How Stress Can Mess With Your Gut
Stress isn't just experienced in the mind, but in the body, too. When you are stressed, you may experience muscle tension, headaches, tightness in the chest, and even digestive distress, ranging from butterflies in the stomach to nervous knots in the gut.
It's no accident that we have "gut feelings" about things. The brain and the gut are actually closely related. Your emotions can directly affect your intestinal function, and vice versa. This is why when you’re stressed, you can feel the havoc it is wreaking on your gut.
Stress or 1 anxiety can trigger the immune system to send out signals that break down the lining of the gut. Imbalance or damage to the gut can also cause a chronic stress response within the body. In short, stress stimulates a fight-or-flight response in the body, thus perpetuating more damage to the gut – not good!
This cycle can further be compounded if you’re already experiencing leaky gut issues. These issues occur when the gut’s barrier is compromised, allowing large compounds to "leak" into the bloodstream. Ultimately, this creates an overactive inflammatory response in the gut.
When your body is experiencing low-grade inflammation from leaky gut, it’s essentially perceiving itself to be under constant threat. This will cause your neurological system to remain on edge with an adrenaline survival response, causing you to constantly feel distressed or uneasy.
Studies have also shown that mental and emotional stress can cause elevations in both secretory IgA and LPS in the gut, indicating that chronic stress leads to gut permeability (aka: leaky gut) and mucosal membrane damage over time.
Moreover, when your body is in a stressed state it will burn through the amino acid, glutamine, more rapidly. This could be because glutamine is used to produce 3 GABA, a mellowing neurotransmitter designed to inhibit stress. While it is great for blocking stress, glutamine is also a fuel source and a vital building block for gut cells. This means that if there is a glutamine depletion, further gut damage may occur, and there will be less of it to fight stress – a completely vicious cycle.
What about the microbiome?
Your gut microbiome has a direct influence on your mental and emotional health. This is because your gut bacteria produce over 90% of the body's serotonin, as well as GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and acetylcholine – important neurotransmitters for supporting a balanced mood.
Based off the 4 balance of gut bacteria, the gut either produces more inhibitory "mellow" neurotransmitters or more excitatory "stress" neurotransmitters. Dysbiosis, a bacterial imbalance, can be a signal to the gut to fire off more adrenaline, driving chronic stress.
Research has shown that 5 mental stress can sterilize the microbiome. This can cause problems, as it leads to more opportunities for pathogens, such as yeast, to overgrow, creating further gut imbalances and stress responses.
When addressing the gut-stress connection, it’s important that you are proactive about reducing inflammation through diet. This helps to support gut health and repair leaky gut. This can be achieved by providing your body with rich, supporting nutrients in order to balance out the microbiome.
How to heal your stress-induced gut issues:
1. Remove inflammatory foods
It is important to begin by taking up an anti-inflammatory diet, in order to remove primary irritants such as corn, soy, gluten, dairy, and sugar. If you are still experiencing symptoms of digestive stress or inflammatory response, you may consider an elimination diet or visiting a medical professional for advanced blood testing. We also suggest adding an anti-inflammatory supplement like NATURELO Turmeric and Ginger Extract.
2. Rest your gut
When in a state of stress, your body function is in constant fight-or-flight response, rather than rest-and-digest. Besides what has already been covered, fewer digestive enzymes may be produced; this leaves the gut prone to not just gut permeability, but also large particle impact.
If you have a big life change or high stress event occurring, you should consider resting your gut and doing a day of bone broth, with optional cooked protein added. In addition, supplementing with probiotics should be a priority when you’re facing stressful times.
3. Incorporate more therapeutic foods
In order to focus on healing your gut lining, therapeutic foods should be added to your diet in order to support absorption of nutrients and reduce inflammatory reactions.
Bone broth: Sip on your broth in a mug, use it as a cooking liquid, or use it as the base of a soup; bone broth can be blended with fresh lime, dried turmeric, salt, and cilantro for a tasty treat.
Gelatin: It’s a great option for summer time. It is quite appealing to kids in the form of gummies or fruity flavors. Gelatin can be added to many puddings or panna cotta desserts or employed as a thickening agent in stir-fries and other sauces.
Collagen: Perhaps the most versatile of these options, collagen has the least flavor and the least influence on texture. NATURELO Collagen Peptides Powder can be used in hot or cold beverages or it can be added to any liquid using a quick stir. It is so easy to use, it can give a boost to any unsweetened iced green tea or cold brew.
Fermented foods: these probiotic-rich foods can help support your microbiome health and optimize neurotransmitter production. Not to mention, there are a lot of great options such as cultured vegetables, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
4. Try a mantra
You can also support your gut health by reducing your stress levels. Working with a mantra can help bring peace to your mind and release anxiety about what "is not," what "should be," or what "might be." In order to let these stressful thoughts go, you can begin with, "I am safe," or simply "I am," while focusing on your inward and outward breath. This calming technique can help send a signal to the vagus nerve which connects your brain with your gut.
Many of us are overwhelmed or overcommitted in our daily lives. This creates a state of chronic stress which can interfere with our gut health, our microbiome, and our mood. Taking steps to break these vicious cycles, with food as medicine, will help support your digestive function while reducing inflammation and balancing neurotransmitter output.
The next time you feel stressed, take a moment to pause and consider that while you maybe can “handle” it, your body might not be able to keep up with the overload of stress. That is why it is important to figure out ways to cut down on stressors in order to stay present in your life and give your body the nourishment that it needs to deal with stress in a healthy way.
1. Stress modulates intestinal secretory immunoglobulin A, 02 December 2013
2. Stress Induces Endotoxemia and Low-Grade Inflammation by Increasing Barrier Permeability, 2015 May 15
3. GABA Benefits & Side Effects: How This Brain Chemical Rules Your Mood & Anxiety Levels, March 29, 2018
4. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve., 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16050-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1102999108. Epub 2011 Aug 29.
5. The Gut Microbiome and the Brain, 5 Dec 2014