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Can Stress Affect Your Gut?

Can Stress Affect Your Gut?

Stress is the body's response to dangerous situations, illnesses, trauma, pain and emotional issues. If you find yourself facing unreasonable deadlines, a debilitating health issue, an accident or any other issue that is causing you to feel stressed out and burnt out, it may be affecting your gastrointestinal health. Furthermore, even after a major stressful event has passed, it could be causing digestive difficulties. Studies have shown that stress can cause or worsen the symptoms of a number of digestive issues, including peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome , inflammatory bowel disease and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Chronic stress can alter the connection between the brain and gut. It can change the makeup of the microflora in the intestines, increase intestinal permeability and alter gastrointestinal secretions. When you experience stress, the body reacts by releasing stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. Each of these hormones can interfere with the body's ability to make hormones and neurotransmitters, which can negatively impact digestion.

When you are stressed, the body begins shutting down non-vital functions to provide you with increased energy so that you can react quickly to any perceived dangers. Your heart rate and respiration increases, your muscles tense so you can spring to action and your digestion slows. When digestion slows, your digestive system does not receive as much oxygenated blood which leads to decreased metabolism, your enzyme production decreases and you are unable to absorb nutrients as well as you previously could. 

What can you do to improve your digestion?

Exercise – One of the most effective ways to reduce your stress levels and improve digestion is to get enough physical activity. When you exercise moderately, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals that help to improve your mood and lower your stress. In addition to this, regular exercise speeds up digestion, improves energy levels, decreases inflammation and detoxifies the body.

Stress reduction – Relaxation therapy, such as yoga, biofeedback, journaling, hypnosis, meditation and prayer can help to improve digestion by lowering the stress response. The National Institutes of Health reports that the relaxation response experienced during relaxation therapy helps to improve IBS symptoms, including flatulence, constipation, belching, bloating and diarrhea. The study concluded that Benson's Relaxation Response Meditation was a viable treatment option for irritable bowel syndrome.

Dietary modifications – Foods that are hard to digest can further impact your digestive systems. You should avoid eating junk foods and processed foods as they are high in fat, sugars and nitrates. Instead, opt for whole foods that feed the body the nutrients that it needs to remain healthy, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition to this, if you suffer from food sensitivities like dairy products, gluten, soy or corn, avoid eating these as they can cause inflammation and slow down digestion. 

Probiotics – Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help to rebalance the digestive tract. When choosing a probiotic supplement, ensure that it provides several strains of bacteria to maximize its effectiveness. The gastrointestinal tract, of those experiencing digestive difficulties, is often overrun by dangerous pathogens and bacteria. A high-quality probiotic supplement can help to decimate unhealthy bacteria and repopulate the beneficial bacteria that aids digestion and nutrient absorption.

Supplementation – A high-quality supplement will help to naturalize digestive discomforts, decrease inflammation throughout the body and provide the gastrointestinal tract and the brain with the nutrients that it needs to deal with and overcome the effects of stress on digestion. Look for a high-quality supplement that supports the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal functions to help normalize stress and improve the body's response to stress.

Sleep – Getting enough sleep helps to reduce stress levels and improve the bacteria in your gut. It is recommended that you get seven to nine hours of sleep each night to relieve digestive problems. To help you get to sleep faster, get better-quality night sleep and sleep longer, practice good sleep hygiene that includes using your bedroom only for sleep, lowering the lights and turning off any electronics a couple of hours before bedtime and go to bed at the same time each night.

Prioritize – One of the main reasons that Americans experience stress is they are simply too busy to enjoy life. Learning to care for yourself should be your top priority. Learning to say no when asked to take on additional tasks, taking time to appreciate your life, laughing often and spending time with those you love will help to lower your stress levels. 

Although you cannot completely eliminate stress from your life, there are many ways you can relieve stress . Learn to prioritize your time, get enough sleep, take a high-quality supplement, eat a healthy diet take probiotics and get enough exercise to lower the effects of stress on your gastrointestinal system.