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Improving Gut Health When You’re Stressed: Causes & Remedies

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

stress causing stomach issues

Experiencing stressful moments in life is inevitable. However, living with chronic stress caused by lifestyle choices, diet, occupation, and other triggers can throw the stomach and digestive system out of balance. It is common for many people living with health issues like irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, or constipation, who usually suffer from frequent bouts of stress. Thankfully, there are plenty of helpful solutions to alleviate stress-related stomach problems and support gut health.

How Does Stress Trigger Gut Health Issues?

The human body is composed of a host of complex, interconnected systems. When the body responds to various stressors, it can comprise gut health and lead to unpleasant and undesirable symptoms. It can be challenging to function when the gut’s microbiome is unbalanced because of one’s diet, work environment, or events that influence mental or physical wellbeing. 

Finding ways to reduce stress and keep the digestive system balanced with probiotics[1],  a varied diet, and practicing healthy lifestyle choices can prove beneficial. When you utilize methods to support gut health, you can enjoy optimal wellness. Take positive actions to focus on living life instead of battling constant issues related to a stressed-out stomach and poor gut health.

When the body is stressed, the gut, responsible for most immune functions, is thrown out of sorts. Inflammation is one of the leading causes of most health ailments related to leaky gut, IBS, painful gas, constipation, nausea, fatigue, and nausea. Constantly experiencing high stress levels will likely reduce the number of healthy probiotics in the gut and disturb the microbiome’s equilibrium.

Symptoms Of A Stressed Out Stomach

If you learn to recognize the signals the human body displays when something is awry, you can better adjust your behavior, diet and make lifestyle changes for better health. Stress is a leading factor in many illnesses, disorders, and malfunctioning of various bodily systems. The stomach and digestive system are susceptible to stress and will quickly throw the body into disarray when it is imbalanced.

Everyday stressors on the human body that quickly show themselves via digestive issues include, but are not limited to the following.

  • Appetite Loss
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Cramping
  • IBS
  • Inflammation
  • Nausea
  • Painful Gas

Many symptoms of a distressed stomach and digestive system can be pretty alarming. If you are experiencing the following problems frequently, consider adjusting your diet to improve your gut health and reduce stress. Eating certain foods, drinking more water, consuming more fiber, taking supplements, and developing healthy coping mechanisms are good for the stomach and gut.

Ways To Remedy Gut Health Problems

One of the most important things you can do to improve your overall mental, emotional, and physical well-being is to reduce your stress levels. If there is anything you can do to alleviate stressful triggers that promote a wide range of various illnesses, do so. Your quality of life and gut health depends on it.

So is there a leaky gut diet one can follow to help reduce stress on the stomach and improve gut health? Consider using some of the following solutions to help improve and balance the gut microbiome, reduce stressors, and live a more healthy life.

  1. Practice exercises that reduce stress and aid digestive health
  2. Meditate
  3. Take supplements
  4. Change your diet
  5. Lose weight
  6. Develop healthy coping skills
  7. Reduce stress-response eating
  8. Consume more probiotics

Exercise

Regularly making time to exercise doesn’t help keep your weight balanced; it helps boost self-confidence and uplifts your mood. When you feel stressed, it’s easy to fall into a slump and become inactive, and stress eat. However, within 15 minutes of starting an exercise routine, you get your blood flowing, forget your troubles, and begin to relax.

Meditate

When life throws a curveball your way, sometimes you need to stop and do nothing. Taking time out to meditate for as little as 5 to 15 minutes a day changes the brain and body for the better. Meditation has been studied to calm the mind, change cognitive function[2],  increase one’s attention, and reduce stress levels. You can practice meditation while doing basic tasks, walking, or sitting in silence.

Take Supplements

There is an ongoing debate about the helpfulness of certain supplements to boost health and keep the body in balance naturally. However, taking a vitamin to support a calm mind and sound body can’t hurt. Consider supplements like Melatonin, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, or B-complex vitamins to reduce physical and mental stress.

Make Dietary Changes

When the body is stressed, it’s common for people to turn to junk foods for comfort. However, it is crucial to make wise dietary choices that don’t exacerbate bodily stress and inflammation. Consider avoiding sugar, alcohol, caffeine, refined carbs, and processed, artificial food that will only make your body feel more stressed after the cravings pass. Add more foods to your diet high in fiber, including probiotics, and support a more stress-free life. Eat foods that stave off inflammation[3] and restore and balance a stressed digestive system.

Lose Weight

If you live with excess weight due to stress, stress eating, unhealthy habits, and other health issues, it may be time to lose the weight. Being overweight puts a strain on the digestive system and other bodily functions. And, being depressed, anxious, or worried over one’s weight and image can feed back into a stressed gut and microbiome.

Develop Coping Skills

Unlearn unhealthy habits when you feel stressed that contribute to poor health and a negative vibe. Seek professional therapy or mental health services to learn how to handle stress better. Choose healthier foods that don’t exacerbate poor gut health if you desire to comfort eat. Try to find outlets to express yourself, acknowledge and deal with your current stressors instead of repeating bad habits.

Stop Stress Eating

If you find yourself stress eating in response to negative mental, physical, or emotional events, make an effort to stop. Instead of reaching for foods that exacerbate inflammation, reduce a healthy microbiome, and leave you feeling lousy later, opt for supportive foods. Also, try not to overeat either. 

Increase Probiotic Consumption

There may be something to eating foods high in probiotics and reducing stress levels. The nervous system and the digestive system are in communication with one another. Not only does eating foods high in probiotics help alleviate anxiety and stress[4],  but it may improve cognitive function and one’s mood too.

Ongoing studies[5] continue to reveal the intricate and complex balance between maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, brain health[6], hormone response, and stress. Protecting one’s health becomes incredibly challenging when the gut microbiome is out of balance due to stress, a lack of adequate nutrients, vitamins, and probiotics. 

How To Reduce Stress?

If you live with chronic stress in your life, it can kill you or slowly erode healthy bodily function. The gut, brain, heart, and mental state are all easily influenced by stress. Stress is often the culprit if you find yourself constantly battling symptoms like chronic fatigue, aches and pains, cravings, weight loss, weight gain, and depression.

The following suggestions, if practiced, may help alleviate stress.

  • Take a walk in nature.
  • Get a massage.
  • Spend time meditating.
  • Connect to a trusted friend.
  • Eat foods that boost health and vitality.
  • Take a nap.

Make an effort to reduce stress levels, dietary triggers, and other factors that lead to digestive health problems and related issues. Constantly living with chronic stress disrupts the healthy balance of the gut and impacts brain function, energy levels, and one’s physiology.

Potential Risks

You might be able to continue living with the symptoms of a stressed-out stomach and digestive system for some time. However, it is imperative to take preventative and active measures to reduce health ailments. Over time, if health problems like fatigue, depression, sleep difficulties, and anxiety persist because of an imbalanced gut and stress, the results are often detrimental and harmful to one’s health and life.

Studies show a connection to poor mental health, symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia[7] related to stress and poor gut health. When the body is constantly pumping out high cortisol levels, a domino effect ensues, leading to burnout of regulatory systems of the digestive tract, glands, and brain.


+ 7 sources

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  1. Hori, T., Matsuda, K. and Oishi, K. (2020). Probiotics: A Dietary Factor to Modulate the Gut Microbiome, Host Immune System, and Gut–Brain Interaction. Microorganisms, [online] 8(9), p.1401. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2607/8/9/1401 [Accessed 30 Sep. 2021].
  2. ‌The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. (2011). Effect of Meditation on Stress-Induced Changes in Cognitive Functions | The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. [online] Available at: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2010.0142 [Accessed 30 Sep. 2021].
  3. ‌Harvard Health. (2014). Foods that fight inflammation – Harvard Health. [online] Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation [Accessed 30 Sep. 2021].
  4. ‌Kim, S.-K., Guevarra, R.B., Kim, Y.-T., Kwon, J., Kim, H., Cho, J.H., Kim, H.B. and Lee, J.-H. (2019). Role of Probiotics in Human Gut Microbiome-Associated Diseases. Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, [online] 29(9), pp.1335–1340. Available at: https://www.jmb.or.kr/journal/view.html?uid=5262&vmd=Full [Accessed 30 Sep. 2021].
  5. ‌Molina-Torres, G., Rodriguez-Arrastia, M., Roman, P., Sanchez-Labraca, N. and Cardona, D. (2019). Stress and the gut microbiota-brain axis. Behavioural Pharmacology, [online] 30(2 and 3), pp.187–200. Available at: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/wk/bepha/2019/00000030/i0010si2/art00009 [Accessed 30 Sep. 2021].
  6. ‌Cryan, J.F. and Dinan, T.G. (2012). Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, [online] 13(10), pp.701–712. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3346 [Accessed 30 Sep. 2021].
  7. Li, Y., Zhang, B., Zhou, Y., Wang, D., Liu, X., Li, L., Wang, T., Zhang, Y., Jiang, M., Tang, H., Amsel, L.V., Fan, F. and Hoven, C.W. (2020). Gut Microbiota Changes and Their Relationship with Inflammation in Patients with Acute and Chronic Insomnia. Nature and Science of Sleep, [online] Volume 12, pp.895–905. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7652227/ [Accessed 30 Sep. 2021].

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

Alex Smith is a NY-based content writer who enjoys covering natural health, supporting wellness, personal finance, history, and outdoor living. When he is not behind a keyboard living the wordsmith life, he enjoys visiting landmark destinations and bookstores.

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

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