The Mind Gut Connection – How Does Stress Affect The Gut?

  1. What Is The Mind Gut Connection?
  2. Physical and Mental Symptoms Associated With The Mind Gut Connections
  3. How Does Stress Impact The Gut?
  4. How Does Stress Impact Your Body?
  5. What Can You Eat To Look After Your Gut?
  6. Six Tips For a Gut Health Diet
  7. What Lifestyle Choices and Activities Can Help Your Gut?
  8. How Will Looking After Your Gut Affect Your Body?

You may have read that more and more scientific 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 the practical results of this connection. But how does stress affect the digestive system?

Understanding the mind gut connection can help you to ease digestive problems, heal a variety of ailments, look better, increase your energy levels, and feel your best.

What Is The Mind Gut Connection?

Simply put, 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. This is why 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 stomachs1. 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 gastrointestinal upset that have no clear-cut physical 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 interaction
  • Crying
  • Feeling nervous and being unable to relax
  • Memory loss and difficulty remembering things

How Does Stress Impact The Gut?

Now that you know just how intertwined the state of your gut and your mental health is, it makes sense why your stomach hurts when you feel stressed, or why you might have ‘butterflies’ when you are about to start 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 GI tract and a whole host of other maladies.

In addition to causing pain, illness and discomfort in the first place, GI disorders can also feel more acute when one is feeling stressed. Any existing pain in the body is exacerbated by stressful situations.

How Does Stress Impact Your Body?

Now we’ve established that stress impacts your gut in a very serious way,  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 heartbeat.

When faced with stress and a ‘fight or flight’ instinct, your sympathetic nervous system creates a burst of the stress hormone cortisol3. This hormone is designed to make your body alert and ready to take on any threat.

Cortisol puts you into an elevated 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
  • Diarrhoea and leakage requiring incontinence pads
  • Constipation
  • Cramping and stomach pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Excess gas and flatulence

In extreme cases of stress, oxygen and blood flow can be limited in the stomach, causing severe cramping, inflammation, and thrush. In the most severe cases.

It can cause and exacerbate the following intestinal conditions: –

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

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 to help your stress levels, and in turn, your gut health.

What Can You Eat To Look After Your Gut?

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

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 amount 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.

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 mindfulnessMeditation is known to calm the mind6, 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.7
  • 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.

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 such as mindfulness, you can reduce the effects of stress on the digestive system and feel better in your own skin.

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