Links between stress, mood and gut health


Is your anxiety and stress linked to poor gut health?

The gut links directly to the brain and is often referred to as the second brain.

Studies suggest that there is a relationship between stress and the gut microbiome, where hundreds of different bacteria and organisms live.

A study was carried out on mice and all the gut microbes were removed. The mice were more stress sensitive and their hormonal response to stress was exaggerated when the microbes were removed. The results also showed that microbes were needed for normal brain development. This suggests that the gut microbiome is a core part of the body’s ability to deal with and manage stress.

Stress doesn’t just affect the brain. The whole body can be affected by stress and implications in the gut. This includes the metabolic system, cardiovascular health and brain health. Chronic stress can also impact blood sugar levels, immunity and inflammation.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that effects 20% of the population. The symptoms of IBS may differ but include bloating, stomach pain, constipation, soft stools and gas. Due to IBS being multi-factorial, when being treated it is important to use a multi factorial approach including diet, exercise and stress management.

Although stress and the stress response is necessary for alertness and to get out of danger, chronic stress can affect the digestive tract, the immune system and the reproductive system. As more stress accumulates, this can cause greater effects on the systems in the body, including the gut. Some people who don’t have IBS may experience some of the symptoms when they are stressed such as stomach pain and looser stools.

You may wonder why something stresses you but doesn’t stress your friend? It may be related to your gut microbiome!

As we age, our gut changes as well as our brain. Stress can therefore affect us in different ways at different ages. More research is being done and is suggesting that a healthy gut microbiome may act as a buffer for stress.

So can food affect our mental health?

The SMILES trial shows how the Mediterranean diet may have a positive effect on mood. This is related to the gut, as there is an increase in high fibre foods and those rich in polyphenols, beneficial to the gut microbiome. Some studies suggest that those with lower diversity in the gut microbiome may be at more risk of depression.

There is evidently a clear correlation between gut health, stress and mood.

During periods of stress if may be beneficial to adopt a more healthy eating pattern to help you control and manage your symptoms!