5 WAYS STRESS AFFECTS YOUR GUT
75% of doctor’s visits are for conditions tied to stress. Crazy, isn’t it?!
We probably don’t even realize we’re stressed half the time, as we’ve all become used to our hectic lifestyles. Who else has got used to answering ‘busy’ when someone asks how they are?! We don’t call it stress, we just call it life…and we soldier on.
However, this continual state of stress can cause lots of problems, especially for our gut.
Stress is defined as any type of physical, mental or emotional factor that can cause tension in the body. It can be mental (e.g. anxiety) or physical (e.g. intense workouts, poor sleep, childbirth). It can also be real (e.g. a tiger running at you) or perceived (e.g. thinking you might get fired). Stress makes your body activate it’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which is basically your body’s solution to any ‘stressful’ circumstances. The problem is, when our whole lives are ‘stressful’ circumstances, our body stays in this activated ‘fight or flight’ state.
THE 2 TYPES OF STRESS
There are two types of stress - acute and chronic.
Acute is probably the one you associate with stress the most. It’s that short term stress you get just before you have to get up on stage. This surge of nerves is normal and it can actually help you perform better. It becomes a problem when it continues past that first surge.
This is what we call chronic stress. It’s that long term, constant stress when you have a job you hate, you’re caring for a sick parent or you can have a crazy busy life. This is the type we don’t even realize we have and, unfortunately, it’s also the type that causes lots of problems for our gut because it puts digestion on the back burner.
5 WAYS CHRONIC STRESS AFFECTS YOUR GUT
Chronic stress means your body is constantly releasing stress hormones, and that can affect your gut in multiple ways.
1. AGGRAVATES YOUR IBS SYMPTOMS
This is probably the first, most obvious sign of stress affecting your gut. You’ve probably experienced that mad dash to the restroom before an exam, or the total frustration of NOT being able to go when you’ve got a big day coming up.
IBS is such a stress-sensitive condition as it increases sensitivity in the gut. People with IBS already have a hypersensitive gut, so stress is just adding insult to injury.
Also, when your body is under stress, it’s in that ‘fight or flight’ mode, so it shuts down all the systems that don’t require it. One of these is digestion. Think about it - in the caveman days, if you saw a lion, your body put all its energy into running away from it. It didn’t matter if you didn’t digest your food if you’d already been eaten by a lion! So, when you are stressed, your body literally can’t digest your food! This will result in a lot of pain and either diarrhoea or constipation - it can go both ways.
2. INTENSIFIES FOOD INTOLERANCES AND ALLERGIES
Have you ever noticed that you seem to be more sensitive to foods when you’re stressed? If so, there’s a reason why. When your body is stressed, it releases chemicals, including histamines, that intensify your allergies. In this way, stress doesn’t CAUSE allergies and intolerances, but it can make your gut more sensitive to ones that already exist.
So, for example, if you are normally OK with a bit of milk in your coffee but can’t handle a whole glass, when you’re under stress you might find you get cramps even after that tiny bit in your coffee.
3. DESTROYS YOUR GUT LINING
This is more of a long term effect, as it’s not something you’re going to notice happening.
Have you ever heard of leaky gut? It’s a condition where bacteria and toxins are able to ‘leak’ through the intestinal wall. It can make your much more susceptible to IBS, food intolerances and auto-immune conditions.
Stress can contribute to it because it affects the mucous barrier of the intestines. It does this by causing inflammation, which breaks down the lining of the intestines over time. As this continues, the cells you intestines need to fix the walls leak out, so your gut stays leaky as there’s nothing around to fix it.
4. MESSES WITH YOUR MICROBIOME
You know the importance of your microbiome, right? (if not, check this out) Well, stress completely messes with it.
The aim for a healthy gut is to have a balanced microbiome, meaning a good balance of the good and bad bacteria and lots of different types of good bacteria. What stress does is reduce the diversity of good bacteria as well as encourage more of the bad guys.
This isn’t just a problem with mental stress. It can also happen if you push yourself too hard physically, like with intense HIIT sessions or marathon training.
5. UPS YOUR CHANCES OF GERD, ACID REFLUX, HEARTBURN, INDIGESTION
You might have noticed that you feel a bit more ‘acidic’ when you’re stressed - you get more heartburn or indigestion. Stress does make you a lot more sensitive to these things. It isn’t because it increases acid though. It’s because, when you’re stressed, the protective lipids you have in your stomach decrease. That means that acid comes into contact with your stomach lining more often.
This acid touching your stomach lining can result in more cases of GERD, acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion.
As if that wasn’t enough, on top of these 5 things, stress also lowers your immunity, raises your blood sugar, increases your belly fat, and increases your risk of SIBO.
The continual state of stress that we live in these days can have some pretty negative impacts on our gut.
There are 2 types of stress - acute and chronic. It’s the chronic kind that puts digestion on the back burner and causes these gut problems.
5 Ways Chronic Stress Affects your Gut
Aggravates your IBS symptoms
Intensifies food intolerances and allergies
Destroys your gut lining
Messes with your microbiome
Ups your chances of GERD, acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion
Do you think stress is affecting your gut? Let me know in the comments below.
Stress is one of many things that exacerbates IBS symptoms. Want to figure out what else could be triggering them? Download the IBS Triggers Checklist - it’s FREE. It’ll give you 20 things that could be triggering all of your IBS symptoms. You can download it here.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and letting me be a part of your journey in taking control of your gut, eating well and living your life.