How does stress affect your digestion? Do you notice loose stools, constipation, or bloating? Last post I talked about the stress response and how it can impact your immune system. If you missed it, you can read it here. Today I’m talking about stress and your digestion.
Many people feel stress in their gut, so it won’t come as a surprise to know that stress directly impacts your digestive function.
Stress has been shown to alter our gut microbiome – decreasing diversity and abundance.
Our gut microbiome is pretty spectacular. It makes up about 3 pounds of our body, or about the equivalent weight as your brain. They make up the majority of all our cells (~100 trillion). Naturally, we need them! And more research on their importance is coming out daily.
Our microbiome is important for many things, including interacting with our immune system and regulating inflammation. The microbiota release chemicals that work directly with our white blood cells and decrease inflammation. Stress has been shown to change the makeup of our gut microbiome, reducing diversity and abundance.
We want to encourage a diverse and abundant microbiome. Our microbiome is protective against opportunistic infections such as Candida, parasites, or other harmful microorganisms. They also secrete a protective layer that coats your intestinal layer. Decreased abundance may increase your risk of leaky gut and “metabolic endotoxemia”; a risk factor for many inflammatory conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and infertility. Finally, as I mentioned, there is an established association with our immune system, supporting a healthy immune response and reducing inflammation.
Stress can change your gut motility and lowers digestive activity.
Have you ever experienced a stressed gut resulting in you running to the bathroom, or having loose stools? Stress can directly influence our gut motility. Fast motility/loose stools prevent your digestive tract from properly breaking down your food and absorbing all the beneficial nutrients. If this becomes a chronic issue, it may lead to nutritional deficiencies and other health concerns.
For others, stress may slow down motility instead and cause constipation. This means your stool is sitting in your colon for long periods of time. This can cause not only discomfort and bloating, but also provides time for your body to reabsorb toxins or hormones that were meant to be excreted.
Stress can also alter digestive activity, such as lowering stomach acid levels or digestive enzymes. This can prevent you from breaking down your food appropriately and may lead to bloating, pain, or irregular bowel movements.
Stress can lead to leaky gut.
Chronic stress causes your blood to be diverted away from the digestive tract to other areas (i.e. your muscle for running away from your stressor!). Blood flow is how we deliver oxygen, nutrients (and therefore energy) to your cells. Chronic stress resulting in reduced blood to the gut can increase the risk of developing leaky gut.
Leaky gut, or “intestinal hyper-permeability” is when the space between your intestinal cells becomes large. This allows food, bacteria, and toxins to seep through and enter the bloodstream, triggering inflammation. As I mentioned above, this may lead to metabolic endotoxemia. I talk about other causes of leaky gut here.
Stress can be a driver of many things – poor digestion can be a major one! If this sounds like you, supporting your stress pathways and optimizing digestion and microbiome is the place to start.
Book a free 15-minute phone consult to discuss how we can support you.
Dr. Ashley Damm, ND
Naturopathic Doctor, Vancouver BC
- C. A. et al. (2019). Postprandial endotoxemia may influence the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus: From the CORDIOPREV study. Clin Nut
- G.C. M. et. al(2019). Improvement of Lipoprotein Profile and Metabolic Endotoxemia by a Lifestyle Intervention That Modifies the Gut Microbiota in Subjects With Metabolic Syndrome. J Am Heart Assoc.
- Saito T, H. H. (2007). Metabolic endotoxemia initiates obesity and insulin resistance: Diabetes 56:1761-1772. Diabetes.
- Tremellen K1, S. N. (2015). Metabolic endotoxaemia-a potential novel link between ovarian inflammation and impaired progesterone production. Gynecol Endocrinol. , 309-312
- Karl, JP. etl a. (2019). Effects of Psychological, Environmental and Physical Stressors on the Gut Microbiota. Front. Microbiol.