How Does Stress affect your Gut Health?

How often are you stressed? Does it come in spurts or is it a constant battle to feel at rest any time of the day? Stress can be caused by anything – family, and friends, getting the kids to school on time, work, and even your social life. I think that we all realize how we feel during a stressful time. We can feel exhausted, have a loss of appetite, headaches, and feeling completely overwhelmed. Yes, we feel all these things but let’s go to a deeper level of the effects of stress. What is the connection between stress and your gut health? Once we realize what is really happening to our gut then maybe we can take the time to better de-stress our lives.

What Happens?
With any kind of stress, emotional, mental, or even physical stress, our body processes it all in the same way. This is through our adrenal glands. As the nervous signal is sent to our brain of a stress occurring then these adrenal glands release stress hormones. One of these stress hormones is cortisol. This hormone has a huge effect on the immune system and digestive system. It also causes an inflammatory response. If someone gets a cut or laceration wound, what does the body do? It creates inflammation to protect and heal that wound. The body is made to heal, but what if the body is in a constant state of inflammation? It can trigger an autoimmune disease. The body can sense this and so to protect itself it suppresses the immune system after a flood of cortisol is released during stress. This can leave the immune system in a vulnerable state and also damage the gut lining.

Fight or Flight!
It happens when you come face to face with a tiger and it is just getting ready to pounce. What is your body’s reaction to that? Get out of there! It triggers the fight or flight response, or to be more specific, it makes the sympathetic nervous system response go crazy. This sympathetic response is one of two main divisions of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating the body’s unconscious actions. When the body gets stressed and the adrenaline is pumping through the veins then the digestive system shuts down. If you are running from a hungry tiger, why would you need to digest the breakfast you just had when you need to concentrate on the blood flow to your limbs and your brain to function at its highest to find a way out of the situation.
With the digestive system shut down and the immune system suppressed, then harmful bacteria are able to grow and multiply. This leaves the good gut bacteria at a disadvantage. With this excess amount of bad bacteria and yeast, then the body starts to experience even more stress.

Rest and Digest
The rest and digest response is also known as the parasympathetic nervous response. While the body is going through stress it stays within the sympathetic mode, but when the body isn’t experiencing stress then it has the chance to enter into the parasympathetic response. This is when the heart slows and the digestive system is working the way it should. It also means that the immune system is fighting off the bad bacteria without the excess bad bacteria or inflammation to suppress it.

Written By: Colbi Judd

Sources:
Amy Myers MD: Is Stress Damaging Your Gut? www.amymyersmd.com