Many of us realise that under being under stress can affect our gut. Anxiety can cause stomach problems, make us feel nauseous, and even cause severe stomach pains. Emotions like anger, frustration, sadness, and happiness can quickly affect your gastrointestinal tract.
However, the signals your brain sends to your gut isn’t just one-way traffic. Your intestinal health also affects your brain. Stomach upset, poor diet or intestinal disorders can also cause anxiety, stress, or even depression.
Scientists call this the gut-brain axis.
If you have ever had to give a presentation in front of a large audience, you will probably have felt a feeling of ‘butterflies in your stomach’. Or, you may be faced with a difficult situation at work and you decide to make a decision based on your ‘gut instinct’. There are just two examples of how your gut-brain axis affects your daily life.
Scientific research has found that your digestive tract is closely connected to your immune system, central nervous system, and hormonal system.
The journal Neurobiology of Stress reports that the microbiota of your gut plays a key role in your emotions. Stress can provoke various gastrointestinal responses and your diet is one of the most important factors of your microbiota-gut-brain-axis. (1)
Scientists found that improving a person’s psychological state can improve symptoms of digestive upset. Also, improving diet and making healthy lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on a person’s mental state.
An increase of unhealthy bacteria in your gut leads to hypersensitivity reactions which in turn can cause mood problems.
In view of the fact that your diet is so closely connected to your emotions, it is important to eat well to reduce stress and improve your brain function.
Here are some practical ways that you can promote healthy gut microbiota and prevent unhealthy bacteria from developing in your gut.
Sugar feeds yeast that can build up in your gut leading to an unhealthy balance of bacteria. The study mentioned earlier found that a high-fat, sugary diet combined with chronic stress can upset your but microbiota.
Foods high in fibre help to keep the right balance of bacteria in your gut. Fibre also promotes good digestive health and can help reduce stress. Scientists have found that fibre creates short-chain fatty acids in the gut and can help to prevent stress-related intestinal issues and even help reduce anxiety and stress.
One excellent way to improve your gut health and relieve feelings of anxiety and stress is to take probiotics.
Research published in 2015 found that taking probiotics is a way to both improve your gut microbiota and also reduce the risk of certain neurologic disorders. (2)
Some people prefer to take probiotic supplements. It seems that high-quality probiotics containing Lactobacillus and Bifidus strains of bacteria are the best type.
You can also consume more foods that contain probiotics. These include sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kombucha.
Getting adequate sleep is also essential in improving the health of your gut-brain axis because sleep helps the body ‘reset’ itself.
There are a number of ways that getting enough sleep can help lower stress and improve your digestive health.
First, sleep helps to give your digestion time to rest and slow down. During this time, your energy levels are replenished and this helps your digestion to work more effectively.
Second, not getting enough sleep makes you predisposed to stress. This directly affects your capacity to function well and can greatly impact on your digestive system.