Stress can impact your gut health; here’s what you need to know

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When it comes to health, its foremost nemesis is stress. You will notice that of the many conditions that plague health, most are caused by stress. Unfortunately, stress has permeated our lives. Among other things, it impacts gut health and in this article, we discuss more about it.

According to Dr Nutan Desai, senior consultant-gastroenterology at Fortis Hospital, Mulund, the expression of having ‘butterflies in the stomach’ is quite apposite, because our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. “Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all these feelings have a close connection with the gut. Stress is associated with changes in gut bacteria, which in turn can influence mood. Thus, emotions can influence gut function,” she explains.

What is the link between gut and brain?

The doctor says the brain and gastrointestinal tract are intimately connected to each other. While the gut has hundreds of millions of neurons (nerve cells) that can function independently and are in constant communication with the brain, stress can affect this brain-gut communication and may trigger pain, bloating, and gut discomfort. Long-term stress can cause constipation, diarrhoea, or an upset stomach, she explains.

Early stress

“Early life stress can impact the development of the nervous system, as well as how the body reacts. These changes can increase the risk for gut diseases or dysfunction in the future. For instance, you may feel nauseated before giving a presentation, or feel intestinal pain during times of stress. Stress increases gut distress, and you may get a bout of diarrhoea or repeated urges to urinate during or following a stressful event.

“Stress can both delay emptying of stomach contents and speed up the passage of material through the intestines. This combination leads to abdominal pain and altered bowel habits. Additionally, acute psychological stress decreases a person’s pain threshold,” says Dr Desai.

Common occurring

* When stressed, individuals may eat much more or much less than usual. Eating more food, or an increase in the use of alcohol or tobacco can result in heartburn or acid reflux. Unhealthy diets may deteriorate one’s mood.
* Stress or exhaustion can also increase the severity of regularly-occurring heartburn pain.
* A rare case of spasms in the esophagus can be set off by intense stress, and can be easily mistaken for a heart attack.
* Stress may increase the amount of air that is swallowed, which increases burping, bloating and farting.

Symptoms of stress-related gut dysfunction

– Studies show that stressful life events are associated with the onset of symptoms or worsening of symptoms in several digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and peptic ulcers.
– Functional gastrointestinal disorders or FGID, which form 40 per cent of gastrointestinal cases, are worsened by stress.

Wondering how you can manage stress? Read all about it here.

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