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interrelationship between gut health and stress

The Interrelationship Between Gut Health and Stress

Posted Jan 08, 2020

Whether it stems from marriage trouble, trying to make grades at school, becoming a new parent, or one of countless other reasons, stress is a constant part of your patients’ lives. And while we normally think of anxiety, lack of sleep, and irritation as ways stress affects the body, there’s one result from stress that often goes overlooked: gut health.

Stress is the body’s answer to any kind of challenge or danger. The body goes on full alert and instantly responds to the stress chemicals released into the blood stream, such as cortisol and adrenaline. It also slows or even stops digestion so that the body can divert all its internal energy to facing a perceived threat. Unfortunately, in today’s high stress world, the body rarely has a chance to reset. Moreover, we’re responding to stressors that can’t be fought or fled from, which means the fight or flight mode stays activated.

One of the biggest factors in gut health is the microbes that live inside all of us. The gut microbiome is comprised of the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the intestines and on the skin. There are as many as 1,000 species of bacteria living in the intestinal tract alone, and each one of them serve a different purpose. These friendly microbes help digest certain types of food; aid in the production of vitamins, such as B and K; and help combat other aggressive microorganisms trying to wage war on intestinal mucosa.

When the body experiences stress, microbial diversity is reduced, which lowers the number of friendly flora. This creates conditions in which undesirable strains of bacteria thrive, which can cause issues like low energy, uneven moods, poor complexion, difficulty sleeping, and a variety of stomach problems. Gut microbiome composition also has an impact on the ability to handle stress, so it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of gut-brain stress.

Stress can decrease nutrient absorption, increase nutrient excretion, affect how the body uses the nutrients, as well as increase nutrient requirements, so it’s important to make sure your patients are putting the right foods in their body. Serotonin levels are lowered during stress, which leads to an increase in sugar cravings and consumption, which in turn triggers more stress.

The more sugar consumed, the more blood sugar levels plummet, which in turn creates even more turmoil. Stress can also cause fermentation in the small intestine, which causes the body to improperly break down sugars and starches. This can lead to bloating, increased gas, nausea, body odor, increased sweating, fatigue, and irritability.

Thankfully, there are many ways you can have a positive impact on your patients’ gut health, and in turn live a healthier life. Perhaps the biggest thing you can do for them is make sure they are being mindful of what they are putting into their body.

What foods should your patients avoid? Deep-fried foods can cause chronic inflammation; MSG promotes the colonization of energy-sucking microbes; and overconsumption of alcohol can lead to leaky gut syndrome, along with many other stress related ailments.

Foods to recommend are brightly colored vegetables and fruit, such as leafy greens, avocado, onions, blueberries, pears, and bananas. Prebiotic fibers are carbohydrates that feed good bacteria. Foods rich in prebiotic fibers include garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, whole grains, chicory, and asparagus. Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and miso, are beneficial to gut health as well.

On top of diet recommendations, be sure that your patients are getting a full night’s rest. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night has been proven to help better manage stress, which in turn is good for gut health. Adequate daily exercise can also do wonders for digestion. Research has shown that living an active lifestyle improves microbial competition and diversity. Last but not least, adding a probiotic supplement, like Dr. Wilson’s Squeaky Clean, to their diet is a great way to replenish healthy bacteria in the gut that may be lost to stress.*


Stress and Your Gut. GI Society – Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. https://www.badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/stress-and-your-gut/

Nutrition & Stress. Cherry Creek Nutrition. http://cherrycreeknutrition.com/nutrition-stress/

How Stress Affects Your Gut Health (and Vice Versa). Hyperbiotics. https://www.hyperbiotics.com/blogs/recent-articles/how-stress-affects-your-gut-health-and-vice-versa

10 Ways to Improve Gut Health. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325293.php