Stress & Gastrointestinal Systems: The Unsexy Truth
The gastrointestinal system is a fancy word for the gut and I will frequently use GI to reference this throughout the article. The gut has multiple parts including the stomach, the small intestine, and the large intestine. These are the three principal areas that we are going to devote our attention to when it comes to stress. The stomach is responsible for producing hydrochloric acid which we all know as stomach acid. This is the acid that allows us to break down food and proteins which are the most difficult macronutrient to break down. In the lining of the stomach, there are cells called parietal cells. These are the cells that produce the hydrochloric acid that we so desperately need because, without it, we would never be able to break down our food into smaller molecules for nutrients. Stress will shut off hydrochloric acid production of the parietal cells and halt the breakdown of food. Ever feel that sensation when you get really upset or stressed and your stomach begins to hurt and feel weird? This is one of the reasons why.
The small intestine is where the absorption process takes place. The small intestine has little hair-like formations on the lining of it called villi. This is what allow the broken-down food molecules to pass through the small intestines and be absorbed into the blood stream. No stomach acid, means no broken-down food to be absorbed through the villi. Side effects of this can be GI distress such as that upset stomach that we discussed earlier or irritable bowel movements, among other effects.
Unbroken-down food bypasses the absorption process and is shuttled to the large intestine. The large intestine is where things are prepared to be excreted through bowels. So, you ate the food but didn’t actually get any nutrients from it!
Another way that stress can harm the Gastrointestinal system is by altering the bacteria population that makes home in the large intestine. That may sound a little strange, but yes, we have trillions of bacteria inside our GI tract predominately in the large intestine. Some of these are good guys and some of these are bad guys. Obviously the more good guys, the better. Bacteria in the gut play many roles; from helping to break down food to a greater degree, teaching the immune system what to attack and what to leave alone, making specific vitamins such as vitamin K and Biotin, producing certain brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters like serotonin (over 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, not the brain). It is possible that two different people could eat the same food but one could obtain more calories from that food than the other. Bacteria are superheroes in the world of health and wellness.
Stress plays a key role in how many good and bad guys there are in the large intestine. The more stress occurs, the more bad guys that are going to be present. If the bad guys begin to overlap the good guys, symptoms of distress will begin to occur. When this happens, this is termed dysbioses. This is only one of the symptoms that stress can play a role in went it comes to bacteria population in the large intestine. Another role that stress can cause is the shift from bacteria in the large intestine to bacteria in the small intestine. This is not an ideal scenario. This is called SIBO or small intestine bacteria overgrowth. SIBO can cause its own problems including excessive gas as one of them main symptoms.
From this, I hope that you can see how stress is such a large issue when it comes to overall health and wellness, especially when it comes to the GI Tract. Stress and mindset coaching needs to be a very large part of one’s wellness program. A lot of the stress relieving factors of a great wellness program will come from the sustainability of the program, the cultural aspect of the program and the overall enjoyment. This will decrease stress within the workplace and take a large burden off employees; allowing room for greater wellness!
Photo – Copyright: illustrator / 123RF Stock Photo
About the Author
Zach Younce is the owner of LNE-FIT Corporate Health and Wellness. He started in the wellness industry at sixteen years old; he was anorexic athlete in high school and developed a severe heart condition. He uses the knowledge he gained from this experience to help educate employees about all aspects of wellness including lifestyle, sustainable nutrition, and behavioral change habits. He founded LNE-FIT with the goal of innovating a new way in which corporate wellness is thought of. He is a strong advocate of sustainability. He works exclusively with companies interested in truly investing in their employees’ wellness and who desire to create a thriving wellness based culture. Everything he does with sustainability and instilling new habits with the result being a more confident and healthier state both physically and emotionally.