Stress and Your Gut: A Nervous Connection
Trust your gut.
We have all heard that expression. As if the gut was capable of ‘’telling’’ us something.
But does it?
The gut has one of the greatest concentration of neurons outside of the brain itself. The gut-brain, as it is known, is highly influential in our day-to-day lives; it encompasses our digestive tract, so it’s function, or dysfunction, is often felt within that system.
In the case of communication, it seems that somehow, this large group of neurons seems to form an innate form of consciousness, separate from our brain. It definitely seems to let us know when it’s not happy and on the flip side, it somehow manages a way to convey other emotions or feelings, augmenting what we feel or sense in our ‘’main’’ brain.
How many times has this happened to you? You are in a stressful situation and your tummy starts to hurt, or perhaps you get nauseous. If we think about it, it’s quite logical to see the connection between stress in our lives and our gut, yet when asked, the average person would not
Stress comes in 3 main forms. Physical, Chemical and Emotional. All three of these types of stress exert some type of force on our bodies and cause us to compensate and deal with whatever the stress may present. In the case of emotional stress, the impact is quite noticeable when discussing the digestive system. Stomachs twist, intestines cramp, gas, possible diarrhea...all common emotionally-linked symptoms felt within our digestive systems when stress and our bodies collide.
Could this interaction between stress and our digestive systems be, at least partially, contributing to the myriad of gut-related diseases we as humans seem to suffer? Why not?!? You are stimulating a component of the nervous system, leading to it becoming dysfunctional. Your gut still is needed to do it’s job, albeit, under a different, less optimal mode. IBS, Chron’s. ulcers, colitis…ALL have stress listed as a cause. The stress, usually in the form of emotional stress, acts as an aggravator of this sensitive grouping of nerves and depending on the situation, one of the aforementioned diseases seem to start to develop.
So if stress impacts this part of the nervous system, why don’t most treatment methods START by helping the body with this stress instead of trying to just mask the symptoms with a medication, or in extreme cases, CUT OUT OR REMOVE the part of the gut that is irritated?
Removal of the stressor, or the source of the stress, is key. Identifying the stress and employing stress reduction methods is paramount, otherwise, we will be playing a game of chase-the-symptom, as gut-related stress conditions can get quite tricky. Next, a method of balancing the stressful impact of the insult is needed. There are various techniques available to help restore normal homeostatic neurological function with little to no side-effects. Bio-feedback, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic, kinesiology…all have methods of helping the body rebalance itself, especially crucial if one wants to heal the gut.
Listen to your gut. Heck, listen to your whole body for that matter. Heeding what it may be telling you could greatly change not only the way you feel, but the way your body works as a whole. Your health is contingent upon your body’s ability to sense, cope and adapt to its environment. The digestive system and your gut-brain provide an excellent, yet often times painful, way to see how healthy and adaptable you truly are.