The Significance Of Stress On Gut Health
Our Gut (digestive system) is the biggest system in the body.
Deadlines, presentations, traffic, work-balance… it’s difficult to wade through life without stress. We are all facing some or the other kind of stress daily. Both chronic and acute stressors can affect the way our body functions.
Our Gut (digestive system) is the biggest system in the body. It begins from the mouth and ends at the anus, and has come to be understood as a system that plays an extremely important role in the body. It has been termed as the second brain, and impacts not just physiological health, but also psychological health.
Stress has a nearly instantaneous effect on the gut and digestive system. The expression of ‘butterflies in the stomach’ just before a presentation or declaration of results supports this connection. The Gut and the brain are connected to each other through the Vagus nerve, which forms the part of Enteric Nervous System, and thus are in constant communication with each other. What transpires in our mind has a direct impact on the gut, and the other way round too.
Recurring and intense stressors have the ability to play havoc with gut bacteria in both the inside (lumen) and border (mucosal lining) of the gut. Studies show that a major stressful event long-since passed could still be affecting your gut presently.
Stress affects the gut in multiple ways, as outlined below.
1. Stress causes Inflammation of the Gut. Continual stress inflames the mucosal lining. This causes gastric juices to irritate the delicate stomach lining below. This can cause acid reflux and may even lead to peptic ulcers in the long run. Inflammation is also the leading cause of Leaky Gut Syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is further the root cause of many conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, allergies, autoimmune disorders and more.
2. Stress keeps the body in the ‘fight and flight’ mode. Digestion, absorption, assimilation of food is only possible in the state of ‘rest and digest’. Stress causes impaired digestion and absorption of nutrients, causing nutritional deficiencies.
3. Stress leads to behavioral changes and cravings. These cravings mostly are of sugar, refined food, fried foods or alcohol. Indulging in such ultra-processed foods further puts the ratio of good-to-bad bacteria in the stomach out of balance. This causes dysbiosis. Dysbiosis negatively affects immune system, neurological system, and contributes towards obesity.
4. Stress affects the gut motility and fluid secretion. It can both delay emptying stomach contents, and speed up the passage oof material through the intestine, resulting in either constipation or watery stools.
How to manage stress at meal times?
1. Don’t eat on the go. Sit down and eat. This helps the body to enter the rest and digest state of mind.
2. Take a couple of deep breaths when you sit down to eat. This calms the mind and is known to curtail stress.
3. Eat mindfully. While eating, keep away from gadgets, newspapers, files or any deadline-oriented discussions. Try to eat with all your 5 senses- sight, smell, touch, taste and sound. This will let you focus upon, and enjoy your meal.
4. Chew slowly. Remember digestion begins in the mouth. So chewing your food will assist the gut in good digestion.
About the author -
Nutritionist & Certified Diabetes Educator, Founder of Informed Health.
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