How Stress Causes Gut Dysbiosis

Stress is so detrimental to your health – it raises cortisol levels, resulting in hormonal imbalance, triggers “fight or flight” which inhibits many of your bodily functions and causes chronic inflammation, which can lead to a whole array of health issues. But did you know there are more types of stress than just the conventional ‘I’ve had a lot on recently, so I’m feeling quite stressed’ stress?

The body can become under stress in four main ways: emotional stress, physical stress, gastrointestinal stress and stress from viruses or infection. 

Emotional Stress

When you are stressed or anxious, adrenal glands release hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine, to tell your body to get ready for ‘fight or flight.’ 

This directs blood away from the intestines towards other vital organs to prepare for the stressor (whether real or imagined). This slows down gut function and cause chronic constipation. This can also cause loose stools. Ever felt like you need to go to the toilet when you’re nervous? That’s why!

If gut motility is affected because you’re not emptying your bowels fully everyday, it will naturally cause fermentation and so bacteria will start to grow (hello SIBO). 

The result? An imbalance of gut bacteria (more pathogenic bacteria than good gut bacteria) that leads to gut dysbiosis. 

Gastrointestinal Stress

H. Pylori, parasites, bacteria, candida overgrowth and leaky gut are huge stressors  and will cause chronic inflammation in the body. This inflammation will only add more fuel to the fire: your immune system will not be able to clear infections, candida overgrowth will flourish, and your leaky gut will intensify. What does this result in? More inflammation! 

Due to this vicious circle of inflammation and more stress on the body, your gut equilibrium will become imbalanced, resulting in more gut dysbiosis. 

Gastrointestinal stress is also closely linked to mental stress. Remember, the brain and gut are connected both physically and biochemically in a number of different ways (aka gut brain axis).

Poor gut health, such as gut dysbiosis or increased intestinal permeability, will go on to overstress the nervous system, which will then affect your hormones. An example: increased cortisol production or reduced serotonin (95% of this happy hormone is produced in the gut). 

If one hormone in the body increases or decreases, this will influence other hormones to either decrease or increase in ratio, leading to all sorts of health issues. 

Elevated levels of cortisol will also trigger the immune system, leading to, you guessed it, more inflammation! 

Stress From Viruses and Infection

Viruses are a stressor because, like external and physical stressors, it activates the immune system and the nervous system, which can then lead to higher levels of cortisol in the body.

Your body needs your immune system to fight off viruses and infections, and when the immune system is triggered, inflammation follows. Did you know that 70% of your immune system is in your gut? Therefore, your gut will experience additional stress when you are fighting off a foreign body. When this happens over an extended period of time, your gut health will suffer and become imbalanced, leading to gut dysbiosis.

It is in your best interest to boost your immune system, not just because it will help fight off viruses and infection, but to prevent your body from experiencing high levels of stress that can result in reduced gut health. 

Additionally, if you have a bacterial infection, doctors may have given you antibiotics, which will completely wipe out your gut bacteria. It is impossible to repopulate your gut with all the strains of good bacteria after antibiotics, which inevitably leads to overgrowth of bad bacteria and reduced good bacteria – even if you have supplemented with probiotics – resulting in gut dysbiosis. 

It is worth noting that other stressors, such as emotional stress, causes increased susceptibility to viruses. This is most likely due to the fact that 70% of your immune system is in your gut, and stress reduces gut function and health.

Healthier gut = less stress. 

Less stress = healthier gut. 

Physical Stress

When you become injured or a system in your body isn’t functioning as it should, this results in inflammation. 

Every bodily function and system require energy, if there is something that requires more energy, this will leave less energy in the body elsewhere, or result in fatigue. Therefore, if you are injured, your body will not be performing at optimal level. 

The Bottom Line

If you struggle from chronic stress, it will be having a negative effect on your gut, leading to gut dysbiosis, and will likely cause digestive issues directly. 

Stress, either mental or physiological, can be a catalyst for gut dysbiosis. Similarly, imbalances in the gut inflict stress on your body, causing more damage. This can trap you in a vicious cycle of stress and digestive issues that aggravate each other. Therefore, both the stress and the gut dysbiosis need to be addressed.

It is incredibly important to directly address your gut health, to prevent further damage. Every day that you are stressed is another day that more inflammation is produced, cortisol levels are raised, and imbalances are further aggravated.

In my Private Practice ,I look at the complete picture in order to address stress in the body and there are often multiple contributors. It is important to find the root cause so that you can break free from the vicious cycle of stress and gut dysbiosis.

To find the root cause, test don’t guess! Depending on your lifestyle and current physical health, there will be an at-home functional lab test available that can give you a more complete picture of where your imbalances are and what you need to do to overcome your chronic stress and prevent poor gut health. 




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