How Stress Affects Your Gut and Digestion

Your heart isn't the only organ that takes a beating when you’re stressed. While under stress, your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure rises, and blood is shunted away from your midsection, going to your arms, legs, and head for quick thinking, fighting, or fleeing. All of these changes are referred to as the physiological stress response.

Under those circumstances, your digestion completely shuts down, which can have severe ramifications for your overall health. Americans are notorious for “eating on the run,” which can negate the benefits you’d otherwise reap from eating a healthier diet (or make the effects of a poor diet worse). The stress response causes a number of detrimental events in your body, including:

  • Decreased nutrient absorption
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Increased food sensitivity
  • Decreased oxygenation to your gut
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • As much as four times less blood flow to your digestive system, which leads to decreased metabolism
  • Decreased gut flora populations
  • Decreased enzymatic output in your gut – as much as 20,000-fold!

Perhaps most importantly, when your body is under the stress response, your cortisol and insulin levels rise. These two hormones tend to track each other, and when your cortisol is consistently elevated under a chronic low-level stress response, you may experience difficulty losing weight or building muscle. Additionally, if your cortisol is chronically elevated, you’ll tend to gain weight around your midsection, which is a major contributing factor to developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Many nutrients critical for health are also excreted during stress, particularly:

Tending to Your Gut is Important to Help Combat Mental Stress

When you eat under stress, your body is in the opposite state of where you need to be to digest, assimilate nutrients and burn calories. You could be eating the healthiest food in the world, but if your body cannot fully digest and assimilate that food, then you will not reap the benefits from it, nor will you be able to burn calories effectively.

Interestingly, neurotransmitters like serotonin are also produced and found in your gut. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and suppressing aggression, is found within your intestines, not your brain.

It’s no surprise then that scientific evidence shows nourishing your gut flora with the friendly bacteria from fermented foods or probiotics is extremely important for proper brain function, including psychological well-being and mood control. For instance, the probiotic known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 has been shown to normalize anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis.

Research demonstrates that probiotics have a direct effect on brain chemistry under normal conditions -- in such a way that can impact your feelings of anxiety or depression.

In short, the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA [an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is significantly involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes] levels in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior. The authors concluded:

"Together, these findings highlight the important role of bacteria in the bidirectional communication of the gut-brain axis and suggest that certain organisms may prove to be useful therapeutic adjuncts in stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression."

For Optimal Health, Take Stress Management Seriously

You cannot eliminate stress entirely, but you can work to provide your body with tools to compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting that can cause serious disruption in many of your body's important systems.

By using energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), you can reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life. EFT stimulates different energy meridian points in your body by tapping them with your fingertips while tapping on specific key locations, custom-made verbal affirmations are said repeatedly. This can be done alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist.

Seeking the help of a licensed therapist is particularly recommended if you’re dealing with trauma-based stress such as PTSD or grief following the loss of a loved one.

There are also many other stress-management strategies you can employ to help you unwind and address your stress, including:

  • Exercise. Studies have shown that during exercise, tranquilizing chemicals (endorphins) are released in your brain. Exercise is a natural way to bring your body pleasurable relaxation and rejuvenation, and has been shown to help protect against the physical effects of daily stress
  • Restorative sleep
  • Meditation (with or without the additional aid of brain wave synchronization technology)
  • Schedule time to eat without rushing, and make sure to maintain optimal gut health by regularly consuming fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables. Here are our favorite gut nourishers.
  • Consider taking a high-quality supplement that supports gut health. 

    Glycophagen GI Wellness contains beneficial bacteria that promote a harmonious and balanced gut microbiome, resulting in optimal immune function. Experience the impact within hours, not days, as it works in both the small and large intestines.

    Glycophagen GI Wellness also aids in maintaining healthy gut tissue, ensuring optimal gut functioning. A healthy gut positively impacts brain function, liver function, and the immune system, making this product a comprehensive approach to wellness.

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