Let’s not mince words: Stress adversely affects your intestinal flora, that magical microbiome that is interconnected to everything in your body, even your brain.
Psychological stress is an intrinsic part of life, influencing all organs of the body through direct nervous system stimulation and the release of neuroendocrine hormones like cortisol. Medical research has clearly demonstrated that the physiological response to psychological stressors can dramatically impact the functioning of the immune system, thus identifying one way in which susceptibility to or severity of diseases are exacerbated during stressful periods. But there’s more.
How Does Stress Affect the Body and the Mind?
We are mostly bacteria. In fact, single-celled organisms, primarily bacteria, outnumber our own cells 10 to one, and most of them make their home in the gut. The gut, in turn, has evolved a stunningly complex neural network capable of leveraging this bacterial ecosystem for the sake of both physical and psychological well-being. Moreover, scientists now agree that bacteria in the gut, collectively known as the microbiome, can affect not only the gut, but also the mind. In just the last few years, studies have shown that the gut microbiome can influence neural development, brain chemistry and a wide range of behavioral phenomena, including emotional behavior and pain perception.
Stress Research: The Gut and the Brain
Research has found, for example, that tweaking the balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria in an animal's gut can alter its brain chemistry and lead it to become either bolder or more anxious. The brain can also exert a powerful influence on gut bacteria; as many studies have shown, even mild stress can tip the microbial balance in the gut, making the body more vulnerable to infectious disease and triggering a cascade of molecular reactions that feed back to the central nervous system. To prevent this imbalance, it’s important to learn how to deal with stress.
Simply put, the integrity and happiness of our gut is extremely important to the efficient and serene workings of our brain. Not only can an unhealthy gut affect the brain and mood (what’s your mood when you have diarrhea?), but mood can also affect the gut (remember your stomach churning just before facing an audience?). The fact that our brain and our gut have such strong influences over each other could be evidence that the ingestion of natural stress supplements would result in a positive mental state.
Recently, researchers have begun to explore the gut-brain interaction more seriously, acknowledging the importance of taking an integrative systems approach when studying stress physiology and understanding how to relieve stress.
The evidence is compelling, as we learn more and more about the bugs in our gut; we must keep the bugs in proper balance for better health; and that stress can and will easily upset that balance.