Our modern lives are filled with stress-inducers which have a great impact on our body and mind. Human brain and the gut have a complex neural network – called the gut-brain axis – that continuously transmits messages back and forth. Stress signals get passed through this sophisticated system and lead to digestive issues and inflammation and mood disorders. How exactly does stress affect the gut and how to control it? Let us find out.
When we are born, our guts are brand new and sterile; over a lifetime, our guts are populated by diverse species of bacteria based on our genes, diet, antibiotic usage, and our environment. Adults have over 1,000 species of bacteria and the 100 trillion that live in the gastrointestinal tract are critical to health. And these bacteria aid digestion, extraction of nutrients from food, boost metabolism and immunity. In recent years, many scientific studies have shown the growing link between the gut and the brain, saying the gut bacteria produces hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate physiological and mental processes such as learning, memory, and mood.
- There is a close interaction between the gut microbiota and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis -- a major neuroendocrine system that regulates our responses to stress.
- Neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine are active in the brain and the gut; they influence gut motility, nutrient absorption, the GI innate immune system, and the microbiome.
- Peptide (protein) hormones released from the gut affect the bidirectional gut-brain axis communication and are, in turn, affected by the composition of the gut bacteria.
- Gut bacteria play a role in regulating mental conditions such as:
- Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with changes in gut permeability and microbiota composition.
- Episodes of anxiety and depression may be experienced more frequently in patients with GI disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Negative emotions, stressful life events, and personality traits like neuroticism have also been associated with colitis, Crohn’s disease, and dyspepsia.
So, it is evident that the brain and the gut are affected by the bacterial composition in the microbiota, and it is important to maintain a high level of good bacteria.
Why is stress so harmful for the gut and the mind?
- People suffering from chronic stress are more likely to experience disease flares, increased inflammation, and poor quality of life.
- Stress can change the gut bacteria’s composition through hormones, inflammation, and autonomic alterations. In turn, the gut bacteria release metabolites, toxins, and neurohormones that can alter eating behavior and mood. Some bacterial species may encourage consumption of saturated fats and high caloric foods. The gut bacteria may also increase stress responsiveness and heighten the risk for depression.
- Some types of bad bacteria increase in the presence of both stress and infection while good bacteria like Parabacteroides (protects against inflammation) decrease. Also, levels of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) decreased when exposed to stress.
- Stress and depression can increase gut barrier permeability, alter intestinal mucosa permeability and cytokine secretion. The result is a ‘leaky gut,’ which allows bacteria to seep into circulation, producing an inflammatory response.
How do probiotics help with stress?
- Reducing stress triggers in life is easier said than done. But considering the level of damage it can do in the body, it seems important that we attack it from many angles, like eating a balanced diet, exercising, and practicing mindfulness.
- Various scientific studies have shown that eating foods that promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut reduces our physiological responses to stress by producing lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone and increases the number of receptors for gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA—a neurotransmitter that mutes neuronal activity, keeping anxiety in check.
- A 2019 study concluded that regulating the intestinal microbiota is an effective treatment for anxiety symptoms. Daily consumption of probiotics preserves gut microbiota diversity and relieves stress-associated responses of abdominal dysfunction. Consumption of prebiotics may decrease the waking cortisol response and improve emotional response.
All this science talk proves that we need the presence of good bacteria in the gut to be healthy. The easiest way to improve our gut biome is through a balanced diet rich in fiber and fermented foods/drinks (such as sauerkraut, pickles, miso, certain types of yogurt, kefir, and kombucha). Get in touch with your gut bacteria today, feed it some tasty kombucha and ferments and feel the best you can feel!
Booch offers several fermented products in addition to our signature kombucha and jun drinks to help you strengthen your gut biome, and they are all made with fresh, organic ingredients sourced from local farmers.