Brain-Gut Connection #stress #digestion #health #wellness #healthy #gut #guthealth #stressmanagement #selfcare #naturalremedies

How Stress Impacts Digestion: The Power of the Brain-Gut Connection + VIDEO {Mind-Body Medicine}

The digestive tract is particularly vulnerable to stress via the brain-gut connection. Use these strategies to improve digestion by managing stress.

The digestive tract is particularly vulnerable to stress via the brain-gut connection. Use these strategies to improve digestion by managing stress.

Have you ever “choked under pressure” or felt your “stomach in knots” when faced with a difficult decision? Is so, you are familiar with the powerful ways in which stress can influence digestion.

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All emotions create physiological changes, and stress is no exception. In broad terms, stress refers to any real or perceived threat or demand. Such stressors elicit adaptive responses within the body as you attempt to maintain homeostasis and ensure survival.

Stress can be acute in response to a large threat like a fire or chronic and insidious from aspects of daily life. Lifestyle factors such as an imbalanced diet, overtraining, not getting enough sleep and having a job you don’t enjoy can all increase your level of stress. Negative thinking also creates a stress response within the body.

The Brain-Gut Axis: How Emotions Impact Digestion

The digestive system is particularly vulnerable to the presence of stress, especially when it becomes chronic. This is because the nervous system and digestive system are closely intertwined in what is sometimes called the brain-gut axis.[1]  The walls of your digestive tract are infiltrated by a network of nerve fibers called the myenteric plexus which contributes to the enteric nervous system. This enteric nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system which receives signals from the brain and is sometimes thought of as a second brain within your gut. You have likely experienced this brain-gut connection before when you sense a “gut feeling,” “butterflies in your stomach” or anxiety-induced nausea.[2] 

The biochemical and hormonal changes that occur in response to emotional stress have immediate and often persistent impacts on digestive health. The physiologic stress response is geared toward survival, so it focuses energy on dealing with the threat at hand, sacrificing processes like digestion and repair. Depending on the severity of the threat, this may cause your digestion to slow down or stop completely.

Stress induces changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, intestinal permeability, blood flow and inflammation.  For example, we have long known that severe stressors like surgery or trauma cause the intestinal lining to become “leaky.” [3], More recent evidence is also exploring the impacts of chronic psychological stress on this important gut barrier. [4] Overall, these impairments in normal digestion can lead to constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, pain, nutritional deficiencies and imbalanced metabolism.

The digestive tract is particularly vulnerable to stress via the brain-gut connection. Use these strategies to improve digestion by managing stress.

Emerging science also demonstrates that the microbes which inhabit our digestive tract and play many important roles in our health seem to respond directly to stress-related signals.[5]  This stress-induced disruption of the microbiome can increase susceptibility to infections, influence weight and impact metabolism.

Over time, chronic exposure to stress may contribute to the development or worsening of a variety of more complex digestive diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), peptic ulcer disease and food allergies. [6]

Improve Your Digestion by Managing Stress

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help manage the stress of daily life and improve your digestive health. Stress reduction strategies are key to healthy digestion as well as longevity, weight balance and robust immunity.

Get Moving to Balance Stress

Moderate exercise is one of the most effective ways to manage stress and maintain healthy digestion.  Balanced physical activity relieves tension, improves blood flow and stimulates the release of endorphins from the brain which improve your mood and reduce the impacts of stress. Practices like tai chi and yoga that coordinate the breath with movement are especially effective at reducing the state of constant hyperarousal which is detrimental to digestion.

Cope with Life Stressors with Regular Relaxation

There are many effective strategies to help you cope with the inevitable stress of life and minimize its impacts on your digestion and overall health. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, tai chi and spending time in nature are some of my favorite practices for managing stress. Deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which activates processes involved in rest, repair and digestion. When the body is in parasympathetic mode, blood flow and oxygenation to the digestive tract is increased, making digestion more efficient. Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, visualization and mindfulness meditation are also effective ways to shift into a more parasympathetic state which favors relaxation and healthy digestion.

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Build a Stress-Resistant Gut with Probiotics, Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Vitamins A and D

A healthy gut which houses a balanced microbiome is more resistant to the negative impacts of inevitable stress. Omega-3 fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins A and D and balanced probiotics can all help heal the intestinal lining, reduce inflammation and provide a diverse array of beneficial bacteria. This makes your digestive tract more resilient to the harmful impacts of stress.[7]

Avoid Negativity to Heal Your Gut

Negative thoughts are a large contributor to stress in modern life. Learning to recognize your thoughts through mindfulness or other meditation techniques allows you to change your mindset. This not only reduces chronic stress but can also help you make healthier food choices that improve digestion. Anxiety, depression and other unresolved emotions are often at the root of overeating and poor food choices that can further stress digestion. Science has shown that changing your thoughts can improve digestion. Positivity and compassion improve the function of the vagus nerve which is crucial in the communication between the brain and digestive system. As such, practices such as lovingkindness meditation help to balance the nervous system and improve digestion. [8]

Explore What Your Digestive Symptoms Can Teach You

Your digestive system can be viewed as a barometer for how you are coping with life. Digestive symptoms often provide insight into the root of what is causing your stress, allowing you to move towards healing. For example, if you are prone to constipation you may explore where in life you are unable to let go. If you have chronic heartburn, you may look at where you might feel you have been “burned” or where you are holding onto a grudge or resentment. Exploring your digestive symptoms from this metaphorical perspective can help you notice your emotions, process them and release them so that you can better cope with stress.

The next time you notice a gut feeling or your digestive system is acting up, honor this insightful system by paying attention to what might be going on in your life in general. When you learn to understand your emotions and responses to stress and adopt healthy ways to manage stress like those presented in The Whole Cure, you can more effectively digest both food and life!

The Whole Cure Lifestyle Transformation Program #Mind Module: a mental makeover to build #healthy habits, change your #mindset, banish #stress and transform your life! www.JenniferWeinbergMD.com

 If you are ready to take control of your health through creating awareness and a positive, calm and insightful mindset, join The Whole Cure Lifestyle Transformation Mind Module where you will become empowered with the habits, tools and mind-body techniques you need to completely transform your life and health for good! You can also access more guided relaxation exercises utilizing the power of the breath here.Breathe: Meditations to help you find your whole cure and manage stress! www.JenniferWeinbergMD.com

Have you noticed how stress impacts your digestion? What do you do to de-stress? 

Brain-Gut Connection #stress #digestion #health #wellness #healthy #gut #guthealth #stressmanagement #selfcare #naturalremedies

This article by Dr. Weinberg originally appeared on The Chopra Center blog!

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Comments

  • Deborah Davis

    Hi Jennifer, As a longtime caregiver, I know first hand how stress affects my digestive system. It’s no joke! Thanks for sharing this valuable post with us at the Healthy Happy Green and Natural Party Blog Hop. I’m pinning and sharing.

    • Dr. Jennifer L. Weinberg, MD, MPH, MBE

      Thank you Deborah! I agree that the impact of stress on our digestion and overall health is so powerful. I appreciate your shares and hosting!

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