The link between stress and gut health is well documented in everything from pop culture references to medical journals. Think about how many times you have seen someone on the big screen gulp down antacids when dealing with a stressful situation. Although it may seem like a made-up Hollywood situation, the connection between stress and your gut health is all too real. And the connection is cortisol.
Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone.” It is released to help the body in stressful situations, as part of the “fight or flight” response. In today’s world of keeping up with work and home, cortisol levels may be continually elevated in the body wreaking havoc on your body’s systems, including your gut health. Cortisol also helps to turn off inflammation that occurs during a stressful situation. If your cortisol levels are already high, then inflammation runs rampant leading to a variety of health issues in the gut.
Your gut contains beneficial microbes that help keep your cortisol levels in check so that your heart and other bodily systems continue to function. The bacteria in your gut actually produce important neurotransmitters of their own, known as serotonin. Serotonin is a mood-regulating chemical, sometimes called the “happy” chemical. By balancing serotonin and cortisol, your mood is kept regulated. If cortisol takes over, then the bacteria in your gut may be unable to perform their job, making you feel stressed and aggravating your gut.
Stress can aggravate the gut causing disorders, such as leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and what some describe as heartburn (hence the popular use of antacids in pop culture during times of stress).
It may seem like you cannot do anything to control the stressors in your life, but you can help your gut health. Probiotics can help to replenish the good bacteria that live naturally in your gut. You can also try taking prebiotics, which feed probiotics. Good bacteria and plenty of food for them can help minimize the toll stress takes on your digestive health.
There are other ways to beat stress through your diet as well. Even if you do not have sugar intolerance, sugar provides fuel for the bad bacteria in your gut. So you create an imbalance in your gut with negative bacteria elevating your stress levels. Avoid foods and drinks that contain extra sucrose and fructose. Fermented foods, such as yogurts, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and other vegetables that have been fermented, can help benefit the good bacteria in your gut.
In addition to eating right, make sure to find time to relax and get plenty of sleep. Although sleep can be difficult in times of stress, you may find that by healing your gut you sleep better, ending the endless cycle of stress and digestive issues.