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Stress and the Gut

In clinical practice there are often re-occurring themes and two common ones are digestive complaints and stress related issues. However these issues maybe more inter-related than you think.

In my last blog, we chatted about stress and how it can have long term effects on your physical wellbeing, and the digestive tract does not escape from its effects. We looked at fight or flight mode, but as with Newton’s law there is an opposite reaction to this and that is our rest and repair or rest and digest phase.

When our bodies are in constant fight or flight mode our bodies sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, hogging all the attention meaning that key actions which should occur during the rest and repair phases are prevented, thus inhibiting good health.

During the rest and repair phase, activities which have been put on hold by our fight or flight responses are tended to. This includes healing and repairing, elimination and detoxification as well as boosting immune activities.

One of the major areas to be affected by stress is our digestive system. Issues which can occur include reduced nutrient absorption, increased acidity leading to heart burn and reflux issues, effects on our mood as the microbiome and gut-brain axis is interrupted, as well as food sensitivities and leaky gut. During a stress phase, there is less, blood, oxygen and other nutrients going to the gut meaning that it is ineffective at performing its duties. This contributes to the common digestive signs of stress such as constipation, diarrhoea, both, IBS, bloating, belching, farting, heart burn and if the condition has been.

Chronic stress, poor food choices, toxic loads and bacterial imbalances can all combine together to create the perfect storm – leaky gut!

So what is leaky gut? One of the best analogies I have heard of is to think of gut lining as a fly screen (I know, hang on, bear with me). Fly screens let the good stuff in like fresh air but keeps the stingy bitey bugs out – right? But what happens when the kid from next door (cause It’s never your kids) put the cricket ball through the screen? Before you know it the screen is no longer effective at stopping the bitey bugs from getting in. So when we have good gut integrity all the good nutrients are able to move freely and absorption into the blood and move around the body, but when there are bigger holes/reduce integrity, bigger particles are also able to more freely into the blood stream causing inflammation. This can have long term disease implications including autoimmune diseases, Eczema and psoriasis as well as Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Food sensitivities are a common sign of leaky gut this is due to the high levels of toxins pouring into the blood stream causing the immune system to crank it up a notch, making the body more susceptible to certain foods.

So what can you do to help? Firstly stress needs to be moderated, this can be done through stress free activities such as yoga, meditation or other gentle relaxation therapies – massage is always a good one too.

If you are reacting to foods is avoid these will help curb the inflammation and associated reactions. If you are unsure what foods are aggravating things for you one option is for an elimination diet. This sees you take a lot of food out of your diet for a period of time and then slowly, one at time reintroduce them paying close attention as to how they affect your body. But if you like me and a bit impatient another option is for an IgG food sensitivity test which will give much quicker results.

Once the offending foods have been eliminated you can then focus on healing up those holes in the lining. Supplements including glutamine and herbs such as slippery elm and aloe vera are gold for this.

Healing is a matter of time and opportunity – Hippocrates. You need to make sure that you give your body both.




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