The Gut and stress
In this next post I’m going to be talking about the link there is between the microbiome and stress and how they each react with one another!
We’ve all had those points in our life when everything is beginning to get overwhelming and the stress levels build up and up. Science has already proven the correlation between the levels of stress someone has and the quality of life this leads to! This stress also leads to a lower overall gut health and leads to gastrointestinal disorders which a whopping 40% of us suffer from.
The first place to look into to see the effect stress has on us is in the gut-brain axis. This is a communication pathway between our central nervous system and our gastrointestinal tract. This axis talk to each other using signalling hormones and loads of other ways to talk to each other. (To find out more on this take a look here www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/)
The main player in this axis that dictates what we do and how we feel on a daily basis is our microbiome. This is the community of microorganisms made up of bacteria, viruses and funghi that live in your gut and directly impact the messages and hormones that are being sent around our body. Over the past few years this interaction between our brains, gut and microbiome has been studied in much more depth and findings have suggested that both acute and chronic stress has the ability to change the balance in our microbiome. This is a shift to favouring unhelpful bacteria which in turn help to add to the feelings of anxiety and depression. This inbalance and increase in depression and anxiety generally leads to less diversity in the gut. Gut diversity is also a key factor in weight loss and the more diversity we have the less likely we are to develop gut dysbiosis.
When our bodies get stressed it puts us into fight or flight mode, while fantastic when we were trying to take out a wooly mammoth it doesn’t always benefit us in modern times. If we feel stressed out body responds by producing a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol does many things to your system and microbiome:
- The initial fight or flight response diverts blood away from the gut and to your muscles to allow you to run away or stand your ground to the best of your ability.
- It decreases the amount prostaglandins you have, these are essential to a lot of functions in your body, one of which is to protect your stomach from your own acid.
- You will normally get a dry mouth due to it slowing down the production of saliva, a key source of initial enzymes to break down food
- It has the ability to slow down your digestion and also cause sudden evacuation, this leads to a serious lack of nutrient absorption
- Over time it leads to a decrease in your bodies lymphocytes (White blood cells).
- It can also lead to muscle spasms in the stomach and oesophagus leading to discomfort and poor digestion
As a short burst at the right time cortisol has a role to play but if your stress is prolonged it can lead to poor digestion and cause havoc on the finely balanced ecosystem of your gut!
Not all is lost however, when you’re eating in a nice calm and relaxed state and have a well nourished diverse microbiome then the production of serotonin (the happy hormone) is increased and sent up to our brain through the axis and allows us to calm down and see that the grass is just as green on this side as the other!
I always find that no matter how hard you try life will throw things at you causing stress to some extent I personally found a few different ways to deal with this over the last few years and have popped a few of my tips below:
- The first thing for me went hand in hand with my weight loss goals which was finding a way to destress and use that cortisol up in the manner it is meant to be used. I started playing squash, football and begun downhill mountain biking. Whilst all 3 caused some stress while playing it gave me something to put my energy into and allowed any built up stress I had to be released into them.
- Another thing that I started doing was mapping out when I was stressed and what the cause was each time. Whether it was not enough sleep, worrying about work or family they all added to my stress levels at the time. With each of them I tried to work out what helped me destress each time and have since written down what I did to help myself get out of the stressful state.
- A surprising contributor to stress is how you are eating your food, I try to be in a relaxed environment ideally with a few friends allowing you to really focus on the food and not any events surrounding you that could lead to poor digestion of the food your eating.
All in all stress is like death and taxes, unavoidable. However it is not impossible to control, the main thing is to chill out and do the occasional güt thing for the little guys in your microbiome and they’ll do some güt stuff back!