Have you ever noticed that when you feel stressed your appetite changes? Perhaps you find that your digestion and bathroom patterns also change when under stress such as diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating.
There is a very real reason you see a change in your digestive health when your emotions and level of stress changes and it’s called the stress and gut connection.
Your gut, also known as your gastrointestinal (GI) system includes your mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. This GI system is also often referred to as your gut microbiome when talking about all the different microorganisms that live inside of it.
Your gut microbiome contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, which is actually 200 times more genes than your genome! (2)
What Is The Gut + Brain Connection?
Did you know that there is a connection between your gut and your brain? This connection, also called the gut-brain axis, occurs through signaling between your digestive tract and nervous system. Your GI tract can directly influence stress levels, anxiety and mood, while your brain can directly influence gut motility, nutrient balance and secretions. (1) Some research has shown that because of this interaction, maintaining a healthy gut microbiome may also lead to to a healthy central nervous system (CNS).
What Does Stress Do To The Gut?
When your body is in a relaxed state, this can be referred to as “rest and digest”. However, when your body is in a stressed state, this is called “fight or flight”. When your body stays in “fight or flight” mode, it can release certain hormones, like epinephrine (adrenaline) that keeps your body in a heightened state and may cause the gut to react negatively. These negative symptoms could look like constipation, diarrhea, nausea or lead to an imbalance of gut bacteria, known as dysbiosis. (3)
Why Does Gut Health Matter?
The reason it’s important to keep your gut bacteria in balance and avoid dysbiosis is because gut dysbiosis may lead to things such as…
- Impaired immune function
- Poor digestion
- Brain fog
- And more.
Over time if gut dysbiosis goes undiagnosed or untreated it may lead to more serious conditions that may arise such as…
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Cardiovascular disease and cancer. (4)
- Increased symptoms of anxiety or depression
A diet and lifestyle that supports a healthy gut, in addition to managing stress is critical for our overall health.
How Can I Calm A Stressed Brain & Gut Connection?
Taking care of your brain & gut connection can be done through nutrition and lifestyle factors.
Nutrition: One of the best ways to start taking care of your gut is through consuming a diversity of plant-based foods! All plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, seeds and legumes) contain unique prebiotic fiber that your gut microbes love to eat to grow and multiply. This helps build back up your gut microbiome and improve digestion, which in turn aids in mood, behavior, stress and anxiety. Because nutrition is not one-size-fits-all, working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist is a great way to receive expert dietary guidance. Click here to learn more about working with an HGG RDN.
Lifestyle: Finding ways to de-stress throughout the day is crucial for our gut health and health overall. When the body is in a constant state of “fight or flight”, this can put a lot of stress on your gut. A few of my ways to calm my body is through slow breathing, meditation, exercise, journaling, reading, taking a bath, spending time outside and quality sleep.
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- Wang, H., Lee, I., Braun, C. and Enck, P. (2016). Effect of Probiotics on Central Nervous System Functions in Animals and Humans: A Systematic Review. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 22(4), pp.589-605.
- Depts.washington.edu. (2018). [online] Available at: https://depts.washington.edu/ceeh/downloads/FF_Microbiome.pdf [Accessed 6 Nov. 2018].