• Dr. Juliet Ghodsian

Gut Instinct-- Finding Stillness

Where is your happy place?

Let’s review the 6 main underlying triggers I have uncovered that were responsible for activation of Crohn’s Disease in my body:

1) Genetics ✓

2) Repeated Gastroenteritis ✓

3) Overactive Stress Response and Sympathetic Dominance

4) Post Infectious IBS and SIBO

5) Concussion

6) Lack of clear boundaries between others and myself

We have discussed the role of genetics and repeated bowel infections in a previous entry. Please see the entry titled “The Journey Back” if you missed it.

A quick overview of the digestive tract and the role of the nervous system in it’s management will help us understand how an Overactive Stress Response and Sympathetic Dominance can play a role in the onset of digestive disorders.

The human digestive tract is a complex combination of organs and glands that play a foundational role in the maintenance of health. When you have a digestive tract that functions well and performs its role without issue, it is nothing more than background noise in the overarching course of your life. When you feel hungry you eat, and when you feel the need to have a bowel movement you go to the bathroom and then move on with your day. When you have a digestive tract that is dysfunctional, however, it becomes a constant thorn in the side of your daily existence.

Digestion begins in the mouth when food first comes into contact with enzymes produced by your salivary glands. This is the first step in a healthy digestive process that will trigger an important cascade of events: the breakdown of these food items into their component nutritional parts, the absorption of essential nutrients, and the elimination of unusable waste products via a bowel movement.

There are many steps along this process of digestion where things could unexpectedly go wrong and result in mal-digestion or disruption in the balance of the digestive environment.

The most important underlying truth to understand is that your digestion is regulated by your nervous system. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is the part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes.

The ANS has two settings: Sympathetic (SNS) and Parasympathetic (PNS). The SNS is known as the fight or flight response and the PNS as the rest and digest response in the body. The critical understanding is that you must be in a rest and digest or PNS state in order for your digestive process to turn ON. When you are in an active SNS or fight or flight response, your digestion will be turned OFF.

What is the take home message here?

Digestive enzyme production in the stomach, pancreas and liver, as well as stomach and intestinal wall muscle contractions that move food through your system, will not happen unless you are relaxed. If you are stressed or agitated when you eat, you WILL NOT be able to break down your food and move it through your system properly. An overactive stress response and SNS Dominance are the #1 cause of uncomplicated IBS in my clinical experience.

Will SNS dominance on its own result in the development of an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s?

The short answer is no, but it is definitely an underlying aggravating factor that needs to be addressed in order for you to truly recover and heal your digestion.

How do I know if I have an overactive stress response?

Here are some signs to watch for that could indicate SNS dominance:

Poor digestion/indigestion



Shallow breathing or unconscious breath holding

Increased heart rate or palpitation

Poor quality sleep: Insomnia or night waking


Night sweats

Decreased libido



Increased agitation/irritability

Increased muscle tension

Increased inflammation and frequent illness

What can I do to help balance my stress response?

Avoid or minimize caffeine and sugar if your intake is high

Exercise regularly

Spend time in nature

Discover what brings you joy and make time for that in your life

Develop meaningful connections/relationships with others

Create space for stillness in your day: turn off phone, text, email, etc

Set a consistent sleep/wake routine

Meditation or Breathing exercises

Counseling or Coaching to help learn mind and emotional management tools

Evaluate your boundaries with others

Simplify your life