Incontinence Advice

The mind gut connection – How does stress affect the gut?

Discover the surprising connection between stress and digestion and learn how stress can impact your gut. Explore ways to help ease digestive problems and improve your overall well-being. If you are suffering from incontinence, we have a wide range of incontinence pads and incontinence pads for women available on our website.

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You may have read that more and more studies are showing that there is a proven connection between the mind and the gut, but what does this mean? Well, it’s likely that you have experienced the mind gut connection countless times. Has your stomach ever ‘been in knots’? Have you ever had ‘butterflies in your stomach’? Do you feel nauseous when worried, or experience diarrhoea when stressed? 

 If you can answer yes to any of the above questions, you are already familiar with this connection. But how does stress affect the digestive system? Understanding the mind gut connection can help you to ease digestive problems, help a variety of ailments, increase your energy levels and feel your best. 

What Is The Mind Gut Connection?

 

The gastrointestinal system is very sensitive to our wide array of emotions. It is very common for people to experience intestinal distress when they feel sad, anxious, stressed, or angry. Therefore some people tend to feel nauseous when they are grieving or lose their appetite completely when stressed. 

 

Our thoughts and emotions have a direct and clear effect on our stomachs. When we begin to think about eating, our brain sends signals to our stomach so that it can begin to prime and release acids to break down our food. If you are troubled mentally, your brain can send the wrong kinds of signals to your stomach at the wrong times. The result is intestinal distress when we feel depressed, stressed can’t stop overthinking. 

 

There are many instances where an individual has symptoms of a stomach upset that have no clear-cut cause. While they might spend years of their time searching for the source of the issue, the answer might be in their mind. 

              

Physical and Mental Symptoms Associated With The Mind Gut Connections

 

These are just some of the physical and mental symptoms that you might experience if you’re stressed: 

  • Trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep 
  • Painful and prolonged recurrent headaches 
  • A sudden gain or loss of weight 
  • A lack of concentration or focus 
  • Feeling extreme hunger or experiencing a loss of appetite 
  • Withdrawing from social interactions 
  • Crying 
  • Feeling nervous and being unable to relax 
  • Memory loss and difficulty remembering things 

It's important to note that the mind-gut connection is a two-way street, meaning that not only can stress impact our digestive system, but our digestive system can also impact our mental health.  

 

              

How Does Stress Impact The Gut?

 

Now that you are aware of the strong correlation between your gut and mental health, it's clear why you might experience stomach discomfort/pain when stressed or have the sensation of "butterflies" in your stomach when starting a new job.

However, some people assume that the mind-gut connection means that the above-listed symptoms are ‘all in a person’s head’. While the origin of these symptoms may be with stress and anxiety, the physical symptoms that result are very much real problems. The issues that start in the brain make real physiological changes to your body and cause serious inflammation to the gastrointestinal tract and other problems. 

How Does Stress Impact Your Body?

 

Now we’ve established that stress impacts your gut in a very serious way, but how does it impact your body? What are the effects of stress on the digestive system? When you face a serious or threatening event, your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. This is a part of the nervous system that is responsible for breathing, blood pressure, and your heartbeat. 

When faced with stress and a ‘fight or flight’ instinct, your sympathetic nervous system creates a burst of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone is designed to make your body alert and ready to take on any threat. 

Cortisol puts you into an higher state of awareness, with your heart rate pumping, your breath speeding up, and your blood pressure rising. Your blood cholesterol increases, and your muscles will start to tense, including those in your intestines, bowel, and rectum. This wreaks havoc on your digestive system in a variety of ways. 

Causing: 

  • Oesophageal spasms 
  • An increase in stomach acids, causing heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion 
  • Nausea 
  • Diarrhea and leakage requiring incontinence pads
  • Constipation 
  • Cramping and stomach pain 
  • Lower back pain 
  • Excess gas and flatulence 

Chronic stress can have a large impact on the digestive system. In severe cases, it can lead to restricted oxygen and blood flow in the stomach, resulting in severe cramping, inflammation, and thrush. These symptoms can be especially troublesome for People who already have intestinal issues. In fact, stress has been linked to worsening several gastrointestinal conditions, including: 

If you have experienced any of these problems or suffer from these conditions, you should take measures and action to reduce your stress levels. Below are some lifestyle choices and activities you can practice helping your stress levels, and in turn, your gut health. 

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What Can You Eat To Look After Your Gut?

 

The adage: ‘you are what you eat’ might turn out to be more true than you ever thought. There are many foods that can help improve your gut health and improve your overall mental and physical health. 

It’s important to eat plenty of probiotic and prebiotic foods. While these two terms sounds similar, there is a key difference between the two. Prebiotics ‘fertilise’ the bacteria that already exists in your gut, while probiotics add helpful bacteria into your gut. 

Prebiotics encourage your body to develop a community of microbes and are found in complex carbohydrates. These include vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. 

Probiotics are foods that contain a wide array of live ‘good’ bacteria that help your gut health. These foods include live yoghurt, certain raw cheeses, and fermented foods. Some good examples of fermented foods include kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and miso paste. Not only are these foods tasty, but they can also help to cure your gut woes. 

 

What Lifestyle Choices and Activities Can Help Your Gut?

 

In addition to the dietary choices listed above, there are quite a few other lifestyle choices you can make to improve your gut, and boost the health of your overall mind-gut connection. 

  • Meditate and practice mindfulness – Meditation is known to calm the mind, resulting in a whole host of benefits to the mind, body, and soul. 
  • Practice yoga – Yoga has been shown to bust stress, boost flexibility, and improve overall physical health. 
  • Exercise regularly – Exercise helps to keep your body in good shape and can reduce stress levels. 
  • Get a good amount of sleep – Recent studies show that getting good quality sleep is more important than previously thought. It allows you to rest, recharge, and rebuild your body, helping your mental health and stress levels. 
  • Cut back on alcohol – Drinking can feel good in the moment, but overindulging actually makes you more stressed than you were before you started. It is imperative that you cut down on alcohol if you want to improve your stress levels. 
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Six Tips for a Gut Health Diet

 

  1. Eat a broad range of plant-based foods – In order to have a healthy gut, you need to consume a diverse number of microbes, all of which come from different healthy foods. 
  2. Consume more probiotic foods – Eat a high amount of probiotic foods. 
  3. Up your fibre intake – While you might think you are eating enough fibre, you can always stand to consume more nuts, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Just remember that if your current diet is low in fibre, an increase can cause you to experience wind and bloating. Add more fibre gradually and boost your water intake. 
  4. Use extra virgin olive oil as your fat of choice – Extra virgin olive oil is packed full of microbe-friendly polyphenols and should be your ‘go-to’ fat. 
  5. Stay away from highly processed foods – Sure, highly processed ‘fast’ foods taste good and pack a big punch of flavour, but they can wreak havoc on your gut health. They can hinder your good bacteria, and help your bad bacteria flourish. 
  6. Change up your diet when taking antibiotics – Antibiotics are a necessary medical intervention, but they work by killing your ‘good’ bacteria right alongside the ‘bad’. If you need antibiotics, make sure you eat lots of foods that boost your microbes afterwards. 

How Will Looking After Your Gut Affect Your Body?

 

As you can see, looking after your gut health will improve your overall health. By consuming more probiotic and prebiotic foods and reducing your stress with lifestyle changes, you can reduce the effects of stress on the digestive system. In summary, taking care of your gut health can have a significant impact on your overall well-being. 


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