Indigestion. Heartburn. Nausea. Constipation. Diarrhea.
All cringe-worthy words to describe issues that you’d rather not have but that so many people suffer from on a regular basis (get it? ‘Regular?’…)
All joking aside these are also issues that I see many of my clients experience great improvement with as they continue ‘regular’ care (ok, I’ll stop with the digestion puns now.) Not only this, but more and more evidence is showing the importance of the digestive tract in our overall wellness, our immunity, and even psychological and emotional state.
But how can working with the spine lead to improved digestion?
From my perspective digestive function is determined by a number of factors but I’ll keep it to 4 major factors in order to simplify:
1. Your diet. This is the most obvious and hotly debated factor- your level of fiber intake, hydration, sugar intake, dairy intake, etc. etc.
2. Your gut flora. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years, you’ve heard about probiotics and their crucial impact on normal digestion and the immune system. The bacteria in our gut break down undigested carbohydrates, synthesize vitamins, form a mucous barrier in the gut, and train and condition the immune system. In fact, 80% of the immune system is found in the gut and gut bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with it!
3. Your level of inflammation. This is tied to your gut flora but also depends on your intake of omega 3 fatty acids and food sensitivities like to things like wheat gluten and dairy proteins. Conditions like Crohn’s disease and IBS are inflammatory processes in the gut.
4. The nerve activity to the gut. This is where chiropractic care affects digestion, and the picture below showing nerve distribution to the body probably describes it best.
The first time I saw this picture in chiropractic college my thought was “Wow…it’s like a nerve system roadmap to the entire body! No wonder people function better when their spine is properly aligned!”
You’ll notice that within the outlined red box are nerves and organs associated with the low back, and it’s these nerves that primarily control the action of the digestive organs.
These nerves can become irritated and their flow disturbed through spinal misalignment. Chiropractic adjustment and realignment of these areas naturally restores proper nerve signal flow to these areas, giving an individual the best chance possible for a healthy, fully-functioning gut. Of COURSE diet, gut flora, and inflammation are important factors in healthy digestion, but the organs that actually control the digestive process (intestines, stomach, gall bladder, pancreas, etc.) must be functioning properly first. And the function of the digestive organs depends foremost on the function of the nerve system.
Is chiropractic a ‘cure’ for gastrointestinal issues? I would contend that chiropractic isn’t necessarily a ‘cure’ for anything but rather a means of helping the body to function to its highest potential and my experience has shown me that the digestive tract is no exception.
In my next article I’ll go more into depth about how the nerve system affects digestive health, so stay tuned!