Understanding The Impact Of Stress On Your Gut Health

This article is authored by Karishma Chawla. She is a practising nutritionist and a weight loss expert..

It is prudent to know how stress affects your gut and what could be the possible side effects of stress on your gut.  When the body is undergoing stress, there is reduced stomach acid due to low hydrochloric acid (HCl) production, which means that your digestive enzymes stop releasing. The oxygen in the blood is diverted to the muscles instead of to the gut to prepare the body for the perceived threat. Hence, your digestion is put on hold. Eating, at this time, when digestion is compromised can be very stressful for the gut. It can lead to bloating, gas, acid reflux and heartburn. Additionally, when our body is stressed, it releases chemicals that intensify food allergies.

What are the physical symptoms of stress?

The physical symptoms of stress include tightness of the neck, grinding of the teeth, low sex drive, irritability, mood swings, brain fog and poor sleep. Effects of stress on the body include increased belly fat, elevated blood sugar levels, increased inflammation in the gut, negatively impact the gut bacteria and lower immunity.

How to improve gut health during a stressful time?

Now that we know that stress can negatively impact gut health, it would be wise to focus on how to improve gut health during such times.

Reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol Ironically, these are things we turn to in times of stress but the comfort is psychological, they actually make us feel worse! Caffeine and other stimulants can stress the body and heighten its response to whatever is already going on. So, if you’re anxious, caffeine can make you more anxious. Similarly, sugar feels calming at the beginning, but is usually flowed by a dip! The same goes for alcohol.

Say no to junk food as it can negatively affect the gut bacteria, create inflammation, suppress the body’s immune system and energy, and create brain fog.

Avoid any foods that you are intolerant to during stressful times. When the body is stressed, it releases histamines which can worsen the response to allergies and intolerances.

Eat lots of soluble fibre. Eat fresh fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains.  Incorporate beans, oat bran, barley, amaranth, flaxseed, peas, lima beans, black beans, onion and garlic to name a few. These foods help to feed the gut bacteria that live within us and have beneficial effects on the body.

Eat whole grains. When it comes to grains these days, we lose a lot of the dietary fibre in flour due to our modern milling process. The wheat germ, which contains most of the fibre, shortens shelf life. This is why we have processed flour – so the product can sit in your pantry longer without going rancid. The bran – another great source of fibre – is also milled out to make our favourite white all-purpose flour. The finer the powder, the easier to digest, meaning it gets digested earlier and never reaches the microbiome in the colon. Hence, it’s better to eat whole and unprocessed grains.

Consume fermented foods. These are foods that are rich in beneficial bacteria which are responsible for optimal gut health. For example - fermented carrots, cucumbers, cabbage and cauliflower. Aim to consume 1-2 tbsp during lunch and dinner.

Include healthy fats in the diet.  Healthy fats include coconut oil, olive oil, rice bran, and ghee. Goods fats help in detoxification of the body and help lower inflammation.

Good fibre is even more potent when combined with healthy fats. No matter what diet you subscribe to, it’s beneficial to eat meals that centre around fresh veggies.

Include spices such as turmeric. This helps to lower inflammation in the gut. It is the most potent anti-inflammatory agent. Try Tata Sampann turmeric powder which comes with a 3% curcumin guarantee. It contains natural oils and comes from the reputed farms of Salem, Tamil Nadu.

If you are non-vegetarian, opt for bone broth. This is nutritious food made by boiling the bones of healthy animals along with salt and spices. It helps to strengthen the gut lining.

While external factors might be stressing you out and causing discomfort, paying attention to what you eat can help you avoid further damage to your overall wellbeing. Choose your foods cleverly and stay healthy.

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