You’ve got stress. I’ve got stress. Everybody’s got stress. And that’s a good thing. Without stress, we lack motivation. Without stress we fail to adapt to life’s challenges, learn from them and grow stronger. 

But, of course, too much negative stress is toxic. That’s why it’s critical to take some time for yourself everyday. And if you don’t, the bacterial composition in your gut will change and lead to health problems. 

Research shows that it’s not just eating unhealthy or having bad genetics that causes poor gut health. It turns out that chronic stress actually changes the composition of your gut microbiome.  The more unresolved stress you have, the more harmful bacteria will call your gut home.  

Here’s 5 ways how chronic negative stress negatively impacts gut health:

#1: Stress = Overeating = Yeast Overgrowth

Excess mental stress leads to cravings and overeating of processed, sugary foods and drinks. This kind of emotional eating influences which gut bacteria and yeast will thrive in your gut—and news flash: they’re not the good kind. 

#2: Stress Hormones + Inflammation = Changes To Microbiome

Chronic stress and depression contribute to stress hormones flooding the bloodstream. This in turn creates systemic inflammation in the body, which alters the gut microflora.

#3: Stress = Metabolic Junk

When more unfriendly bacteria populate the gut, they release metabolic byproducts, toxins and hormones that increase appetite and negatively affect the mood.
 

#4: Obese Bacteria

Certain species of harmful bacteria may actually encourage overeating or frequent eating.

The brain and GI tract (the gut) maintain a continuous dialog through the gut–brain axis. But an increased amount of unfriendly gut bacteria due to stress interferes with normal gut-brain axis communication. This increases the risk for depression. 

Manage Stress So You Can Trust Your Gut

Have you ever felt an emotional trigger or stressor that you can feel in your gut? An experience so gut-wrenching (pun intended) that it actually interferes with your digestion and creates reflux? This is an example of the gut-brain axis communicating with each other. 

And this is why people living with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (which I think is actually SIBO) typically have anxiety, depression or other mood imbalance issues. 

The main focus of repairing gut health is probiotic supplements. But probiotic supplements aren’t the magic pill people have been hoping to swallow. First of all, the friendly bacteria in probiotic pills don’t always survive the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach; they die before populating in the colon. 

In addition, in order to flourish in your gut, probiotics need to fertilize just like a plant. And the best fertilizer for probiotics is prebiotic fiber, which can be found in abundance, in certain vegetables. (I’ll talk about prebiotics in an upcoming article.) But if you don’t feed your friendly bacteria enough prebiotic fiber, they won’t thrive in the gut. 

Diet and exercise also play a big role in determining individual microbiome composition. But you already knew that. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to manage your stress to prevent your good bacteria from being overrun by the bad guys in your gut. 

Busy Moms: Manage Your Stress 

I’m calling out all busy moms like myself (4 kids, ER nurse practitioner, functional medicine practitioner and health coach). We need to take time for ourselves. We’ll literally feel it in our gut if we don’t do so. And I’m not just talking about becoming a little flabbier around the hips. When we don’t treat ourselves to a massage, or join a friend for a walk in the woods or spend time tending our vegetable garden, we will feel our guts turning inside out—from stress. 

According to Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Annelise Madison of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University’s College of Medicine, lifestyle factors may play more of a role than your DNA. 

Writing in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, the co-authors state, “Indeed, environmental factors and health behaviors explain more microbiota variability than do host genetics.” 

Conclusion

While we need to make careful food choices and try our best to avoid synthetic pesticides and herbicides, it’s the things we have control over that control our gut health. 

If you’re like me, you may always try to be on your A-game and be Super Mom. But take it from me. As somebody who recently conquered gut health issues, it’s imperative that you intentionally leave your superhero cape off and take some time for yourself. Your gut will thank you for it. 

Author

  • Jenna Witt

    Jenna Witt has been a Nurse Practitioner since 2012. After working for five years in primary care at a Federal Qualified Health Center (FQHC), caring for the uninsured and underinsured, in 2016, Jenna began working in the local ER in Northeast Nebraska. Jenna has also earned a Master Certification in Health Coaching through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. She is also a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, an integrative form of medicine that seeks to unveil the root causes of health concerns and disorders. In 2020, Jenna founded Fundamental Wellness. Her emphasis is helping those with emotional eating, blood sugar management disorders, chronic pain, and low energy. Through her skills as an integrative health expert, Jenna helps her clients optimize their nutrition and sleep, learn simple stress management techniques, and identify which movement/exercise program is best suited for them. Jenna is currently welcoming new clients, which she sees at the Diabetes & Wellness Clinic in Norfolk, NE.

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