If there’s one feeling I can count on experiencing at least a little bit every day, it’s stress. Stress seems more prevalent than ever in our internet-connected, social media-centric times, but it has always been an inescapable facet of life. A little stress is good for us. It serves as motivation to keep us focused and productive. Stress can give us the energy and alertness to quickly respond to high-pressure situations, like slamming on the brakes to prevent an accident or getting back on our feet after being laid off from a job.
Excessive stress can quickly build beyond what is helpful to cause us more harm than good. It can affect us mentally, leading to anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. It can cause fatigue and exhaustion. It can have major effects on our physical health. Stress-induced back pain, cramps, headaches, and muscle spasms are common. Increased risk for heart disease and many other illnesses have also been linked to high-stress levels. Stress can even have negative effects on gut health.
In a previous blog, we talked about how the gut-brain connection links the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. There is enough evidence about this connection that many researchers have started calling the gut the body’s “second brain”. The makeup of our bacterial microbiota can influence our brain chemistry, how we process external stimuli and our overall mental health.
How does stress affect the gut?
Stress negatively affects gut health in several ways. When the body is stressed, it enters the “fight-or-flight” response, which results in physiological changes like elevated blood pressure, increased muscle tension, and the release of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as adrenaline and serotonin. One side effect of these changes is a shift in focus away from some of the body’s normal functions, like peristalsis. Peristalsis is the involuntary contraction of muscles in your colon to move food through your digestive system. When this function isn’t working properly, you become much more prone to diarrhea or constipation.
Stress-induced bloating can occur for a similar reason. The body prioritizes blood flow to the brain and muscles while stressed. This leads to lessened blood flow to areas of the gut, which lessens its ability to move food through the GI system and leads to bloating and gas. Another common digestive symptom of increased stress levels is indigestion, although researchers haven’t been able to prove if stress leads to more stomach acid production or if the gut simply becomes more sensitive to stomach acid while stressed.
In individuals with ongoing chronic stress issues, more serious GI disorders can arise. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), leaky gut, and low populations of healthy gut bacteria can all be caused or exacerbated by chronic stress. Even the body’s basic ability to absorb nutrients is less effective in overly stressed individuals.
What can I do to improve stress-related gut issues?
The most effective way to address stress-related gut issues is to address the stress. How to do this will vary wildly from person to person. For myself, a healthy diet, exercise, meditation, and a little time to myself help me to de-stress in the short term. Others might benefit more from breathing exercises, family time, counseling, or finding ways to better manage their time. There is no universal solution for reducing stress levels, but there are a lot of options.
Probiotics are another option for helping with stress-related gut issues. Probonix has been shown to aid in digestion, bowel motility, and indigestion. It also helps to repopulate good bacteria in the gut that may be low due to chronic stress. If the gut is your body’s second brain, you can think of Probonix as fuel for your second brain to think more clearly!