Stress is physical. It is caused by physical phenomena in the material world. It manifests itself as a physiological response using physical hormones and neurotransmitters and other chemical messengers in the body. It changes biomarkers, neurochemistry, behavior, appetite, and our perception of the world around us. Stress can cause us to lose our grip on something that we would not even notice in a normal state of mind. Stress can cause us to eat what we normally would never consider.
And like other physical phenomena our bodies interact with, stress can affect our gut health.
The first clue to this relationship comes from the split second most people experience in high intensity situations. You feel it right there in your stomach. It’s a local clue that things will get hairy for a while and you should prepare for that. The intestine is so central to everything that it is our first real interface with the outside world. The food goes in the intestine. Here external nutrients, pathogens or intruders try to gain access to our inner world. The “gut feeling” is a basic feeling that we cannot ignore.
So what happens to our bowels when we endure too much stress without relief?
Stress and leaky gut.
You always said that “leaky gut” was a myth. It is not. In clinical trials they call it “gut permeability,” but it describes the same phenomenon: instead of the tight connections that line our intestines and precisely regulate the passage of toxins, allergenic particles and nutrients into the body, the gates open to get everything into circulation to let. This can worsen or trigger autoimmune diseases, allergic reactions to food, and the infiltration of toxins and pathogens. The end result is increased inflammation and oxidative stress, and there are a whole host of diseases and conditions associated with leaky gut.
Stress is an important and reliable trigger for leaky bowels.
Stress and gut bacteria.
Studies have shown that stress decreases the number of Lactobacillus species in the gut and tends to increase growth and colonization by pathogenic species – changes that correlate with many of the negative stress-related changes in bowel health and function. Many of these changes in gut bacteria makeup are due to increased levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, which have been shown to have profound effects on the species that live in our gut.
Stress and intestinal motility.
Stress tends to slow down gastric emptying while speeding up intestinal transit times. This means that you are not digesting your food very well or quickly, but once it is in your intestines, it moves quickly. That can make toilet visits too urgent and productive, while the actual eating – absorbing nutrients, digesting, extracting the good things – becomes less productive.
Stress and irritable bowel syndrome.
I had IBS for many years and it matched not only all the grains I ate but also the high levels of stress (exercise and professional / social) I endured. In fact, I’ve always noticed that periods of high stress or heavy exercise were triggers for flare-ups. That was supposedly all I imagined, but the actual evidence shows that I was right.
If you look at the most common symptoms of IBS – how it presents in a human gut – this is a laundry list of stress-related bowel changes. You have a leaky gut. You have unbalanced gut bacteria. You have supernatural bowel motility (if you have to go, you have to go). It’s all there.
Stress and eating disorders.
There is nothing worse for intestinal health than eating junk food, especially if you come from an otherwise healthy original way of eating.
But that is exactly what stress does to many people: It increases their susceptibility to the temptations of processed foods. Sitting in traffic for four hours a day makes the Burger King ride look really good. When you work 12 hours a day, many of you want the last thing to go home and spend an hour preparing a healthy dinner. I get it, I get it, but the fact remains that eating this way is terrible for gut health and function (and you know it, don’t you?).
Worse, when you are under a lot of stress, you are less likely to eat junk food. Your brain food reward system becomes more boring and requires larger amounts of even tastier junk food to meet its demands and trigger the food reward effect.
Besides “reducing stress”, what can you do to improve or maintain your intestinal health in stressful times?
Eat well and don’t neglect prebiotic fiber.
People go back and forth on fiber. Is it important? Is it useless? Is it actually harmful as the carnivores claim? I’ve been in this game for many years and while I don’t think there is an answer that will satisfy everyone, I have an answer that is relevant to today’s topic.
At the very least, prebiotic fiber is partially useful – and one of the conditions that make prebiotics helpful is chronic stress. Prebiotic fiber feeds your good gut bacteria (and sometimes badly if you live badly there, but that’s another story for another time), which in turn produces short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, which have been shown to counteract some of the stress . induced effects on gut health and function. In one study, researchers found that increasing the amount of prebiotic fiber in a mouse’s diet improved their resistance to stress and the stress-induced leaky gut, suggesting that the two are linked.
Don’t let stress snowball.
Acute stress is a healthy part of the human experience. Therefore, we primarily have a stress response: to help us respond to difficult, stressful situations we encounter in the world. It’s not “unhealthy”. And sure, while an acute stress response temporarily upregulates intestinal permeability and triggers changes in intestinal motility, these changes dissipate when the stress dissipates. Exercise itself is a stressor; Hard training increases intestinal permeability for a short time, but soon dissolves again.
The problem is when we put stress snowball into a chronic state. We allow it to build up and accumulate and take permanent residence in our body. Then it doesn’t dissolve, and then we see the other effects on gut health and function.
Improve your sleep hygiene (and possibly take melatonin).
Melatonin is not just a “sleep hormone”. It also acts as an antioxidant, affecting a whole range of health measures, and protecting your gut from stress-related changes. The best way to optimize melatonin status is to follow all of the rules outlined in my post on sleep hygiene: get natural light in the morning and afternoon, spend as much time outside as possible, reduce artificial light after dark, get a bedtime routine , eat healthy food and stick to your sleeping schedule. But this can be tricky as the source of your stress often affects your sleep schedule as well. Supplementary melatonin can help here.
Supplement for stress.
I am a ball of stress Or rather, I’ve been a ball of stress for much of my life. That’s probably why so many of my diet and lifestyle recommendations are geared towards people with high levels of stress. Trying to fix my own problems, I quickly realized that I am not alone and that many others can benefit from the same things. My problem was that my stress levels were varied. I put my body through an incredible amount of physical training stress that never seemed to end. I’ve balanced that with persistent entrepreneurship. I never sat still, always had something to do. There was never a moment to take a breath. As soon as things subsided, I started preparing for the next challenge, the next workout, the next test.
It didn’t stop – although it slowed down and I can cope better with the stress. A lot of my stress solutions have nothing to do with supplementation. Instead, they relate to the food I eat, the exercise I do (or more precisely, no longer do), the open-ended stress reduction techniques I practice. However, there is room for a supplement called Adaptogenic Calm that I developed to help top athletes (like my former self and those I’ve worked with) manage the exposure of oxidative stress while exercising. Stress is often fungible, and psychological stress and exercise-related stress follow similar paths and therefore have similar solutions.
Take probiotics for stress.
Do you remember how stress ravages the Lactobacillus species that normally live in our intestines? Animal studies show that reintroducing some of them with probiotic supplementation can remove some of the stress-related changes in bowel function, such as: B. leaky bowels and impaired motility, can alleviate and even counteract.
Now I would like to hear from you. How does stress affect your bowel function? What did you notice? And how do you deal with stress, especially in relation to your gut?
Thanks for reading everyone. Watch out.
About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Marks Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement, and the New York Times best-selling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, which describes how he combines the keto diet with an original lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which is credited with the growth of the Primal / Paleo movement in 2009. After three decades of researching and educating people about why food is the key component in achieving optimal wellbeing, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real food company, the Primal / Paleo, Keto and Whole30 friendly kitchen staples manufactures.
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