Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach before an important event or felt the urge to suddenly run to the bathroom during a particularly stressful situation?
These physical sensations are not just in your head; they are evidence of the link between your brain, gut, and stress levels.
The connection between gut health and stress is complicated, with stress being both a cause and a consequence of digestive issues. We've known for a long time that stress has a negative impact on our physical and mental health, and recent research has shed light on how stress affects our gut health too!
Understanding the ways stress and gut health are connected is crucial to maintaining optimal health and well-being. Let’s explore some ways stress affects gut health:
Stress can disrupt the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut, leading to dysbiosis.
An imbalance in the kinds and numbers of microorganisms that live in our gut microbiome is referred to as dysbiosis and is characterized by a decline in helpful bacteria and an increase in harmful bacteria.
This imbalance is harmful to our health because the gut microbiome plays a vital role in digestion, immune function, and mood regulation.
Chronic stress can increase inflammation throughout the body, including the gut, disrupting the delicate balance of microorganisms that live there.
When we experience stress, our body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Acute inflammation is a normal and necessary reaction to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation is bad for our overall health, especially for the health of our gut!
Altered Gut Motility
When stress hits, it can be like a game of emotional hot potato - one minute, you’re feeling bloated and constipated, and the next, you’re sprinting to the bathroom like it's the Olympics. (See also gut-brain connection!)
Stress alters the normal contractions of the muscles in our digestive tract, leading to “sudden urges,” constipation, or diarrhea. (Or all three!) =(
Reduced Nutrient Absorption
Stress can decrease the absorption of nutrients from food, making it harder for the body to get the nutrients it needs to function properly.
In chronic stress, the body diverts blood flow away from the digestive system and towards the muscles and brain, which slows digestion and reduces nutrient absorption.
Stress also disrupts the gut microbiome, leading to imbalances that further impair nutrient absorption.
Leaky Gut / Increased Intestinal Permeability
Chronic stress can increase the permeability of the intestinal lining, which allows harmful substances, like toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles, to leak into the bloodstream.
This can lead to inflammation, immune system activation, and a range of health issues, including digestive problems, autoimmune diseases, and more.
Increased Risk of Infection
Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections in the gut.
Increased Risk of Gastrointestinal Disorders
Chronic stress is a risk factor for several gastrointestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and peptic ulcer disease.
Reduced Gut-Brain Communication
Stress can disrupt the communication between the gut and the brain, which can contribute to digestive symptoms such as bloating, cramping, and abdominal pain. The gut-brain axis, a communication system between the gut and the brain, plays a vital role in regulating various bodily functions, including digestion, mood, and immune function.
So, what can we do?
Support your gut health by getting enough fiber-rich foods because it has been shown to help the body manage stress better. (Really? Yes!)
This is because fiber plays an important role in promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which are involved in the production of neurotransmitters that help regulate mood and stress response.
Fiber also helps to regulate blood sugar levels, preventing spikes and crashes that can exacerbate stress and anxiety. (Bet you didn’t know that!)
We believe you should get as much fiber as possible from the whole, unprocessed foods you eat, but we understand that some people, like those with hectic (stressful) lives, find it difficult to get that much fiber on a daily basis. Adding just better.® fiber to your routine is a simple and effective way to reach high-fiber goals for a challenge-ready gut!
Managing stress and supporting gut health go hand in hand. While stress can have a negative impact on gut health, there are many lifestyle changes we can make to mitigate its impact. Living fiber-rich is one such change!
By incorporating fiber-rich foods into our meal plans and supplementing fiber when we need to, we can support a healthy gut microbiome and help manage stress more effectively.
Other lifestyle changes, such as incorporating a movement routine, getting enough sleep, and stress-reducing techniques like meditation, greatly support gut health and overall well-being. (More on that in a future blog; stay tuned!)