GI Distress and Stress: Is There a Link?

gut health nutrition Oct 11, 2023

Are you stressed? How many times have we heard that one come out of someone’s mouth when talking to us, right? Sure, we all experience stress, some good, some not so good but often times we associate the negative effects of stress with headaches, migraines, loss of appetite, emotional eating, fatigue and overall lack of energy. However, did you know that stress can also be a major thorn in the digestive system?


The Gut-Brain Axis

The gut and brain are in constant communication through a network of nerves, hormones and biochemicals. This axis enables the brain to influence digestion and vice versa. When stress levels soar, it can set off a cascade of events in the gut.

When the body perceives stress, it activates the "fight or flight" response. This diverts resources away from functions like digestion towards more immediate needs, such as increased heart rate and heightened alertness. This shift can lead to GI symptoms like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, reflux and diarrhea.


Acute vs. Chronic Stress

Sometimes it just takes an acute bout of stress to negatively effect the digestive system. Do you remember the start of your last race and the “butterflies” you had in your stomach? I would bet your heart rate and respiration rate was increased and you were probably feeling a bit of anxiety. This usually comes and goes with the competition but prolonged, or chronic stress can have even more profound effects on the digestive system. It can alter gut motility, making digestion either too slow or too fast. This may result in symptoms like constipation, diarrhea or a combination of both.

Stress can also increase inflammation in the gut, which can exacerbate existing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). So, if you have either of those, it is to your benefit to try to implement different stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and visualization exercises in an effort to control this inflammatory response.


The first step in managing stress response is acknowledging the exact stressors that trigger your GI symptoms, then identifying when these happen. Once you have these known, you can then work on a plan of action to minimize the stress response to your GI symptoms. It’s not an easy task but it is absolutely one that can be managed and perfected with a bit of knowledge, patience and guidance.

If you would like more information about this, watch my FREE masterclass, “GI Distress and Endurance Athletes” at THIS LINK.


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