"There’s no point worrying about something that’s out of your control."
This is what someone said to me this morning while I was worrying about something that was out of my control. I’m really good at worrying about things that are out of my control. But this little piece of wisdom made me pay attention. Although I already knew it, I don’t always practice it.
Worry is a form of stress, and ongoing stress is bad for your health. Particularly your gut health. For me, worry and stress have been the main cause of my past health problems. I’ve always had a pretty good diet. But you can eat a great diet and still disrupt the balance of your bacteria with chronic stress. This is why I go on and on about a holistic approach to wellness so much.
Ongoing stress can change the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut. The bacteria that affects our immunity, mood and digestion. Chronic stress can lead to changes in the diversity, composition, and abundance of microorganisms in the gut. And when these communities become less diverse, bad bacteria have the opportunity to multiple. These changes can have profound implications on our health if left unchecked, particularly on mental health and immunity.
How Does Stress Affect the Gut?
When faced with a stressful situation, your “fight or flight” mode kicks in. This sends a bunch or stress hormones throughout the body, mainly adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase your heart rate and breathing. However, your digestive system is slowed.
All of this is ok for the occasional stressful situation, one where you have time to recover properly and move on. However, chronic stress keeps your body in this state and in constant inflammation, which is not good for many reasons, but we’ll stick to gut bacteria since this is what I’m writing about right now.
Animal studies have actually shown how stress changes the composition of gut bacteria. These studies have also shown that stress makes the gut more permeable, which means stuff gets through and into the bloodstream that shouldn’t. This can activate immune and inflammatory responses which triggers more stress hormones to be released.
So What Can I Do Man?
Reduce stress. You knew I was going to say that didn’t you? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy in the Western world. But only focussing on diet won’t fix everything. It certainly helps and is an essential part of gut health. But, if you suffer from chronic stress, you will probably still have digestive issues.
I struggled for many years with this. I did everything right (so I thought). I had a degree in nutrition, I knew what to eat, so why wasn’t my gut recovering? Because my chronic stress was too strong. Although I was making some progress, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until I took a holistic approach and focused on my mental and spiritual health as well, that I started to see real results.
I recovered from 15 years of non-celiac gluten intolerance, among other food intolerances that are also gone! While I know I still have a long way to go, as I was reminded so elegantly this morning, I have seen results which gives me more motivation to continue.
I’ve always been a worrier, not a warrior, I should be a warrior, but I’m a worrier; anyway, I’m getting away from the point. It’s not an easy feat to change my bad habits. But it’s definitely worth the effort for the joy of eating a piece of cheese or a slice of bread after 15 years of missing out!