We all know that stress can be hard on the stomach. Remember the last time you felt nervous, I am sure that you had an iffy feeling in your gut.
The truth is that the impact of stress on the stomach goes far beyond indigestion. In recent years, scientists and doctors have discovered a remarkably complex connection between the brain and the digestive system. In fact the entire system is extremely sensitive to our moods.
Experts now see stress as a major player in a wide range of digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion and heartburn.
In fact people who are “continually sick” with infections are the ones who have a tendency to suffer from long term low-grade stress. Stress affects the whole body, but it is the immune system that is most affected by chronic low-grade stress.
People under chronic low-grade stress had above normal levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), an immune-system protein that promotes inflammation and has been linked with heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, severe infections and certain cancers. It appears that stress increases levels of IL-6, which in turn accelerates a variety of age-related diseases.
The Brain and the Digestive System
Most of us talk about "gut feelings," but few of us really appreciate the amazingly strong connections between the brain and the digestive system. Did you know that the stomach and intestines actually have more nerve cells than the entire spinal cord, leading some experts to call the digestive system a "mini brain." There is a highway of nerves which runs directly from the real brain to the digestive system, and messages flow in two directions.
To make a point; 95 percent of the body's serotonin -- a hormone that helps control mood -- is found in the digestive system, not the brain.
Under stress the brain releases a number of hormones that can badly affect the digestive system. One of these hormones is called CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) which is one of the body’s main alarm bells. In stressful situations, the brain produces CRH which in turn triggers the adrenal glands to start making steroids and adrenaline, chemicals connected to “fight or flight” situations.
CRH can diminish your appetite which explains why some people don’t want to eat anything when stressed or it can make you hungry explaining why others turn to foods (usually junk foods) when stressed or upset.
As we can see, different people have different responses to stress, yet we can say through observation that short-term stress can cause stomach aches, nausea and diarrhea. In the long-term, prolonged stress can aggravate chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn and cause stomach ulcers.
According to a report from the University of North Carolina, as many as 80 percent of people with IBS or another functional gastrointestinal problem never discuss symptoms with a doctor or other health professional… There is no need to suffer in silence.
Firstly it is important to get a diagnosis from your doctor so that you can check for any underlying diseases that might explain the symptoms. A doctor can also prescribe medication that will help to get the digestive system back on track temporarily. It is important to go to the root of the problem.
Healing in most cases involves a holistic approach which is a combination of healthy eating, (nutrition), exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and relaxation techniques such as power chiyoga, meditation (breathing exercises) and time spent outdoors in nature.
Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !