Stress, Cortisol & How it Affects Your Gut Health?
Did you know that our gut health is highly connected with our brain? Even the mere thought of food starts producing gastric juices in our stomach for digestion. Sometimes a distressed moment even leads to constipation or erratic bowel movements. Our gut and brain constantly communicate, and every single emotional condition affects gut health in different ways.
Stress is one of the biggest reasons why we experience the fight-or-flight response in our gut. Here the stress hormone “Cortisol” creates a sense of threat in our nervous system, leading to different gut problems.
Before understanding the mechanism of how stress and Cortisol affect our gut health, let’s understand what Cortisol is.
What do you understand by Cortisol?
Cortisol is what we commonly refer to as the “stress hormone.” Our adrenal glands create a glucocorticoid hormone called Cortisol when we experience stress around us. Hence, the name. The adrenal, pituitary, and hypothalamus, the combined HPA axis, controls the secretion of cortisol hormone. When the glands secrete the hormones, the HPA axis works to trigger the sympathetic nervous system, indulging in a stress response.
How does Cortisol affect nervous response?
A high level of body Cortisol often has a negative impact on our internal systems, especially the digestive tract. The release of Cortisol from the adrenal gland happens after a series of brain activities.
- First, the hypothalamus releases Corticotropin, the Cortisol releasing hormone, when we experience stress in our environment.
- Corticotropin then connects with the pituitary gland receptors and triggers the release of Adrenocorticotropin hormone from the pituitary gland.
- This Adrenocorticotropin binds with Adrenal gland receptors to stimulate the release of Cortisol 3-4.
- Once the Cortisol is there in our system, our body starts reacting to it slowly.
How does stress affect our gut health?
As mentioned earlier, stress has a negative impact on our body, especially gut health. When the Cortisol level rises in our body, we observe some common symptoms in the digestive system-
- Decrease in the flow of oxygen and blood to your stomach
- Sudden stomach cramps
- Gastrointestinal bacteria imbalance
- Inflammation of the digestive tract
When such symptoms intensify with excessive stress, a person can often develop serious gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel disease (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), or peptic ulcers.
These problems arise as the Cortisol directs blood flow towards our brain, limbs, and muscles instead of the digestive system as a part of the stress response. While our body loses its concern about the digestive tract, the parasympathetic nervous system triggers a rest-and-digest response. As the Fight-and-flight response begins in the body, our digestive system essentially shuts down, leading to the mentioned problems.
How can you prevent stress, Cortisol, and gut health issues?
If you are experiencing bad gut health because of stress, the first thing you need to do is reduce your stress level. There are several stress-management tricks that you can daily-
- Avoid incidents that causes stress
- Daily exercising
- Socialize with people
- Ensure that you have sufficient sleep
- Try relaxing music or spa therapy to minimize stress levels
While you try relaxation techniques to manage stress levels, you need to focus on your gut health as well. Support the stress management techniques by keeping your digestive tract healthy. The best way to ensure good gut health is to reduce alcohol consumption. Apart from that, consider reducing your daily sugar consumption. Excessive sugar in the blood can lead to good and bad bacteria imbalance in the digestive system. You can always try having probiotic-rich food to improve the flow of digestive enzymes.
You can refer to our gut as the “second brain” in our body blog. Consistent digestive complications are signs of bigger issues in your body. It might be an outcome of stress. Gastrointestinal problems should never be ignored. Relaxation is often the key to good gut health.
You should always discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider to rule out underlying diseases or other, more serious, causes of your symptoms.