External Stress Affects Your Gut: True or False?

The gut is very vulnerable to changes brought on by stress, be it acute or chronic stress.

We all have heard the saying “Stress is bad for you” over and over again. And while most of us know that stress is bad for blood pressure levels as well as cholesterol levels and hence detrimental to our heart health, did you know that stress can also negatively impact the integrity and functioning of your gut?

The truth is that separating our overall wellness from our emotional health is impossible. The two are very closely intertwined. Our feelings, both good and bad, lead to physiological changes within our body that play an important role in heart function, energy levels, immune system, hormonal balance, skin and hair health, blood sugar levels, as well as gut health.

To put it in simple words – “Stress is the body’s response to a threat that could be real or imagined, and hence triggers psychological and physiological changes.” And hence, external stress definitely affects your gut health because the communication between the brain and the gut is disrupted, and that comes with some serious repercussions.

Poor sleep is one of the side effects of a stressed gut.

Decoding the Gut-Brain Interaction

Many external factors can cause stress, including poor diet, sleep deprivation and overtraining. When the body perceives something to be a ‘stress trigger’, be it an external or an internal factor, the different parts of the brain begin communicating with each other to fight this perceived threat.

The result is:

  • Increased secretions of hormones, especially cortisol, that is detrimental to overall health as it causes sleep disruptions, acidity, weight gain and much more.
  • Release of adrenaline and noradrenaline that are responsible for the ‘flight or fight’ response but cause digestive, muscular, nervous and cardiovascular changes.

Both these factors affect the enteric nervous system, which is the network of nerves found within the gut, and disrupt normal gut-brain interactions.

To make it easier for you to understand the relevance of effective communication between the gut and brain, let’s take a look at how gut health and external stress are co-related. When you have an unhealthy gut that is causing constipation or nausea, you find yourself stressed out, weak and in a foul mood.

This means, your gut health directly affects your brain as well as your mood. But what you also must understand is that this is a two-way street. Remember how your stomach churned during a grueling interview or how nauseated you felt while making a difficult decision? Hence, your mood, which is directly affected by stress, also affects your gut health.

How Does Stress Affect Your Gut Health?

Stress can induce gut motility, gastric secretion, mucosal permeability, mucosal blood flow and visceral sensitivity. When the body is under stress, the brain receptors respond by reducing down the blood supply to the midsection in order to send more blood flowing through our extremities, mainly legs, arms and head so that we are ready to fight or flee. As a result, digestion shuts down and hence this causes serious ramification for our health in general.

The detrimental results of stress on our gut health include:

  • Decreased ability to absorb nutrients from the food we eat.
  • Increased food sensitivity.
  • Decreased blood and oxygen supply to the gut.
  • Reduced metabolism rate.
  • Decrease in the population of the healthy gut flora.
  • Decreased secretion of digestive enzymes.
  • Inducement of heart burn.
  • Elevated levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, to name only a few.

Stress causes both cortisol and insulin levels to rise steadily. Also, several nutrients that play an important role in promoting overall health are excreted from the body as a response to stress. These include Micro-minerals, Macro-minerals, Water soluble vitamins, and Calcium.

Some scientists believe that including more probiotics in your diet that nourish the gut flora can help counteract stress induced effects.
Some scientists believe that including more probiotics in your diet that nourish the gut flora can help counteract stress induced effects.


Stress Management Crucial For Gut Health

Scientists have been studying the gut-brain relation a lot more closely and started with experiments on rats. Some startling findings on this subject have been published in the renowned academic journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, which sheds light on how gut inflammation can cause psychiatric and physiological disorders.

In all earnestness, what you eat when under stress is of little consequence as your body is not trying to digest the food, assimilate the nutrients it contains, and burn calories in the process. Even if you are on a healthy diet, being stressed out will negate all benefits that diet could offer you.

What is especially interesting is that Serotonin which is responsible for mood elevation, depression and suppression of aggression is abundantly found within the intestines rather than in the brain!

However, for optimum gut health, you have to take stress management a little more seriously. We cannot eliminate external stress from our life, but we can learn to manage it better and keep it in check so that it causes fewer disruptions in our overall health.

Also Read: 10 Superfoods That Will Help You Live Longer


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