
So how do we fix it all? We have to check in with our health and take steps to correct the troublesome stuff, rather than just suffering through. Having rough periods? Get them checked out. Having digestive issues? See someone. Can’t lose weight? There’s a fix for that. Mood all over the show? Email me. Learn to slow down and to say no to things that will cause you unnecessary stress. Odds are, if you’re good at what you do, other opportunities will come at you, so you don’t have to say yes to everything to be successful. Reassess your version of success and where happiness and health fit into that, and make sure you’re on track. Then sit down, drink your tea before it goes cold and breathe for a bit. You have everyone’s permission to take care of yourself.
1 - https://newatlas.com/stress-autoimmune-disease-ptsd/55109/
4 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202343/