That ‘gut feeling’ have you ever felt it? Do you ever have butterflies in your stomach or get sick to your stomach with stress?
We all have!
One thing that many people don’t know is that this is just the tip of the ice berg in terms of how stress affects our gut! Stress can also impact our gut bacteria, causing long term issues such as bloating, gas, inflammation and other chronic conditions. Definitely not ideal.
Today we will address how all of this happens.
WHAT IS STRESS?
In Western society, it is inevitable to experience stress. We all experience it daily. With recent spotlight on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, society is beginning to understand that there are health consequences to being in a constant state of stress and that it must be addressed. But what is stress? Stress is how the body responds to a threat – either real or perceived1. That can include an external threat such as immediate danger, or a perceived stress such as a challenging day at work or sitting in traffic.
Then we have the hidden stressors such as blood sugar swings, toxins, underlying infections, food sensitivities and the like.
Regardless of the source, the body has an adaptive response on how to handle it. Now, not all stress is bad; however, chronic stress puts you at risk for other health consequences.
STRESS AND THE GUT
You might be asking what those negative health consequences are. These can range from headaches, to insomnia, to anxiety. Looking at the digestive tract in particular, stress can impact it in many ways such as changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal permeability, and visceral sensitivity2. Something that is very powerful is the effect of stress on our gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome is a collection of billions of bacteria that have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing. Interestingly, these bacteria also respond to stress3. When we experience stress, our body releases catecholamines, such as adrenaline. The release of these catecholamines can alter how the gut bacteria grow and function3. Additionally, stress can change the composition of the gut microbiome and cause an increase in inflammation not only in the gut but elsewhere in the body as well1.
THE GUT-BRAIN CONNECTION
Our immune system, central nervous system and digestive tract (and therefore gut microbiome) are closely interrelated. This interrelation was termed the brain-gut-axis (BGA) and is how the brain and gut communicate with each other. The microbiome is able to communicate with the BGA in a few ways: endocrine, immune and neuronal messengers5. Stress also causes corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) to be released3. CRF is a peptide that is from both our central nervous system and gut. It is also released in the hypothalamus, a part of our brain, in response to stress3. This can lead to more consequences in the gut, including inflammation, increased pain perception, change in gut motility and permeability5. All of these effects combined can have a local effect on the gut and a systemic effect throughout the whole body.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Although the article got into the nitty-gritty of how stress impacts our gut microbiome, immune system and central nervous system, it highlights how important it is to address and properly manage the stress in our lives, especially perceived stress! From adult colouring books, journaling or meditation apps, see what works best for you!
My favorite way to center myself when I am stressed is to work on gratitude journaling, listing 5 things that I am grateful for and are going right in my world. Then…. I will put on my favorite tunes and have a dance party!
What is your favorite de-stressing activity?
- Canadian Mental Health Association. (n.d.). Stress. Retrieved March 20, 2017, from http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/stress/#.WNpvKRLyuRs
- Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology : An Official Journal of the Polish Physiological Society, 62(6), 591–9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22314561
- Lyte, M., Vulchanova, L., & Brown, D. R. (2011). Stress at the intestinal surface: catecholamines and mucosa–bacteria interactions. Cell and Tissue Research, 343(1), 23–32. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00441-010-1050-0
- Konturek, S. J., Konturek, J. W., Pawlik, T., & Brzozowski, T. (2004). Brain-gut axis and its role in the control of food intake. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology : An Official Journal of the Polish Physiological Society, 55(1 Pt 2), 137–54. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15082874
- Rhee, S. H., Pothoulakis, C., & Mayer, E. A. (2009). Principles and clinical implications of the brain-gut-enteric microbiota axis. Nature Reviews. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 6(5), 306–14. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrgastro.2009.35