While the obvious culprit when it comes to gut health is diet, what many people don’t know is that stress can also be a significant factor in maintaining digestive health.
Studies are consistently showing a link between the body’s level of stress and gut health, so we’ve decided to explore this issue further and bring you what you need to know.
Stress refers to any real or perceived threat to the body’s homeostasis. It can be either acute or chronic, with chronic stress being far more damaging to our bodies and overall health. The gut is especially vulnerable to both acute and chronic stress, and can respond with symptoms such as gas, bloating, chronic stomach pain, intestinal permeability, and a host of other ailments.
But as we learn more about stress and the gut, we discover that the relationship isn’t linear - stress can affect gut health, and gut health can also affect stress. Recent studies have even illustrated that the stress caused by an unhealthy gut can lead to anxiety and depression.
HOW CAN STRESS ALTER GUT BACTERIA?
The biochemical changes that occur during times of stress have a significant and immediate impact on gut health and gut function. Stress can lead to inflammation, increased gut permeability, visceral hypersensitivity, and increased perception to gut pain.
Not only does stress affect the physiological function of the gut, but it also can actually alter the composition of gut microbiota. This means that stress can lead to the overproduction of certain types of bacteria, resulting in increased susceptibility of pathogens.
Chronic exposure to stress can lead to a variety of gastrointestinal diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, IBS, and even food allergies. Studies have also been showing us that psychological stress slows normal small intestine transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and compromises the intestinal barrier. Chronic stress can therefore play an important role in the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut syndrome.
HOW CAN GUT BACTERIA TRIGGER STRESS?
Recent studies suggest that anxiety and depression could be linked to the presence of bacteria in the intestines, demonstrating a clear link between gut microbiota and the triggering of the behavioral signs of stress. This research has far reaching implications, including that medications targeting intestinal bacteria could potentially help treat patients struggling with anxiety and depression.
This new realm of research confirms that the link between stress and gut health is intricate and complex. What we once thought was a linear relationship of stress affecting gut health is actually a multidimensional system, and further research is crucial in order to explore these effects of gut bacteria on stress levels.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY GUT:
Recently, research has demonstrated significant improvements in depression, anger and anxiety, as well as lower cortisol levels among otherwise healthy adults taking a daily probiotic supplement. This data suggests that not only can chronic stress change the diversity of microflora in the gut, but that the quality and health of friendly gut bacteria may also conversely have an effect on mental health and well being.
Because of the intricate interplay between stress and gut health, two steps are important. Maintaining a healthy gut can help reduce stress, and reducing stress can help to maintain a healthy gut. Healing the gut, reducing inflammation and providing the gut with a diverse array of healthy bacteria can make a big difference in your gut’s susceptibility to the negative effects of stress. Taking cod liver oil, probiotics, and essential vitamins and minerals on a regular basis can make a significant difference in overall resilience to stress.
It also goes without saying that a major component to a healthy lifestyle should include stress reduction techniques. Some effective stress reduction techniques include exercise, meditation, yoga, and deep breathing techniques.
THE LINK TO CELIAC DISEASE:
Together with all the recent research and developments on celiac disease, there is still so much we have yet to uncover. What we DO know is that celiac disease manifests in a way that is multi-symptom and multi-system, and must be treated in ways that go beyond dietary restrictions.
The connection between stress, intestinal permeability, gut health, anxiety and depression could all suggest that these factors have a role to play in healthy management of celiac disease as well. Combating celiac disease is multi-dimensional and research on stress and gut health suggest that there may be more components to the diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease.