Stress and Stomach Problems
The human gut is very vulnerable to stress. Studies have shown that both chronic and acute stress can induce changes in gut motility, mucosal permeability, visceral sensitivity and gastric secretion. There is also enough evidence to prove that the gut microbiota is capable of responding directly to host signals triggered by stress.
The Human Gut is a Mini-Brain
The intestinal mucosa is known by experts to be permeated with myenteric plexus which is made up of several neuron cell bodies and nerve fibers that can be influenced by the brain’s signaling system. the number of nerve cells found in the intestines and the stomach are greater than what the entire spinal cord has. This is why some experts refer to the digestive system as the “mini-brain”.
There is a “highway of nerves” that run from the brain that is located inside the head directly to the “mini-brain” which is the digestive system resulting in the rapid flow of messages between them. 95 per cent of serotonin which is a hormone that regulates the mood can be found in the body’s digestive system while 5 percent or less of it is found inside the brain.
What this means is that the gut is also an integral part of the body’s nervous system. In turn, this means that emotions, via the brain and released hormones, can affect in one way or another the functioning of the gut.
Gut Health is Vulnerable to Stress
This is why when a person is under stress he may find himself experiencing feelings of butterflies in the stomach. There are also individuals who experience nausea or even need to vomit whenever they’re nervous or find themselves in a highly-stressful situation. This brain-gut connection also explains that “gut-feeling” many people experience from time to time.
Harvard researchers also say that not only stress but also other negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety and anger that can also cause the emergence of full-blown stomach problems. In other words, psychological factors combine with our physiology to bring about bowel distress.
This is because psychosocial factors can directly affect the physiology of the gut causing the onset of several symptoms. So, when an individual experiences stress, which is a psychological factor, the contractions of the gastrointestinal tract are also affected. Sufficiently repeated stress can result in inflammation while also increasing the risk of infection.
Effects of Stress on the Digestive System
Researchers have further documented seemingly unrelated digestive conditions that are aggravated by stress.
Heartburn – findings from a study published in the Psychosomatic Medicine revealed that people who have just gone through a major stressful life-changing event were found to experience worsening of their symptoms within a period of four months.
Crohn’s Disease – A group of Canadian researchers conducted a study on 552 people who are suffering from Crohn’s disease. Findings revealed that the risk of their symptoms flaring increased whenever they are experiencing some amount of stress.
Indigestion – Cleveland Clinic reports that the symptoms of indigestion worsen when people are under excess stress but these symptoms can be alleviated through relaxation techniques.
An aware person can take heart from knowing that by actively working to reduce the effects of stress on their emotional state, they can also lessen or even eliminate some of their distressing abdominal conditions.