Optimizing digestive health is often associated with eating properly. And while that’s certainly a good place to start, there are other important parts of maintaining a healthy gut.
The gastrointestinal system, also referred to as the gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, digestive tract, or gut, is made up of a group of organs that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum. In recent years, much emphasis has been put on the importance of gut health, with experts now revealing the gastrointestinal system is more than the body’s primary site of taking in and absorbing nutrients, but is also a communication center to and from the brain. It also functions as one of the body’s primary centers for fighting diseases, and has even been referred to as “the second brain.”
To ensure that our gut stays healthy, we have to take care of our “rest and digest” parasympathetic state of the nervous system. You know that fight or flight feeling you get when things go awry? When you’re stressed out or anxious? Guilty? Feel in danger? This shuts down all functions necessary for survival, including the digestive system.
When this shutdown occurs, healing nutrients and proper energy cannot make their way through the digestive tract. This explains why people test low for nutrients such as Vitamin D, Vitamin B, Zinc, or Iron, despite frequent supplementation.
While it’s important to try to get to the root of what is harming your digestive system, be it poor food choices or high stress levels, it’s also essential to use other ways to optimize digestive function in the meantime, like your sense of smell, called the olfactory system, and the skin.
Since your sense of smell is the most primal sense, and can significantly impact your thoughts, emotions, moods, memories, and behaviours, it makes sense that smelling food would trigger the brain to activate the vagus nerve to ignite all parasympathetic responses, including the digestive cascade. Breathing, sitting in an upright position at the table, and eating slowly and consciously are all ways to trigger the parasympathetic state during meals, but when emotional issues get in the way, it can be hard to fully relax.
Essential oils can be helpful as well, as they work to stimulate the parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” state by reaching the inner-brain through nasal pathways to stimulate the nerve endings in the skin, which connect to the parasympathetic nervous system. In fact, in one study, researchers found that components of lavender oil, when applied topically, were at measurable amounts in the blood within 20 minutes, and stayed in the blood system for up to 90 minutes.
To receive this benefit for digestion, you can apply essential oils behind the earlobe, on the mastoid bone. This is the most accessible area to the surface of the skin.
Aromatherapy can be incredibly beneficial to your overall health. And while it’s not considered a replacement for healthy lifestyle choices, such as good nutrition and exercise, it is great for enhancement, and for ensuring you have a backdoor to access when your digestive system isn’t working properly due to the high levels of stress and anxiety that so commonly plague people today.