How Does Stress Affect the Digestive System?
Let's look at a few facts. 1) Most adults these days lead lives filled with at least a little, and usually a lot of, stress and anxiety. 2) 70% to 75% of all human disease and infection begins in your gut, due to some problem with your gastrointestinal and digestive systems. Put those two facts together, and you could make an argument for a causal relationship between stress and anxiety, and a poor digestive system.
There are mounds of evidential data to support both facts I just mentioned. So, whether stress causes digestive problems or not, a first-year law student could present a strong argument linking stress to poor digestion. As it turns out, many doctors and other health professionals are familiar with the role stress plays in relationship to how you digest food.
There is no "maybe" about the link.
Anxiety, stress and depression almost always seem to cause digestive problems of some sort. The data behind that statement is irrefutable. So is the physical link. As the website HealthDay.com puts it, "You don't need a PhD in physiology to know that stress can be hard on the stomach." Let's look at exactly how high levels of stress can negatively affect the digestive process.
Have you ever had to speak in public?
Surveys show that people are more afraid of public speaking than of dying! I sure am. As you were headed to the podium, about to give your speech or address, you probably experienced some level of stress. What physical area of your body did that stress reveal itself? You got that "butterflies in your stomach" feeling and could have experienced feelings of nausea and dizziness.
This is because when your brain becomes severely stressed, an automatic tidal wave of hormones is released. One of the hormones which is released is CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone). It is linked to the age-old "fight or flight" stress response, and one of its jobs is to turn off appetite. This explains why you might not be able to eat much when you experience high levels of stress.
However, CRH also releases steroids which can make you hungry. This is the reason some people combat stress with a quart of ice cream or a bag of potato chips. Receiving vastly different signals, your digestion system can understandably respond by not knowing what to do.
There is also the hormone serotonin to consider. A full 95% of your serotonin is found in your digestive tract. How is this linked to stress? Serotonin is largely responsible for how you feel. So, when your brain decides it is going to stress out, you experience a serotonin reaction. As we just pointed out, almost all your serotonin is in your gut. So, stress cranks up your serotonin, which creates a reaction in your digestive system.
Those are just a couple of ways that stress causes a digestive system reaction. The research, clinical studies and medical data linking high levels of stress to digestive problems show time and again that this is a very real relationship.
Short-term, irregular and infrequent stress periods may just cause a tummy ache or nausea. However, prolonged stress can lead to aggravated chronic diseases such as heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome and other unhealthy conditions.