There are a lot of things in our lives that can cause stress: our jobs, money problems, health issues, relationships, nutrition and wellness, lack of sleep, and the list goes on. It’s estimated that roughly 77% of the U.S. population regularly experience physical symptoms as a result of their stress.
Among those physical symptoms, you may end up suffering from digestive issues thanks to all that stress. As one study recently discovered, stress could be as harmful to your health as junk food!
The study, conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University, examined the effects of chronic stress on mice. The researchers examined the mice for anxiety-like behaviors as a result of their stressful situations, as well as the effects the stress had on their bodies.
They found that stress affected each gender of mice differently.
Male mice reacted to a high fat diet poorly, with the diet causing feelings of anxiety. However, when subjected to stress, they reacted by reducing their locomotion (movement). They tended to get lazy and move around less when they were stressed. Given that movement is critical for burning fat, it makes sense that stress contributes to obesity because it stops males from being active.
Female mice responded more strongly to stress than the high fat diet. In fact, the gut microbiota of the stressed female mice resembled that of obese mice. Lean mice under stress had similar digestive health to obese mice—definitely not a good thing!
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As the lead author of the paper said, “Stress can be harmful in a lot of ways, but this research is novel in that it ties stress to female-specific changes in the gut microbiota. We sometimes think of stress as a purely psychological phenomenon, but it causes distinct physical changes.”
Remember that statistic mentioned above—the 77% of people experiencing physical symptoms as a result of stress? While most of us think of low energy, headaches, unexplained pains, insomnia, and loss of libido as the more common stress side effects, the truth is that there are many more internal effects that you may never see. For example, stress can reduce your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infection and colds. Your blood pressure may rise, and your cardiovascular function may decrease. And, as this study proved, stress can have a serious negative effect on your digestive health.
Your gut microbiota are responsible for a lot of internal functions—everything from breaking down food to regulating your bowel movements to combatting bacteria. Many studies have even suggested a link between your gut bacteria and your brain. Your digestive system, and the billions of microorganisms that live there, are a lot more important to your health than you’d realize.
And your stress is affecting it!
Stress will reduce the effectiveness of the gut microbiota, making them less capable of eliminating threats. As this study discovered, it may even make the microbiota function differently—similar to the reduced efficiency of gut microbiota in obese people. This could ultimately lead to decreased digestive function, which would affect your body in a broad variety of ways.
It’s time to get your stress under control…
Easier said than done, we know, but it’s important that you try. Stress can affect every part of your body—from your cognitive function to your hormone production to your cardiovascular health to your digestive system. You need to reduce levels of stress and anxiety in your life, for your health’s sake.
Here are some of our best stress-fighting tips:
Meditate. Just 10 minutes of meditation per day can have visible effects not only on your stress level, but also on your overall cognitive health. It’s well worth the time and effort!
Sleep more. A good night’s sleep can replenish energy and reduce the effects of fatigue on your body. Regular sleep habits can prevent insomnia and sleep loss, two side effects and potential causes of stress.
Cut back on coffee, sugar, and alcohol. Caffeine triggers an energy rush, then a subsequent crash—all accompanied by feelings of anxiety thanks to the stimulation of your central nervous system. Sugar has a similar effect, and alcohol will affect your sleep and strain your digestive system.
Eat right. A balanced diet will encourage better health and give you the nutrients required to cope with the physical effects of stress.
Manage your work life better. Delegate when possible. Break tasks into manageable steps. Prioritize. Only commit to realistic workloads. Too much work will add to your stress and crank your anxiety up to an 11.
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