How Stress Affects the Gut; Our Second Brain
4 Min Read
The enteric nervous system that regulates our intestines is now recognized by science as the body's "second brain". It is a single communication pathway in which the same molecules (neurotransmitters) that are used to facilitate digestion also alert the brain when something is wrong. 1
This "second brain" is also made up of trillions of bacteria that interact with the enteric nervous system. Numerous studies report that gut bacteria, and their byproducts, can affect mood, cognition, behavior and metabolism. 1
Let’s take a look at common stress-related gut disorders
When a stress response is in place, the body is likely to experience uncomfortable sensations such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or that feeling of having "butterflies" in the tummy. This is a sure sign that the messages travel along a two-way path from the gut to the brain and vice versa. 2,3
Since intestinal microbiota play a role in protecting and maintaining our overall health and wellbeing, when imbalance occurs due to stress, one of the first symptoms is usually that of abdominal pain. This is the body’s way of indicating that something has gone wrong. Ultimately, one could say that intestinal microbiota play a role in protecting and maintaining our overall health and wellbeing, including our mental health. 4,5
Stress-related digestive imbalance tends to come with a level of gas retention in the gut. Sometimes, the pressure is so severe that it pushes up into the diaphragm, causing acid reflux. Nausea is easily treatable, but when it is stress-induced, it is likely to be reoccurring. 7
Here are helpful ways of preventing gut-related pain
Relaxation and Exercise
Any activity that reduces the level of stress you are experiencing is one that should be implemented more regularly. For some, these are relaxation techniques including meditation and diaphragmatic breathing. For others, exercise is preferred, and activities such as yoga offer both the benefit of relaxation and workout at once. 8
Probiotics are live and active microorganisms named after the Greek word “pro bios” which means “for life”. When taken in adequate quantities, these microorganisms favor the balance of the intestinal flora. Here are a few things to know: 9
Efficacy and usefulness
Efficacy and usefulness are recognized properties in a wider context. This includes a healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition and regular physical activity.
Balance of the intestinal bacterial flora
Probiotic-based supplements have the ability to promote the balance of the intestinal bacterial flora because they are able to survive the passage in the stomach and arrive intact in the intestinal tract, where they reproduce colonies of good-bacteria that carry out beneficial functions.11
Stress and the gut: How are they related?
There is but a single gut-brain axis, and therefore the influence is reciprocal in terms of response between gastro-intestinal symptoms and stress. This is especially true in cases where abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal upset is experienced without an obvious organic cause. For example: 16
- Gut-Brain Connection; Cleveland Clinic, March 2020 [quoated June 2021] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16358-gut-brain-connection
- Stress and your health; Medline Plus, June 2021 [quoated June 2021] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm
- The gut-brain connection; Harvard Health Publishing, April 2021 [quoated June 2021] https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
- When should you see a specialist?; UChicagoMedicine. Chicago: The University of Chicago Medicine; 2020 [quoted June 2021] https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/gastrointestinal-articles/stress-and-stomach-pain-when-should-you-see-a-specialist
- Why the Gut Microbiome Is Crucial for Your Health; Healthline, June 2017 [quoated June 2021] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health
- Why Anxiety Causes Diarrhea and How to Handle It; Healthline, June 2019 [quoated June 2021] https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety-diarrhea
- Can Stress Cause Acid Reflux?; Healthline, july 2017 [quoated June 2021] https://www.healthline.com/health/gerd/stress
- Can it help with symptoms?; Healthline, March 2020 [quoated June 2021] https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/ibs-and-exercise#can-exercise-help
- Use of probiotics in gastrointestinal disorders: what to recommend?; PMC, September 2010 [quoated June 2021] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002586/
- Should You Use Probiotics for Constipation?; Healthline, September 2019 [quoated June 2021] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-for-constipation
- Survival of Probiotic Lactobacilli in Acidic Environments Is Enhanced in the Presence of Metabolizable Sugars; PMC, June 2005 [quoated June 2021] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1151822/
- Lifestyle and Managing Stress; Eat Right, April 2020 [quoated June 2021] https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/lifestyle-and-managing-stress
- Practice portion control; healthline, March 2020 [quoated June 2021] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-prevent-stress-eating-when-youre-stuck-at-home#10.-Practice-portion-control
- Keeping an IBS Food Diary; Everyday Health, June 2013 [quoated June 2021] https://www.everydayhealth.com/ibs/ibs-food-diary.aspx
- What are the best juices for constipation?; Medical News Today, february 2019 [quoated June 2021] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324585
- The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems; PMC, April 2015 [quoated June 2021] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/
- Enterogermina® 2 billion Patient Information Leaflet Last revised Jul 2019.
- Enterogermina® 6 billion Patient Information Leaflet Last revised Jul 2019.
- Enterogermina® 2 billion capsules Patient Information Leaflet Last revised Jul 2019.