How does stress affect digestion?

Whenever we feel stressed, we are also bound to feel stomach issues. Here are some scientific reasons why it happens.

Poulami Samanta
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By a Staff Reporter : Stress can affect digestion and vice versa. The gut is highly sensitive to emotional and psychological stress through the activation of the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). Stress hormones released during the stress response can influence gut motility, nutrient absorption, and gut microbiota composition.

Psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, and stress can disrupt normal digestion and contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms.  Stress can heighten the perception of pain in the gut. People experiencing stress may be more sensitive to gut sensations, leading to increased discomfort or pain. This phenomenon is particularly relevant in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), where stress is known to exacerbate symptoms..

The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication network connecting the gastrointestinal system and the brain. Stress can affect the movement of food through the digestive system. Some people experience increased gut motility, resulting in diarrhea or loose stools, while others may experience decreased motility, leading to constipation. Stress-induced changes in gut motility can disrupt the normal digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Chronic or severe stress can contribute to increased intestinal permeability, often referred to as "leaky gut." Under normal conditions, the intestinal lining acts as a barrier, selectively allowing nutrients to pass into the bloodstream while preventing harmful substances from entering. However, stress-related factors can compromise this barrier function, allowing bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to leak through the intestinal lining. This can trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation and potential gut-related symptoms.

It's important to note that the exact mechanisms through which stress affects the gut are still being explored, and individual responses to stress can vary. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and adopting healthy coping strategies can help minimize its impact on gut health. If you're experiencing persistent digestive issues or gut-related symptoms, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.