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Gut Health and Stress: A Two-Way Road


December 21, 2018 | Published by

Whether it stems from marriage trouble, trying to make grades at school, becoming a new parent, or one of countless other reasons, stress is a constant part of our lives. And while we normally think of anxiety, lack of sleep, and irritation as ways stress affects us, there’s one result from stress that often goes overlooked: our gut health.

Stress and gut health are more intertwined than you may think. When stressors enter our lives, our gut health is heavily impacted. It’s also true that ignoring our gut health affects how much stress is part of our lives. Stress is our body’s answer to any kind of challenge or danger.

Your body goes on full alert and instantly responds to the stress chemicals released into the blood stream, such as cortisol and adrenaline. It also slows or even stops digestion so that the body can divert all its internal energy to facing a perceived threat. Unfortunately, in today’s high stress world, our body never has a chance to reset, so we’re always feeling like we’re in fight or flight mode. Moreover, we’re responding to stressors that can’t be fought or fled from.

One of the biggest factors in our gut health is the microbes that live inside all of us. The gut microbiome is comprised of the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your intestines and on your skin. There are as many as 1,000 species of bacteria living in our intestinal tract, and each one of them serves a different purpose. These friendly microbes help us digest certain types of food; aid in the production of vitamins, such as B and K; and help combat other aggressive microorganisms trying to wage war on our intestinal mucosa.

When we experience stress, our microbial diversity is reduced, which lowers the number of friendly flora that live inside us. This creates conditions in which undesirable strains of bacteria thrive, which can cause issues like low energy, uneven moods, poor complexion, difficulty sleeping, and a variety of stomach problems. Our gut microbiome composition also has an impact on our ability to handle stress, so it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of gut-brain stress if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Stress can decrease nutrient absorption, increase nutrient excretion, affect how the body uses the nutrients, as well as increase nutrient requirements, so it’s important to make sure you’re putting the right foods in your body. Since your serotonin levels are lowered when your stressed, you naturally crave sugar, which in turn triggers more stress.

The more sugar we consume, the more our blood sugar levels plummet, which in turn causes us to feel even worse. Stress can also cause fermentation in the small intestine, which causes the body to improperly break down sugars and starches. This causes bloating, increased gas, nausea, body odor, increased sweating, fatigue, and irritability.

Thankfully, there are many ways you can have a positive impact on your gut health, and in turn live a healthier life. Perhaps the biggest thing you can do is make sure you’re being mindful of what you’re putting into your body.

Deep-fried foods can cause chronic inflammation, MSG promotes the colonization of energy-sucking microbes, and overconsumption of alcohol can lead to leaky gut syndrome, along with many other stress related ailments. Try to stick to brightly colored vegetables, fruit such as blueberries, pears, and bananas, and plenty of nuts. These foods are all known for helping create a healthy gut microbiome.

Be sure that you’re getting a full night’s rest. Getting at least eight hours of sleep every night has been proven to help you deal with life’s stressors, which in turn is good for your gut health. Getting an adequate amount of exercise every day can also do wonders for your digestion. Research has shown that living an active lifestyle improves microbial competition and diversity. Last but not least, adding a probiotic supplement to your diet is a perfect way to replenish healthy bacteria in your gut that may be lost to stress.


Stress and Your Gut. GI Society – Canadian Society of Intestinal Research.

Nutrition & Stress. Cherry Creek Nutrition.

How Stress Affects Your Gut Health (and Vice Versa). Hyperbiotics.

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