A healthy core has a lot to do with digestive health as muscles cannot be healthy if there is inflammation within the digestive tract or around organs. There is a neurological reflex called the viscerosomatic reflex that occurs between the organs (viscera) and muscles (somatic) above the area. When there is inflammation in and around the organs, the muscles tighten in response to protect the area while other muscles become inhibited and stop functioning. In the lumbopelvic region, the pelvic floor and other muscles including the psoas, piriformis and parspinals muscles increase in tension while other muscles including the transverse abdominus, gluteus maximus and quads shut down and go on strike. This results in further compensations, disrupting elimination and contributing to muscle pain and dysfunction. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I encourage healthy eating and recommend addressing inflammation at its source, the gut, for the best outcome.
There are multiple systems within the body now known to be governed by one system, the immune system. The immune system is responsible for protecting our body from invaders and gets dialed up or down as a result of inflammation. For example, inflammation in the digestive tract creates mucus from the mouth to the anus that can cause inflammatory bowel disease, acid reflux, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few. Inflammation in the cardiovascular system can lead to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, etc. Inflammation in the endocrine system can lead to thyroid dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, etc. Inflammation in the neuromuscular system can lead to muscle inflammation in the form of myofascial trigger points, defined as hyperirritable, involuntary muscle spasms that can radiate pain to a remote location, held in spasm further by the nervous system. It is a vicious cycle and tough to break, unless inflammation is addressed.
I have come to recognize the effect gut inflammation has on myofascial trigger points throughout the entire body. I have suffered with chronic pain and digestive issues since childhood. I was also diagnosed with two separate auto-immune diseases in my 20s and 30s. One was linked to recurring miscarriages and infertility (phospholipid syndrome) and the other a skin disorder (PLEVA). I discovered the connection between the two with the common denominator linked to food when I removed dairy products from my diet when my first-born infant was diagnosed with acid reflux and projectile vomiting. Since I was breastfeeding, the pediatric allergist recommended that I eliminate the largest allergen to his system, milk proteins (casein and whey). My gut felt better for the first time in my life, I had mental clarity and lost weight at a rapid pace, which was good since I was struggling to lose the extra weight I gained in this high-risk pregnancy. Once he outgrew the allergy, I went back to some of my old ways, with the exception of drinking milk. A few years later, I developed a skin rash resulting in the dermatologist prescribing 2 grams of antibiotics daily for a month (imagine what that would have done for my leaky gut). I never filled the prescription, but instead made drastic changes to my diet and cut out processed foods. The rash disappeared for good and I was further convinced that diet was the key to healing, without the adverse side effects of medication. In addition, when I went back to the fertility doctor to plan my next pregnancy and to have blood work checked, he was perplexed that my numbers had normalized and I DID NOT need the twice daily Heparin injections that had plagued my previous pregnancy! I had turned off my phospholipid syndrome and conceived easily.
Now research is confirming what my body already knew; inflammation contributes to a "leaky gut", which is thought to be the main cause of food allergies and chronic illness. Food can trigger an inflammatory response with an increase in white blood cells that can be in the form of mucus in the esophagus or at the end of the digestive tract in stool. The large intestine is one cell layer thick to encourage absorption of essential nutrients in our body but can develop "holes" that allow nutrients to leak out, known as a "leaky gut." It is also being discovered that over 90% of serotonin (regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning) is manufactured in the gut, also known as the "gut brain ". This which means that the food we eat can also alter our mood. A poor diet with processed foods can cause depression, anxiety, irritability and a host of other emotional symptoms or can worsen the mental status of someone already suffering with a mental illness. It is also being discovered that there are more nerves going from the gut, or enteric nervous system, via the Vagus nerve, to the brain than there are going from the brain to the gut. Dr. David Perlmutter connects the dots in his book, Brain Maker, coinciding with other experts who suggest that the microbiome, the balance of good and bad bacteria, is responsible for inflammation. The scope of this blog is to introduce you to the microbiome that becomes imbalanced from the use of antibiotics, gluten and other environmental factors that destroy good gut bacteria. In addition, loss of nutrients can affect nervous system function, including muscle tension. Vitamins B, D, calcium and magnesium are needed for normal muscle function and are common dietary deficiencies. There are several others beyond the scope of this blog and I suggest you do your own research. Also, check out Part 2 of this blog for further suggestions to reduce inflammation.
Our digestive system was not intended to break down or digest foreign substances that our modern diet contains. An immune response can be anaphylactic as in the case of a severe, life threatening allergy or more subtle as in the case of acid reflux, abdominal bloating or muscle tension. The latter affects most individuals at some point in their life and is not so obvious. In Part 2, I will discuss dietary changes and ways to reduce inflammation. Your core will love you and you will be able to nurture it with effective exercises. You deserve to be the "best version of yourself" and have a healthy core! We understand that lack of progress is not "in your head", but in your gut. Reducing inflammation is the first step to gain a healthy core. We can help you gain the core you need to look and feel your best.
Lecture Notes from the Institute For Brain Potential, Preventing and Managing Chronic Inflammation: Special Focus: Nutritional Interventions (2014) presented by Nicholas Hall, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of South Florida.
David Perlmutter, M.D (2015). Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain - For Life.