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All health gut health What could stress be doing to your gut?

What could stress be doing to your gut?

Relaxed young woman singing along to music she is listening too through headphones while working from home

24 November 2021

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3 min read

Key points

  • We look at ways stress may affect your whole body.
  • Understanding the gut brain axis may help with understanding how stress could affect the gut.
  • Learn the ways you could help to support healthy changes in your gut to assist with the symptoms of stress.

Stressful situations come in all shapes and sizes. From daily life situations, such as a tight deadline at work or being late for school pick up, to bigger life situations such as divorce or childbirth. 

With the help of our experts, let’s look at how stress may affect the gut and whether stress could cause symptoms such as diarrhoea and other stomach problems.

Stress and your whole body

GP Dr Jill Gamberg advises us that stress could affect all parts of the body. 

For example, it could potentially:

  • disrupt your sleep
  • decrease or increase your appetite
  • cause irregular or missed periods in menstruating people
  • upset the GI tract including nausea and abdominal cramps

Basically, stress may cause diarrhoea, but there’s much more to the story than that. 

“Your brain and your digestive system are very closely linked,” explains Dr Jill. 

So, you might think of stress as a mental wellbeing issue. But, when you understand the gut brain axis and the way your brain and your gut communicate, you may begin to realise what stress could potentially do to your body.

A woman in a kitchen is holding her stomach and looking down at her smartphone while wondering how stress affects the gut.

When you understand the gut brain axis you may begin to realise what stress could potentially do to your body

Stress and your gut

Symptoms of stress for the gut could include heartburn, abdominal cramps, or loose bowel movements. It may affect the movement of the intestines, and studies have shown that it may affect the gut microbiome,” says Dr Jill.

The gut microbiome includes both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria and when the balance changes, it's called dysbiosis. 

Similar changes in the microbiota have also been shown to connect gut health and anxiety-related behaviours.

A woman smiles while looking down at the fresh produce she bought as making healthier changes in her diet is relevant to gut health and anxiety.

Eating plenty of fibre (such as fruits, veggies and legumes) can also aid in the consumption of prebiotics

Tips for keeping the gut healthy

A healthy balance in your gut microbiota is a good indicator of a healthy gut. Making changes to your diet to support a healthy gut could help to reduce stress-related behaviour

For a head start, check out these suggestions of the best foods for gut health. Prebiotics and probiotics can be sourced from supplements, but some fermented foods have the benefit of naturally occurring probiotics which could help to feed the ‘good’ bacteria. Eating plenty of fibre (such as fruits, veggies and legumes) can also aid in the consumption of prebiotics.

Registered Nutritionist Sarah Gray explains there isn’t a list of ‘bad’ foods in relation to gut health, but each person’s gut microbiome is unique to them. So, we could have different reactions to various foods. A health professional, such as a dietitian, should be able to give you advice for your unique situation. 

“Some people may be sensitive to certain foods, such as spicy or highly processed foods. So they may benefit from trialling some food eliminations and challenges, under supervision,” explains Sarah, “A diet rich in whole grains and a variety of colourful vegetables has been shown to benefit gut health.” 

While stress may also cause gas and bloating, taking steps to keep your gut as healthy as possible may help to minimise those symptoms. But if you do have any concerns about your gut, it's a good idea to seek advice from your GP, even if it’s just for reassurance.

A man smiles with one hand on his stomach as he now knows what stress does to your body and how to be healthier.

Your brain and your digestive system are very closely linked

A healthy gut to support a healthy mind

Stress is something most of us will experience in some form during our lives. But the more we learn about gut health, and its links to our overall health, the more we could do to make it easier for our body and mind to handle stressful situations.

If you feel like you’re struggling with any type of stress in your life, connecting with a health professional is a positive step towards that happier, healthier life you deserve.

Related:

Sarah Gray is both a Registered Pharmacist and Registered Nutritionist with a particular interest in health education and helping people to take small steps to big change in their health journey. Sarah is the Head of Health and Nutrition on the healthylife Advisory Panel.

Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.

Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board November 2021.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health you should consult with a health professional.