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Gut Health and Stress: A Bi-directional Link

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

According to NICCH, stress is a physical and emotional reaction that people experience as they encounter challenges in life. Stress is caused when you have to submit a presentation that you forgot or when you have to meet your boss or when you suddenly see something that resembles a snake or even work late at night to meet your deadlines. The gut is a place that is the host of millions of microorganisms. 80% of this ecosystem is involved in the immune system. A healthy gut consists of 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria. These good bacteria produce neurotransmitters called “serotonin” (happy hormones) that regulate mood through the brain-gut axis. Brain-gut axis is nothing but the physical and chemical connection between your gut and brain.

Stress is a threat to the homeostasis of an organism be it physical or psychological. Your sympathetic nervous system is activated during stress, and blood flow to your gut decreases. Chronic stress causes certain gastrointestinal conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, and Peptic Ulcer Disease because of the alteration in the brain-gut axis. The mast cells (controller of the immune system) translate the stress signals into the release of neurotransmitters and proinflammatory cytokines in the brain-gut axis and hence changing the physiology of the gastrointestinal tract. A study was conducted on 10 adults who were monitored for the occurrence of stress in their daily lives for 28 days. In three subjects, it was found that daily stress was highly related to Crohn’s disease.

Not just this, but even during stress or depression, we tend to hog on high palatable foods which changes the proportion of the good and bad gut microbiomes. The increased bad microorganisms in the gut will release a lot of toxins and metabolites which in turn change the eating behavior and mood. Hence gut health and stress have a bidirectional link.

Now the question is how to keep your gut happy!?

There are a few easy habits that make your gut healthy and happy. Here we go,

1) Upgrade your diet

Even small changes in your diet can have a greater effect on your gut. It is important to include probiotic foods (curd, buttermilk, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, etc) and prebiotic foods (onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, etc). Good bacteria are present in probiotics and prebiotics are the food for those bacteria.

2) A goodnight’s sleep

It is not just the length of your sleep but also the sleep quality. Changes in your circadian rhythm can disrupt the gut ecosystem. It will help you to follow the same timings for your sleep and keep all the gadgets at bay before 30mins-1 hours before your sleep.

3) Exercising is wise

Gut health is maintained at its peak when you are physically active. A minimum of 30 mins of exercise every day and walking or standing for 5 mins every hour during your office hours can break your sedentary lifestyle.

4) Avoid antibiotics if possible

It is not required to take an antibiotic for every headache or cold. These antibiotics kill the microbiome of your gut and hence affect your health.

5) Don’t be a clean geek

It is totally alright to indulge yourself in playing on the ground with your friends or outdoors with your dog. It helps in building your immunity. After playing, do not forget to clean up well with water and soap.

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