Rest and Digest – Dr Amanda Reimann

The importance of rest for growth and healing


From Luke’s Journal 2022 | Rest | Vol.27 No.1

Clockwise from top left: American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium), Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). These are examples of herbal adaptogens, used for protecting against the effects of physical, biological and mental stress and promoting longevity. They also possess individual secondary actions such as antidepressant, anxiolytic, and immunomodulatory effects, and neuroprotective, antioxidant, and tonic properties. 

What does it mean to “rest and digest?
As a believer in Christ Jesus, herbalist and nutritionist, I would like to combine what the Scriptures teach about this topic with naturopathic principles.

Mindful Rest and Digest 

As clinicians, we know the benefits of relaxation and obtaining adequate sleep. However, in striving to give our patients the best care, we often neglect the need to maintain our own health and wellbeing. When this happens over a long period of time, it can lead to “burnout”, which was found to affect almost half of physicians in clinical practice.1 Physicians in the 45–54-year-old age group were shown to be particularly vulnerable, and this is the period where they should be most productive and financially stable. Some of the causes of burnout were excess time spent on administration and medical record keeping, long working hours and lack of respect from colleagues. Furthermore, an imbalance between effort and reward led to work dissatisfaction and dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis. This may explain the association between job stress and chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease and depression. 

Since work-related burnout is so prevalent and can have severe and long-term health consequences, more attention needs to be given to ways of preventing this condition. While we may not have much immediate control over our work environment, we can reduce the impact of stress on our physiology by acknowledging the need for daily rest and good sleep hygiene.

“Chronic sleep deprivation can have disastrous effects on patients as well as clinicians. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to an increase in metabolic dysfunction and weight gain, medical errors,2 depression,3, 4 heart disease5 and cancer.6

Chronic sleep deprivation can have disastrous effects on patients as well as clinicians. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to an increase in metabolic dysfunction and weight gain, medical errors,2 depression,3, 4 heart disease5 and cancer.6 In an analysis of over 113,000 women in the United Kingdom, Body Mass Index, waist-hip ratio, waist-height ratio, and waist circumference were higher when participants slept in a brighter room at night. These changes were found despite keeping calorie intake and daily activity levels constant. It is proposed that the rhythm of melatonin production plays an important role in metabolic function and may influence circadian-clock gene expression in the peripheral tissues.2 Disruption of the normal circadian rhythm over a long time can also increase the risk of cancer by several mechanisms.6 For example, circadian clock components directly or indirectly regulate gene expression for nutrient metabolism, redox balance, autophagy, DNA repair, protein folding and cellular secretion. Many circadian clock proteins also physically interact with proteins involved in tumorigenesis pathways.

Physical Rest and Digest 

These circadian rhythms are not only sensitive to light exposure and sleep patterns, but they also respond to changes in feeding times.6 Allowing our digestive system to rest overnight is just as important as restoring our minds with good sleep quality. Data from the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study of patients with breast cancer revealed that women who fasted for more than 13 hours overnight had a significantly lower risk for breast cancer recurrence compared with women who fasted for less than 13 hours overnight.7 A prolonged nightly fasting interval was also associated with significantly lower concentrations of HbA1c and longer sleep duration in this cohort of patients with early-stage breast cancer. A population-based case-control study in Spain reported that sleeping two or more hours after supper produced a 26% risk reduction in prostate cancer and 16% risk reduction for breast cancer compared with subjects who slept immediately after supper. A similar benefit was observed in subjects having supper before 9 pm compared with supper after 10 pm.8 

“Resting our digestive system between meals as well as overnight is critical for keeping the gut microbiome in balance. It is recommended to allow at least a 3-hour window between meals.”

Resting our digestive system between meals as well as overnight is critical for keeping the gut microbiome in balance. It is recommended to allow at least a 3-hour window between meals. These periods of fasting daily are vital for the effective functioning of the migrating motor complex (MMC). The MMC occurs approximately every 90–120 minutes to sweep residual debris through the gastrointestinal tract. Several studies have demonstrated that the MMC is protective against small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).9 

We can further optimise digestion by managing our stress levels on a regular basis. Chronic stress can alter the function of the digestive system by disrupting the communication between the brain and the gut through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the autonomic nervous system. It can influence gastrointestinal motor activity, gastric secretions, and emptying, all of which can cause abdominal discomfort10 and increase the risk for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In one study, biopsies from the lower esophagus of patients with reflux chest pain syndrome demonstrated the highest level of immune cells compared with healthy controls. These patients also rated highest in psychological scores, indicating a potential connection between stress and oesophageal hypersensitivity.11 In a prospective observational study,12 psychosocial distress was associated with symptom severity among patients who were non-responsive to proton pump inhibitors. Also, high levels of anxiety and depression may result in poorer quality of life in patients with GORD and noncardiac chest pain (predominantly of oesophageal origin) than patients with GORD-related cardiac chest pain.13 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Stress also impacts on the severity of symptoms and quality of life in patients with IBS. The presence of more-negatively perceived adulthood life events was associated with worse IBS symptoms and a dysregulated stress response, as shown by a decrease in adrenocorticotrophin hormone production with corticotrophin releasing factor stimulation.14 Thus, IBS patients may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help reframe, reinterpret, or modify the impact of these negatively perceived or stressful life events on their symptoms.15 CBT may work through the autonomic nervous system, specifically via the gut-brain axis. In IBS, a reduction in parasympathetic activity and an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity is common. Stress may lead to reduced vagal tone, which then impacts on gut motility and sensitivity, and peripheral inflammation and gut permeability. Conversely, the vagus nerve may relay information to the brain regarding the gut microenvironment.16

Spiritual Rest and Digest

As Christians, we have the privilege through the blood of Christ, of bringing all our burdens to our Heavenly Father, who hears our prayers and walks through the valleys with us. We can connect to our Creator through prayer and this has been reported as a coping strategy in the medical literature, because it “provides context and social connection, keeping a person’s perceptions of stress well managed, thereby making prayer a part of the class of significant coping mechanisms”.17 A total of 1259 nurses (96% female, 4% male) completed a demographic questionnaire and the Prayer Function Scale (PFS). Results were statistically significant for showing that female subjects, who were married, divorced, or widowed; participants with 21 years or more of experience in nursing; and those with diploma or associate degrees in nursing reported more use of prayer for assistance, acceptance, calm and deference than the nurses from the other identified demographic groups. This confirms what we as Christians already know, but often neglect to prioritise in our busy lives. The apostle Paul encourages us to, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 6-7). Our Lord Jesus Himself invites us to “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28).

“What an abundance of inner joy and true riches awaits the believer who meditates on God’s Word daily.”

After creating the world in six days, God rested on the Sabbath. “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:3). We are called to keep the Sabbath holy and our children, servants, livestock and any stranger on our property are instructed to do the same (Exodus 20:8-10). I know that I often fail to honour the Sabbath by completely resting from any kind of work. However, God commands this and will reward those who keep His commandments with mercy “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 103: 17-18).

Finally, in terms of “resting and digesting” spiritually, the person who “meditates day and night” in God’s law is compared with a tree, 

“Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.”
(Psalm 1:2-3)

What an abundance of inner joy and true riches awaits the believer who meditates on God’s Word daily. 

Let us then, dear readers, put into practice the basic principles of health that we teach our patients. These include good sleep hygiene and stress management to prevent “burnout” and chronic disease, eating a healthy diet and fasting overnight as well as in between meals. It also involves resting on the Sabbath and connecting with our Creator through prayer and meditation. In this way, we will not only benefit like a fruitful tree long term, but our patients and our colleagues will also receive the joy and peace that comes from leaning on our Lord Jesus in everything every day.

Dr Amanda Reimann
Dr Amanda Reimann works as a Nutritionist and Western Medical Herbalist at ATUNE Health Centres in Newcastle, a multi-modality integrated medical clinic. She is also a Biochemist, having completed her PhD on the effects of oxidative stress in ageing and neurodegenerative diseases in Germany. 

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