If you’re stressed, it’s probably one of the reasons you have digestive symptoms. Stress affects your gut in many ways.
So far in this article series you’ve learned how stress:
This combination of factors can either cause digestive symptoms or worsen existing ones, including:
The whole thing can be summed up in this graphic:
It doesn’t stop there.
An 8th way stress can affect digestion relates to pain perception. We know from the scientific literature that stress increases pain perception in your gut.
Stress causes the release of stress hormones from the brain and adrenal glands. One of these hormones – CRF – has been shown to have the following effects on the gut:
“CRF has a potent effects on gut via modulation of inflammation, increase of gut permeability, contribution to visceral hypersensitivity (increased perception to pain) and modulation of the gut motility.” 1
So when you’re stressed, your pain threshold decreases, but many factors that can increase pain actually increase.
Increased reasons for pain plus decreased tolerance for pain = twice as much pain!
Any form of stress, from psychological, social and mental stress, to low blood sugar, bad bugs, gluten sensitivity and others, can create this effect.
Thus, reducing stress on your mind and body is a very important factor if you want to truly heal your digestive system.
A 9th way stress can contribute to digestive symptoms is via inflammation.
It has been known for a long time that stress causes responses in your immune system that can lead to inflammation.
“Chronic psychological stress is known to dysregulate the immune system. These alterations are accompanied by low-grade inflammation, delayed wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases.” 2
Inflammation can be caused by many different stressors, which include:
Excessive inflammation underpins digestive problems, so it’s really important to bring it under control.
Many problems can develop once your digestive system has become inflamed. One of the most troublesome is a “leaky gut”.
Finally, a 10th way that stress can cause digestive problems is through leaky gut syndrome, which is well known amongst natural healthcare practitioners.
The technical term for leaky gut syndrome is “increased intestinal permeability”, and there thousands of studies showing how the condition causes problems.
“Modern people suffer from new multi-factorial stressors, such as chronic psychosocial stress and the consumption of a “Western diet,” which constantly challenge the stress- axis, alter microbiota (good bug) composition, and thereby compromise intestinal barrier function (leaky gut).” 3
A leaky gut happens when structures called “tight junctions” in your stomach and intestine begin to separate instead of fitting together snugly.
When this happens, molecules that wouldn’t usually be able to get through your intestinal wall begin to leak through and into your bloodstream
Stress makes you more vulnerable to this process, which is akin to being poisoned from the inside out.
As unwanted particles leak into your blood stream, your liver and immune system can become overwhelmed.
Reactions can begin to happen outside your gut, which create symptoms elsewhere in your body, as explained in this graphic (thanks to Dr. Josh Axe of DrAxe.com for this image):
We’re now realizing that leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability) is associated with many symptoms in the body. Research suggests leaky gut can lead to: 3
And remember, all this can come from damage to your digestive system caused by stress.
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1. Image from Konturek, et al. Stress and the Gut: Pathophysiology, Clinical Consequences, Diagnostic Approach and Treatment Options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 2011. 62: 6; 591-599.
2. Karin de Punder and Leo Pruimboom. Stress induces endotoxemia and low-grade inflammation by increasing barrier permeability. Frontiers in Immunology. May 2015: Vol 6; Article 223.
3. Karin de Punder and Leo Pruimboom. Stress induces endotoxemia and low-grade inflammation by increasing barrier permeability. Frontiers in Immunology. May 2015: Vol 6; Article 223.
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