Is Stress Messing With Your Gut Health? Here’s What You Can Do

Much like the complicated question of the which arrived first -- the chicken or the egg -- the cycle of stress affecting gut health and vice versa cannot be satisfactorily understood. 

It all starts when stress levels stimulate the immune system to send out the message to destroy the cells lining the gut wall. An unhealthy gut leads to more stress, thus more damage to the gut is done. 

If you are unlucky and had suffered from leaky gut syndrome before, the intestinal walls are more permeable and harmful bacteria enters the bloodstream. This drives an excessive inflammatory response. However, even if you do not have a “leaky gut” from before, stress can trigger it. 

Two important markers that indicate a gut infection are secretory IgA and lipopolysaccharide (LPS). The levels can also be increased by social anxiety, which is to say that chronic stress can directly damage the gut. 

Research has also proven that stress affects the ability of the microbiomes to multiply and thrive. Therefore, harmful bacteria can easily grow and cause an imbalance in the gut bacteria, which in a roundabout way leads to stress again. This repetitive cycle needs to be broken by taking the correct steps. Here’s what you can do. 

gut bacteria Bacteria from food poisoning, shown as green, growing inside the epithelial cells, which line the gut and are represented in blue. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hong T. Law, McMaster University

What To Do About It

Firstly, adopt a diet that avoids all the irritants to the digestive tract such as sugar, soya, dairy and gluten. Adding certain foods to heal the gut could help bring down inflammatory responses. Use bone broth as a base while cooking, either for soups or mix with tumeric or salt. Gelatin is a great option to add to desserts and pudding. It can also be added as an emulsifier to many dishes. 

Collagen is a good ingredient that can be added to both cold as well as hot beverages. The texture and flavor are very mild. Foods that are rich in probiotics such as cultured vegetables and kombucha are good to boost the health of microbiome health. When going through a stressful event, it is advisable to rest the gut and eat light food while taking enzyme supplements. 

Also, it’s important to train your brain to react to stress by saying affirmative and assuring things such as “I am safe”, “I can do this” and “I am okay”. This practice has to be accompanied by concentrating on breathing. When stressed, the brain sends signals through the vagus nerve to the gut. Sometimes the nerve misfires due to excessive alcohol and spicy food. It is the main nerve that connects the brain to the body and even stress can stimulate this response.