The Powerful Connection Between The Gut and Stress Management

Years ago, doctors did not understand the body-mind connection because the mind is nonphysical. Thanks to decades of research, we now know that the mind communicates with every body cell. We know that there are signaling pathways from the brain to organs in our body, including the gut microbiome, and back again. There are enough chemical clues to not only convince the medical community, but anyone that moods, beliefs, expectations, fears, memories, habits, and old conditioning, all centered in mind, is critical to a person’s health.1

How The Body Reacts To Stress

Life and stress seem to go hand in hand. While you may not always be able to control the demands in your life, it makes sense to do what you can proactively to reduce stress. We need to pay attention to the feelings in our bodies when we are under pressure. Stress can accumulate over a lifetime; the body will say ENOUGH at some point! Childhood stress and trauma can alter gut bacteria, the intestinal lining, and the gut immune function.2

When you experience any stress, one of the ways your body processes it is through the adrenal glands, which respond by creating a flood of stress hormones, including cortisol, that then affect both your digestive system and your immune system.3 Stress is a threat to maintaining homeostasis in the body. Stress can have short-term and long-term effects on the function of the gastrointestinal tract. The enteric nervous system is connected bidirectionally to the brain by parasympathetic and sympathetic pathways forming the brain-gut axis. 4

Stress and depression can reshape the gut bacteria’s composition through stress hormones inflammation; this heightened inflammation that frequently accompanies anxiety and depression triggers pathogenic bacteria that encourage dysbiosis and a leaky gut. The gut bacteria also release metabolites, toxins, and neurohormones that can alter eating behavior and mood. The gut bacteria may also increase stress responsiveness and heighten the risk for depression, which probiotic supplementation may help alleviate. 5

The Stress-Gut Connection

Stress and depression can increase gut barrier permeability. This increase allows bacteria to seep into circulation, producing an inflammatory response.6 Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, is a condition in which bacteria and toxins can pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. This condition may lead to many health issues, including food sensitivities and chronic inflammation. It may be necessary to supply keys such as zinc, antioxidants, and amino acids such as glutamine to help repair the lining.7

Digestive Vibrance includes:

  • Vital nutrients to feed the Gastrointestinal lining cells.
  • The nutrients it needs to promote regeneration of the gastrointestinal tract lining.
  • Antioxidants that aid in a healthy inflammatory response.

Physical Symptoms Related To Stress8

  • Depression
  • low energy levels
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • decreased or increased appetite
  • heartburn
  • indigestion 
  • nausea and vomiting
  • bowel irregularity (diarrhea, constipation)
  • lower abdominal pain. 

Cognitive or behavioral changes related to stress9

  • Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness, disorganization
  • Procrastination, Difficulty in making decisions
  • Increased smoking, alcohol, or drug use

Is stress a problem for you?

Here are some questions to ask yourself

· Does your life feel out of control and have too many things on your plate?

· Do you often feel confused, anxious, irritable, tired, or physically debilitated?

· Are you having increased interpersonal conflicts?

· Do you feel that negative thoughts and feelings affect how you function at home or work?

· Is your work or home life no longer giving you any pleasure?

· Do you feel overwhelmed by the demands of emails, messaging tools, and social media?

· Do you feel that your life has become a never-ending treadmill?

· Are you prone to severe pangs of guilt every time you try to relax?

· Have you recently experienced a life-altering event such as a change of marital status, new work responsibilities, job loss, retirement, financial difficulties, injury, illness, or death in the family?10

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time to find ways to alleviate the stress.

Strategies To Cope With Stress

  • Engage in regular exercise
  • Consider meditation or other relaxation techniques
  • Create structured timeouts
  • Learn how to reframe challenging situations positively
  • Practice forgiveness
  • Spend time with friends and family (support network)
  • Plan activities that are fun, creative 
  • Learn something new
  • Enjoy time outside in nature

Activate the vagus nerve to turn on the relaxation response. ( through breathing techniques and humming or singing. Those sounds and vibrations may stimulate your vagus nerve.11

Nutrients To Alleviate Stress and Encourage a Healthy Mood

Your brain is an organ, and fueling it with the nutrients it needs can help it function at its best. Better brain function often results in a more balanced emotional state. Mood-boosting foods provide neuroprotection nutrients and support the synthesis of neurotransmitters and bioactive molecules such as L-theanine, serotonin, dopamine, melatonin.

L-theanine or theanine is a significant amino acid uniquely found in green tea. L-theanine has been historically reported as a relaxing agent. Studies suggest that L-theanine increases brain serotonin, dopamine, GABA levels. In addition, it has been shown to exert neuroprotective effects. 12

Melatonin not only plays a role as an antioxidant, neuroprotective and has the potential to alleviate depression because it can pass through the blood-brain barrier and has few side effects.13

Omega-3s and fatty fish:

The researchers also suggested that omega-3s may help disrupt the connection between repeated stress and depressive symptoms by lowering stress-related inflammation.14

Food sources: cold-water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines), nuts, and seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts)

Probiotics 

When the human microbiome is exposed to detrimental effects of diet, stress, or physiological changes, This may result in inflammation and dysbiosis of the gut, meaning an imbalance of beneficial and harmful bacteria. This is often linked to mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression. This gut-brain connection has led researchers to investigate the use of probiotics. 

Probiotic strains that support body-mind connection according to research15

  • B. longum may reduce depression and anxiety and alleviate IBS 
  • B. bifidum may also influence positive mood
  • B. infantis may increase relaxation and help treat irritable bowel 
  • L. plantarum increases serotonin and dopamine  and may reduce anxious behavior 
  • L. helveticus may alleviate anxiety 

Tryptophan:

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid for humans. Lower tryptophan levels are consistently associated with a higher risk of depression and poor mental health status. More than 90% of serotonin synthesis occurs in the gut, highlighting the critical relationship between the gut microbiome composition and its impact on mental health.16

L-theanine:

An amino acid abundantly found in green tea, L-theanine is a popular nutrient due to its calming effects. Its anxiolytic and relaxing effects have been associated with boosting levels of key neurotransmitters that regulate emotions, mood, sleep; studies indicate that daily intakes of 250 mg of L-theanine for eight weeks improved depressive symptoms, anxiety, sleep, and cognitive performance.17

Food sources: green, black, and white teas

Magnesium:

A trace element and abundant mineral in the body, magnesium is essential for hundreds of biochemical reactions. Studies have shown that magnesium supplementation may be effective in improving depressive symptoms and promoting a calming effect.18

Food sources: green leafy vegetables, avocados, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains

Antioxidants:

Diets rich in antioxidants, reducing agents capable of quenching free radicals, have improved mood, and inverse associations were reported between inflammatory and antioxidative markers such as vitamins C and E, lycopene, lute, and zeaxanthin.19 These phytonutrients found in colorful plant foods can be found in Spectrum vibrance.

Food sources: Vitamins, flavonoids, and polyphenols in most fruits (especially in berries such as cranberries and strawberries) and dark chocolate, vegetables, and nuts.

Vitamins and micronutrients:

Zinc: Seafood, lean beef, and poultry and lower amounts in beans, nuts, and whole grains

Potassiumsweet potatoes, bananas, mushrooms, oranges, peas, and cucumbers

Ironshellfish, lean red meats, organ meats, legumes, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, and dark chocolate

B vitamins: legumes, citrus fruits, bananas, avocados, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, asparagus, nuts and seeds, fish, and shellfish

Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and black-eyed peas

Vitamin Ccitrus fruits, cantaloupe, strawberries, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts)

Selenium: Brazil nuts

Others:

Dark chocolate (polyphenols and phenylethylamine)

Seasonings: spices and herbs: saffron, turmeric, oregano.

Herbs: lavender, passionflower, and chamomile

Adaptogens

Rhodiola, mucuna pruriens, ashwagandha, holy basil, and lions mane20

Chronic stress can take a toll on your health, but there are several strategies you can incorporate into your daily routine to help manage your stress. Before making changes, consult your healthcare practitioner for recommendations specific to your needs. 

*This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog or any linked materials are not intended. They should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

 

  1. Rudolph E. Tanzi- The Healing Self-2018
  2. https://drhyman.com/blog/2017/10/03/traumatic-stress-fuels-flame-gut-issues-arthritis/
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
  4. Rudolph E. Tanzi The healing self-2018
  5. https://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/wp-content/uploads/sites/450/2017/10/Stress-and-the-Gut.pdf
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7213601/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22314561/
  8. https://drhyman.com/blog/2017/10/03/traumatic-stress-fuels-flame-gut-issues-arthritis/
  9. https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/the-10-point-stress-audit-9836 
  10. https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/the-10-point-stress-audit-9836
  11. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/vagus-nerve-stimulation/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17182482/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826722/
  14. https://news.osu.edu/omega-3-supplements-do-double-duty-in-protecting-against-stress/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22314561/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29098950/#:~:text=Conclusion%3A%20The%20findings%20show%20an,induced%20hormonal%20and%20behavioral%20disorders.
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6836118/
  18. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201106/magnesium-and-the-brain-the-original-chill-pill
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6769512/#:~:text=Dietary%20antioxidants%20such%20as%20green,and%20clinical%20treatment%20of%20depression.
  20. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10589/adaptogens-101-what-they-are-how-they-can-help-with-your-stress-fatigue.html

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