Chronic Stress: Greater Numbers of Harmful Gut Bacteria
The Gut-Brain connection Is Bidirectional
Indeed, our brain and stomach constantly communicate and affect each other. In a sense, as we manage to govern our emotions, we master our digestion simultaneously.
The gut-brain axis involves the regulation of glucose and fat metabolism, insulin secretion and bone metabolism. Any persistent negative emotions may cause disturbances of the brain-gut axis, including the central, autonomic and enteric nervous systems. Negative emotions may cause the release of catecholamines and norepinephrine into the GI tract and lead to dysregulation of the gut-brain axis due to changes in the GI motility, secretion of mucus and epithelial cells. Either negative emotions or increased levels of corticosterone may cause exacerbation of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. The gut microbiota modulates our immunity, nutrient absorption and energy metabolism. It’s worth noting that intestinal microbiota directly produces neurotransmitters.
Stress and Gut Health
Chronic stress is a prolonged mental state. There is a significant causality between gut bacteria and mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety. A wealth of studies found that high levels of stress affect gut bacteria to a similar degree as a high-fat diet. Chronic stress alters gut bacteria, and gut bacteria also changes stress levels.
Chronic stress and any negative emotions, such as suppressed anger, fear and anxiety, lead to stomach problems. Researchers have identified a powerful connection between the gut and brain. Our gut is full of nerves that the gut contains the largest area of nerves outside the brain. Indeed, the digestive tract and brain share many same nerve connections.
Negative emotions damage our digestive system, which will cause a decrease in blood and oxygen flow to the stomach and lead to an imbalance of gut bacteria and even chronic inflammation. Negative emotions have a negative effect on our gut flora and lead to a decrease in antibody production. Chemical imbalance causes a number of gastrointestinal conditions. It is now well recognized that positive emotions are essential to maintain homeostasis.
Gut bacteria affect immunity and that’s why stress dysregulates the immune response. According to scientists from The Ohio State University, exposure to stress led to changes in composition, diversity and number of gut microorganisms. The bacterial communities in the intestine became less diverse and had greater numbers of potentially harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium. Dr. Bailey explains that when we reduce the number of bacteria in the intestines by means of antibiotics, the immune system will be affected. Stress changes the bacteria levels in the gut, and these alterations also alter our immunity. It’s worth noting that gut bacteria have been linked to inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.
The intestines have a tight barrier to protect the body from food-related bacteria. Chronic stress makes the intestinal barrier weaker and so gut bacteria might enter into the body. Studies found a high-fiber diet might activate gut bacteria to produce more SCFAs in which bolsters our gut’s natural defenses against the damage caused by chronic stress.
Common stress-related gut symptoms and conditions include indigestion, stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, nausea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and peptic ulcers. If you suffer from one of these symptoms, do not away from your negative emotions, persistent depression or mental wounds.
The Connection between Brain and stomach
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to negative emotions, including suppressed anger, anxiety, fear and depression. This connection between brain and the stomach is bidirectional. Negative emotions affect movement and contractions of the GI tract.
The connection between gut and brain is named the gut-brain axis and the enteric nervous system (ENS). It’s worth noting that a troubled intestine send signals to the brain, and the brain sends signals to the gut when it suffers. Again, the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.
The brain communicates with gut through “multiple parallel pathways,” including the autonomic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The gut-brain axis includes the central nervous system (CNS), the neuroendocrine and neuroimmune systems, autonomic nervous system, enteric nervous system, and intestinal microbiota.
That’s why some people feel nauseated before giving a speech, or feel intestinal pain when they are anxious and stressed. As you feel anxious, stressed out, or dreadful of something, your brain will send a message to your stomach. Some people with functional GI disorders perceive acute pain more because their brains are more responsive to pain signals from the GI tract.
1) Bailey. Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation? Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2011; 25 (3): 397 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.023
Margaret W. Lavigne
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