The Connection Between Gut health and Stress
Do you believe in stress and the gut connection? Have you noticed, when something bad happens, a breakup, a passing of a loved one, or you are super upset or angry you no longer feel like eating? Have you ever had a bad feeling in your gut about something or someone and it turned out to be true?
You are not alone!
How the Gut Talks to the Brain
Your body and mind are one unit. Your brain is connected to your gut and, your gut is connected to your brain. It is known as a little thing called the gut-brain axis.
Think of it as a hormonal and biochemical-driven highway between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. OK so, it's a little more complex than this, but you get the idea.
Have you heard of the gut brain axis or the HPA axis? The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is our central stress response system; our flight/fight, rest and digest.
The HPA axis includes the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. When we are stressed the HPA axis sends out a cascade of signals releasing hormones and neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, and norepinephrine and cortisol to help us handle the stress. We need this stress response.
Essentially, our gut brain connection has to do with our central nervous system. When we perceive something not good, like, things going wrong, bad news, a break up, the boss yelling at us, kids going bonkers and you just need a break, our body responds. We are the ones who tells our body how to respond.
We are wired for this response. When we hear, see, smell or touch something negative, it sends a message to our nervous system to respond. This message puts us into our stress response; our eyes dilate for better focus, our digestive system shuts off to redirect blood flow to our heart, lungs and muscles. Our heart rate goes up so we can increase oxygen to run away or, stay and deal with the stress.
How the Gut Talks to the Brain
While our, digestion is shut off, this also alerts our gut microbes. Our gut microbes are in constant contact with the millions of nerve cells in our digestive system which then communicate with our immune system.
Essentially, when we are perceiving a negative situation, we go into a state of stress response. This is known as our sympathetic nervous system.
When we are recovering, we go into our rest and digest response known as our parasympathetic nervous system. We are supposed to cycle through both our sympathetic and parasympathetic system through out the day.
The problem, most of us are staying stuck in our stress state. This shunts our digestive system and affects our microbial balance which then leads to leaky gut-or intestinal hyper permeability.
In a chronic state the HPA axis may affect the small intestine. When we are in a constant state of stress the gallbladder does not release fat and anti-microbial busting bile, the pancreas does not release enough enzymes to break down food and our mouth does not produce saliva full of enzymes.
In the chronically stressed gut there is chronic activation of the HPA axis because of the constant sympathetic state. If the triggers are not released for the gallbladder this leads to other problems in the small intestine. Since the HPA axis and the gut microbiome are intimately linked, it affects the gut microbiome. Bacteria and fungi can creep into the small intestine leading to bacterial and fungal overgrowth. The small intestine is pretty clean because of bile soaps. The bacteria that creeps up from the colon is not supposed to be there and causes problems.
In this chronic state, we have bacteria and fungi migrating to other parts of the body including the small intestine and creating toxins called lipopolysaccharides (LPS). LPS leads to inflammation of the central nervous system which affects the HPA axis. Bacteria also produce hormones and neurotransmitters that can alter the HPA axis along with additional hormone production during stress that further affects the growth and proliferation of microbial overgrowth and leads to more toxic metabolites known as virulence. Virulence factors are what can eventually lead to pathogenic states leading to disease.
The gut, HPA axis, microbiota overgrowth leads to a viscous cycle with each piece making the others worse. Over time, this effects the motility of the gut leading to constipation which encourages more bacterial overgrowth and inhibits gastric acid secretion. When gastric acids are insufficient, this leads to susceptibility of taking in parasites and other infectious microbes which, can stick around and affect hormones, tissues and organs. This can lead to a whole host of symptoms that are not matching up with perfect blood test reports leaving the doctor confused.
The symptoms are there to tell you something is out of whack. We have not been taught how to interpret our symptoms. It continues, the symptoms get worse, the process becomes constant and destructive. Eventually this pattern results in autoimmunity and eventually all barriers are breached including the blood brain barrier, The blood brain barrier is a barrier much like your intestinal tract; designed to keep toxins out and only allow nutrients in and wastes out.
Once the blood brain barrier has been breached it leads to "neuroautoimmunity." Look at the amount of depression, ADD, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorders, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety diagnoses we have today. They have increased right along the same time line as the gastrointestinal disorders. In fact, most gastrointestinal disorders are either linked to emotional issues and, or traumas or leads to issues of anxiety, depression and behavior and mood disorders.
I am not discrediting someone going through a painful experience. I just want you to understand what is going on. I am hoping his helps you to understand at those times when you feel like you are caught in a constant loop of feeling good one day, then so down the next you can barely stand it.
its a cycle and it has to do with your gut microbes and your brain. Your microbes can literally alter your moods!
Do You Believe in the Gut - Brain Axis?
Our gut and stress are intimately connected. If we are spending more time in our sympathetic state, this can affect the brain and our emotions. Our gut produces neuroactive compounds, neurotransmitters, and other metabolites that act on the brain. When we are in a chronic stress response, this alters our gut microbes which then affects the blood brain barrier. The blood brain barrier is much like our gut barrier, it is to protect you from things like pathogens and other foreign materials from getting in and creating havoc.
Academics are slowly unravelling the mystery of our gut brain connection. Researchers at UCLA identified the intestinal microbiota that interacts with the regions of the brain associated with mood and behavior. WOAH! This is huge.
According to a Frontiers Neurology study; Crosstalk Between the Gut Microbiota and the Brain: An Update on Neuroimaging Findings. An increasing amount of evidence suggests that bidirectional communication between the gut microbiome and the central nervous system (CNS), which is also known as the microbiota-gut-brain axis, plays a key role in the development and function of the brain.
Our gut has been referred to as the little brain or second gut. The proper term is the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS contains two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to your bum. Although the ENS can not think like our brain, it responds to what is transmited to the brain; what we see, hear, smell and touch.
According to John Hopkins article, Brain - Gut Connection. The ENS may trigger big emotional shifts experienced by people coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain and stomach upset.
One more study, this time at UCLA, gastroenterologists found looking at fecal samples and brain scans from 40 healthy women between the ages of 18 and 55 there was a correlation between emotions and gut bacteria. The study revealed the group with greater abundance of Bacteroids in their gut showed greater thickness of grey matter in the frontal cortex and insula (the part of the brain regions which process complex information) and a larger volume of the hippocampus, involved with memory.
Women with higher levels of the bacteria, Prevotella, demonstrated lower volume in these areas, and demonstrated greater connections between emotional, attentional and sensory brain regions. The participants with higher counts for the bacteria Prevotella were shown negative images; they showed lower activity in the hippocampus however, reported higher levels of anxiety, distress and irritability after looking at the photos.
So, the question is, do you know what your gut microbial community is?
WOAH! This is huge. If we can understand how certain bacteria are interacting, we can then work to ensure we are feeding the right bacteria. Finally, this just helps us to better understand how stress and emotions affect our digestive system and how the digestive system affects our emotions. I love this!
When I am working with clients, especially those with severe gut issues, they typically suffer with some form of depressive type symptoms and or, anxiety-like symptoms. They also tend not to feel good about themselves and their confidence is almost non existent. I totally understand this. As I was going through the perils of Crohn's disease there were times when my gut was so bad and so was my outlook on life.
As my clients' gut calm down and started to feel better, their emotions and outlook on life also changed. It changed from negative to more positive, more confidence and a more positive outlook on life. It is simply amazing.
What can I do to help my gut health and stress?
So glad you are asking about your gut health and stress because they are so important. A happy gut is a healthy life. You can not have one without the other. Below I will share with you some things you can do to help your gut.
Get a Stool Test Done
There is nothing more glorious than looking at poop and having it analyzed. Poop is basically the end processes of biological chemical reactions and microbes. From a stool test not only can we see what your colon microbial community looks like, we can also see a snapshot in time as to inflammation, pancreatic enzyme function, immune system reactions to gliadin (a protein in gluten), how well you are breaking down fats, how your gut microbes are interacting or interfering with phase II detoxifications and how zonulin is being manipulated by microbes which may give us a better clue to why there is leaky gut. All this from a small sample of your poop!
The test that I find the most helpful and useful is the GI MAP by Diagnostic Solutions. Approved by the FDA and its Covid19 tests have been approved and recommended by the CDC and excepted by Medicare. I add this to get you to understand the legitimacy of this test designed for gastroenterologists..
It a comprehensive stool test looking at the diversity of the colon as well as potential pathogenic bacteria, endotoxins, viruses, worms and parasites and how they are interacting with the liver and the immune system. I like this one because it is easy to read and understand and it is far more comprehensive and sensitive with no false positives like what can occur with stool tests that are cultured. The GI MAP is based on the DNA of microbes and test results can come back, Negative, detectable limit and High or low with reference ranges.
If you have a trained professional looking at the test results, they are able to help you understand what maybe affecting your gut brain axis. Sometimes, when the numbers look normal, there may be some that are just within the reference range that could be causing problems.This is why you need a trained eye to look over your results.
I find this absolutely the number one stool test to have done especially when there are unexplainable symptoms that are not showing up on conventional lab tests and yet the person is suffering with symptoms that the doctor can not put a finger on! I can not tell you how many times I have had clients suffering with multiple unexplained symptoms and we run this test, clean up the gut and the microbiome and the symptoms disappear. It's not magic, just pure science!
The GI MAP is perfect for constipation and diarrhea symptoms. When it comes to constipation and diarrhea our gut microbes can be a culprit. Of course, there can also be other problems like drinking and eating foods that irritate the intestinal lining.
A medical doctor or chiropractor can order this test for you here in the USA. The test is available in the USA, the UK, Australia and Singapore. Here in the USA, If you can not get your doctor or chiropractor to order this test for you, most states you can order it yourself. You can create an account with MyLab.com and search GI MAP. I have found it doesn't come up easily, so I had a profile created to make it easier for my clients to find it. Click this link and it will take you right to the test. I do not make any monetary gain from this link. I had this created simply for my clients. I also can not in any way see what you order or your results unless you invite me to see your results. Rest assured, you are fully protected!
Talk With A Professional.
Depending on the stress you are going through you may need to talk with a professional who can help you work through the emotions. There is nothing wrong with this at all. In fact, I think it is down right empowering. I have been working with professionals for years to help me let go of the shit that is no longer serving me. It may seem fearful but honestly, it is not only empowering but enlightening. Give it a go.
Make a list and check it twice
Sometimes we just need to get a handle on our stress. Write down everything you consider a stress in your life this includes at home and at the office. Prioritize which of these you need to keep. Then figure out how to make this shorter list less stressful with the right tools. For instance if you are doing everything at home, can some of these tasks be distributed to other family members to take some of the load off?
How about Bringing in outside help?
Have you thought about integrating positive self talk?
When you are in a really stressful state, call someone who can help you feel better.
I like to call me "power friends" these are the ones who just are so full of energy and positivity, it literally travels through the phone line and infect you. By the time I hang up with these friends, I feel aamzing. Who is your "power "friend" you could call?
Just stop and breathe
Remember, gut health and stress are intimately connected. When we are in our sympathetic state, we shallow breathe, our body is tense, and we are just looking for a really good row which is our wired flight or fight sympathetic reaction. Have you noticed when you are stressed to that limit that you just yell at everything and everyone? That's your sympathetic system in maximum overdrive!
So, when you are in this state, STOP PUASE and just belly breathe!
All it takes are three deep belly breaths to switch you from your sympathetic state to your parasympathetic rest and digest state.
Ahh just give it a try. Belly Breathe…. and remember this, in the wisdom of Bob Marley , don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gunna be alright.
Eat more polyphenol foods
Of course I have to talk about food. If we feed our gut microbes the right foods, especially polyphenols, we can instantly start shifting our behaviour and emotions for the better.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found largely in fruits, vegetables. Epidemiological studies and associated meta-analyses strongly suggest that long term consumption of diets rich in plant polyphenols offer protection against development of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases. This is because polyphenols feed the bacteria which releases compounds to keep us healthy.
What are polyphenol foods?
While you are shopping picking out your bounty, I want you to think like a bruise, black, blue, purple, and red. Organic black grapes, blackberries, blueberries, purple eggplant, plums, beets, red raspberries, dark red cherries, pomegranates red skinned apples, purple potatoes and cranberries are an abundant source of polyphenols. We have heard of polyphenols in red wine, and pomegranate juice as heart healthy but, did you know polyphenolic foods are the number one source for feeding your beneficial gut bacteria?
Basically, when we eat polyphenol rich foods, our gut bacteria ferments the compounds, creating anti inflammatory short chain fatty acids called butyrate. Butyrate’s natural anti-inflammatory properties protect our intestinal tract, keep our mucosa layer healthy and provides the right fuel for our gut microbes. This translates to a healthier immune system, heathy hormone balance, radiant skin, and better energy. It is the true anti-aging secret; right there in the produce section. Eat up my friend!
If our gut and immune system is healthy then your brain has to be healthy too, right?
If you would like your own polyphenol chart all you have to do is sign up to my newsletter list and I will give it to your right away. You can get it here.
Shake what your Mama gave you
Covid has turned us into a chronic couch potato. And, I am sure this has also led to anxiety, and other negative emotions. The best way to get our of a funk is to get moving. You do not have to work out with weight unless you like to. Movement ideas? Here you go;
Chase your pet around the house
Jog in place while there is a commercial on TV
Workout to a video
Do some housework
Park as far away from the store as possible
how about some Yoga?
Just go for a walk
Being in nature can affect your health in ways we are just starting to understand. For instance did you know that your gut microbes could be lulling you to the great outdoors? It's called the LoveBug Effect.
What is the Lovebug Effect?
Do you find that when you are grumpy, frustrated, or just need a break you think about getting outdoors? Especially with this year of lock up and lock down? There may be more than just you proving this desire. I know personally, when I start feeling off, grumpy, edgy, frustrated I know it's time for me to go on a walk, a hike or a walkabout. I literally need to find somewhere where automobiles can not penetrate the sounds of nature. This puts me back in balance and ready to tackle my daily tasks once again. How about you?
You all know if the gut is involved, I am gunna find it. And, guess what? Your desire to get outside could have to do with your gut microbes. Honest! A paper published In the journal Science of The Total Environment suggests that our thirst for nature could be driven by our gut microbe's desire to connect!
Researchers have discovered our desire for the outdoors is contributed by the bidirectional communication properties of the gut-brain axis. This is amazing. The researchers have called this the Love-Bug Effect. Essentially, researchers theorize the gut-brain communication also drives, nature-seeking behaviors.
First author of the study, Jake Robinson, an ecologist and planetary health researcher at Sheffield University, explains that our microbes long to interact with nature's microbes by manipulating our thoughts;
“Microbes in a gut environment that are starved of contact with environmental microbiota might be hijacking neural pathways between the brain and gut to drive nature-seeking behavior. There’s now pretty robust evidence from animal studies that microbes can intercept gut-brain crosstalk by activating the vagus nerve and sympathetic neurons through their release of key neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. When the microbiome is lacking in diversity, the chemicals it releases might have an effect on the brain that manifests as a thirst for nature."
When you are outdoors, you smell the earth, the air, if you are in a forest you smell the earth's floor, the leaves and rotting trees, you can smell a river, a marsh and so on. These are microbes in the microbial ecosystem, creating these smells.
We yearn for them and when we come into contact with them, they interact with our gut microbe ecosystem. I think the best way to explain this is like taking your dog to a dog park. The dog becomes happier when interacting with other dogs. Think of our microbes as a bunch of happy dogs in a dog park!
An article looking at this study finds, hands-on exposure to soil microbes may boost the immune system, and fresh country air offers a microbial diversity that avoids the accumulation of harmful microbes. Mental health might also benefit; gut microbial imbalances have been linked to psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety.
The Lovebug Effect serves to remind us of our deep-seated connection with the natural world. With everything going on, and heading into a long hard, stressful winter, do your body a favour and get outside at least once a day for at least 30 minutes. We need to keep our immune system healthy and strong. This is just one way of creating some balance. Don't fight it, just do it.
Gut health and stress, don't worry about a thing!
When it comes to stress and the gut microbiome and gut health and stress; remember this, our gut and brain are intimately connected. If we are under a ton of stress, negative emotions creep in, this is going to affect the gut’s delicate balance. In turn, this can further cause us to stay in this negative emotional state. Which eventually affects our immune system.
Let’s go from reactive to proactive. Let me know in the comments, which of these tips are you going to give a try today?
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Front. Neurol., 13 August 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2019.00883
The Johns Hopkins University The Brain-Gut Connection https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connectionwww.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection
Human Emotions Really Are Affected by Gut Bacteria, New Study Suggests https://www.sciencealert.com/new-findings-suggest-human-emotions-really-are-affected-by-gut-bacteria
Craving Nature? Your Gut Microbiome Might Be Responsible by Nia Cason, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/626812/gut-microbiome-controls-craving-for-nature
The Lovebug Effect: Is the human biophilic drive influenced by interactions between the host, the environment, and the microbiome? https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969720311372