For our last post on colon health I want to bring attention to one of the least talked about, but maybe one of the most significant, causes of constipation… STRESS!  I know you are thinking…yes, we have heard that if you are uptight, then your sphincter gets uptight, too!  And while in theory this is what happens, I think its important to get a deeper understanding of the chemical and physiological changes that stress causes in the gut. 

Below is an article written by Chris Kressor that will blow your mind on the specific changes in your body that happen when we are under chronic or acute stress. This is a must-read for anyone struggling with colon issues; but also for anyone who is serious about protecting their health.  ENJOY!

How stress wreaks havoc on your gut – and what to do about it
on MARCH 23, 2012 by CHRIS KRESSER

Stress plays a major role in the health of one of our most important organ systems: the gut.  The word “stress” is a broad term, and can refer to any real or perceived threat to the homeostasis of an organism, eliciting adaptive responses to help maintain internal stability and ensure survival.  Stress can be acute or chronic, and it tends to be those chronic stressors from our lifestyle or environment that are far more damaging to our health.

The gut is especially vulnerable to the presence of chronic (and even acute) stress, demonstrating stress-induced changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal permeability and barrier function, visceral sensitivity and mucosal blood flow.  There has also been evidence to suggest that gut microbiota may respond directly to stress-related host signals.

I’ve spoken extensively before about the brain-gut axis and its role in health. As I’ve mentioned before, the intestinal mucosa is infiltrated by the myenteric plexus, which is a network of nerve fibers and neuron cell bodies that are influenced by signaling from the brain. In this sense, the gut is an integral part of the nervous system, so the brain can easily effect gut function. We anecdotally recognize our brain-gut connection as a “gut feeling”, which can range from butterflies in the stomach to full-on anxiety-induced nausea.

The biochemical changes that occur in times of stress have significant and immediate impact on gut function. 
A family of peptides called corticotrophin releasing factors (CRF) are responsible for coordinating the body’s response to stress, and CRFs have a potent effect on the gut through modulation of inflammation, increase of gut permeability, contribution to visceral hypersensitivity, increased perception to pain, and modulation of the gut motility.  This hormone affects the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) to eventually stimulate the secretion of cortisol from the adrenal glands.

Not only does stress affect the physiological function of the gut, but it has also been shown to actually cause changes in the composition of the microbiota, possibly due to the changes in neurotransmitter and inflammatory cytokine levels.  Research in mice has found that exposure to stress led to an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria while simultaneously reducing microbial diversity in the large intestine of the stressed mice.  Furthermore, this disruption of the microbiota increased susceptibility to enteric pathogens.

Chronic exposure to stress may lead to the development of a variety of gastrointestinal diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, IBD, IBS, and even food allergies.  Experimental studies have shown that psychological stress slows normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and even compromises the intestinal barrier.  Chronic stress may therefore play an important role in the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and leaky gut syndrome.

Recently, research has demonstrated significant improvements in depression, anger, anxiety, as well as lower levels of cortisol among otherwise healthy adults taking a daily probiotic supplement as compared to a placebo. This data suggests that not only can chronic stress change the diversity of microflora in the gut, but that the quality and health of friendly gut bacteria may also conversely have an effect on mental health and wellbeing.

As we continue to learn more about the intricacies of the interplay between stress and gut health, what steps can we take in our daily lives to help minimize the health damage that arises from chronic stress?
One interesting method of treatment that researchers used in the 1930s to treat acne and mood disorders was the combination of “an acidophilus milk preparation and cod liver oil”, which we now know provided patients high levels of probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, and fat soluble vitamins A and D.  Healing the gut, reducing inflammation, and providing a diverse array of friendly bacteria can make a big difference in your gut’s susceptibility to the negative effects of stress. Taking cod liver oil and probiotics on a regular basis may make a significant difference in your overall resilience to stress.

That said, it goes without saying that a major component of a healthy lifestyle should include stress reduction techniques. 
As I mentioned before, many of my colleagues at the Paleo f(x) Conference focused on reducing stress as a key component of weight loss, longevity, and mental health. Stress may even cause hypothyroid symptoms such as weight gain, blood sugar swings, fatigue, decreased immunity, and sleep disturbance. I highly recommend that anyone struggling with these types of symptoms evaluate the level of stress in their life, and incorporate different strategies for minimizing stress on a regular basis.

There are many ways to mitigate the impacts of stress, including meditation, yoga, taiji (“Tai Chi”), deep breathing and spending time in nature – just to name a few. (End of article)

If you would like help with managing the impact of stress on your body or help with improving your colon and intestinal health, please contact Pure Nutrition and Wellness at frontdesk@purenwell.com or call us at 844-787-3935. We look forward to hearing from you!

Be Well,

Donna Stephens
BCN, CNHP, LDHS