You may have heard the saying – trust your gut, or your gut is your second brain, or it’s all connected but how? Can you always trust your gut? What if the signals are crossed or misfiring? Can you still trust your gut, or will you get misinformation?
Stress will affect your gut and change your microbiome – the colony of a variety of bacterial cells that govern a lot of gut function. Think of them as a community. They live in harmony, make nutrients such as biotin the hair vitamin and vitamin K the blood clotting vitamin, as well as neurotransmitters such as serotonin, your body’s own natural antidepressant.
When under stress, your body will pump out adrenalin – you know that feeling of being wired. You can get things done but it’s not sustainable without burning out. Stress alters your gut microbiome and invites some bad bugs into the neighborhood. These bad bugs take over and disrupt the normal signals from the more friendly microbiome.
The result of having dysbiosis or bactreria that don’t belong are:
- Changes in your immune system that increases your susceptibility to infection
- Altered signals to your hypothalamus- pituitary axis (HPA) in your brain that regulates hormones such as thyroid, adrenal, testicular, ovarian, growth and other hormones
- Changes your response to neurotransmitters that regulate your nervous system via the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)- serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline.
As you can see, stress changes the neighborhood and changes your immune, hormonal and nervous system. What this can result in is:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with anxiety and depression
- Dyspepsia otherwise known as GERD or reflux or heartburn
- Non gut reactions such as aches and pains, mental fog, rashes, fatigue and more
- The wrong kind of bacteria such as a decrease in the beneficial and an increase in the non beneficial bacteria is known as gut dysbiosis. Dysbiosis generates inflammation and a negative emotional state and may lead to chronic diseases.
When you are stressed there are a LOT of hormones that get involved. Like a suspicious 3 alarm fire in a critical area you call in the fire department, state and local police, the emergency medical services, office of emergency management, homeland security and you get many onlookers, in other words a lot of involvement which increases miscommunications. So, all of the hormones that get involved are corticotropin-releasing hormone, arginine vasopressin, proopiomelanocortin-derived peptides, alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone and beta-endorphin, glucocorticoids, and norepinephrine and epinephrine. You don’t have to know what all of these do, just know that stress can activate all of these and affect:
- Blood sugar, heart rate, bone strength, muscle mass, memory
- Mood- Anxiety, Depression
- Immune function
- Blood pressure
Before you get stressed over all of the things that are happening in your body unbeknownst to you, there are some simple things you can do to improve the “neighborhood” in your microbiome and reduce the deleterious responses. Just think about who you want in your neighborhood. The bacteria that are involved in energy regulation, gut barrier function (keeping bad things out), protection from infections, and immune system function want whole foods, fiber, prebiotic foods. The disruptive ones want beer, alcohol, candy, soda, cakes, cookies, pasta, bread, meat, packaged foods, chemicals.
Your microbiome is affected by your stress and what you eat. To invite the beneficial bacteria back and allow them to grow, you need the following:
- Dietary adjustments such as decreasing sugar, processed foods, simple carbohydrates, stimulants such as too much caffeine, alcohol and energy drinks.
- Exercise that decreases the bad effects of stress
Studies have shown
- L. casei strain Shirota, preserves the good bacteria and may relieve stress-associated responses of the bowel, in healthy people exposed to stressful situations.
- Probiotics such as Lactobacillus casei reduced negative thoughts and altered brain activity.
- The probiotics Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) and galactooligosaccharide prebiotic were effective in boosting resilience to stress and improved emotional responses in healthy people.
- Start while you are young. Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber that is food for beneficial bacteria. Prebiotic diets and exercise are most effective if given early in life. This is when the gut and brain are more adaptable.
- Foods high in prebiotic fiber are dry, raw chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, garlic, leek, onion, asparagus, banana and cooked whole wheat (as long as not gluten or wheat sensitive)
- A 2019 systematic review found that adjusting your diet was more effective in treating anxiety than just probiotics
The bottom line is your microbiome play a large role in regulating your immune and nervous systems and hormones. They can have an effect on energy, weight and mood and can be regulated by diet, exercise and probiotics. Feed your beneficial bacteria and remove the foods that feed the bacteria that can wreak havoc on your system.