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Stress and your gut flora – how to manage stress

Did you know stress can affect your gut flora? In this article, you can find out more about how stress affects your gut bacteria and what you can do to reduce stress and mitigate its effects. 

The gut – Our second brain 

There are millions of nerve fibres and neurons in the gut which make up the enteric nervous system, also known as the second brain. Our two brains – in the head and the stomach – might be far away from each other, but they’re actually in constant contact, and together they control several different essential functions such as our mood and our memory. 

The communication between the brain and the gut happens via what’s known as the brain axis – which mostly consists of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve stretches from the rear lower part of the brain, all the way to the large intestine. From there, it branches out to several vital organs.  The vagus nerve is also an essential component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated when the body is resting. 

What happens to the gut due to stress? 

In times of stress, we excrete the hormones adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol, among others. In earlier times, these hormones could help us to be a little more alert and react quickly, for example, in a threatening situation. In today’s society, there are not so many threatening situations, but the same stress response is activated in the body if we are late for work or worried about the economy, for example. If we also maintain high stress levels for long periods or have no release for stress, then the stress hormones can remain in our blood stream, which can have a negative effect on our health. 

“In today’s society, there are not so many threatening situations, but the same stress response is activated in the body if we are late for work or worried about the economy, for example”. 

Above all, stress hormones are detrimental to the balance of our gut flora – the good bacteria decrease in number while the bad bacteria feel comfortable and start to multiply. This can cause digestive problems and stomach problems such as diarrhoea and constipation, among others. In the long run, a gut flora imbalance can also lead to increased inflammation in the body, which has been linked to several health problems and illnesses. 

How to manage stress and take care of your gut flora 

In today’s society, stress is a natural part of life and in principle it’s impossible to eliminate stress completely. However, what we can do is learn to manage stress better and take care of our bodies in such a way that we compensate for the negative effects of stress. Below is a list of tips on how you can combat stress and its effects on your health. 

 

  • Mindfulness and meditation 

In research studies, both mindfulness and meditation have been shown to reduce the physical as well as the mental effects of stress. If you’ve never tried mindfulness or meditation before, here are a few tips you can use: (1) Start short – two minutes is fine to begin with. You can step it up afterwards. (2) Choose the same time each day for your meditation, this makes it easier to create a habit you can stick to in the long run. (3) Set a timer so that you don’t need to check on the time yourself. (4) Get help! There are lots of videos, podcasts, and apps that can help you to get going. 

  • Strengthen your gut flora 

Take care of your good gut bacteria! By making sure your good gut bacteria get the food they want and they feel good, we can create better conditions for a balanced gut flora. The good stomach bacteria’s favourite food is plant fibre, also known as prebiotics. So make sure you get plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your daily diet. You can also top up your good bacteria through dietary supplements (synbiotics and probiotics) as well as a certain amount through foods (fermented foods). 

  • Moderate exercise 

Research shows that moderate exercise can improve the composition of your gut flora and increase the amount of good bacteria. However, it appears that extra hard training could have the opposite effect. Walking has also been showing to be an effective way to manage stress. For your general health, 30 minutes of activity where you sweat and get out of breath is recommended, at least 5 days a week. 

  • Spend time in nature 

Being in nature has a calming effect and can contribute to healthier gut flora. Among other things, a research study has shown that spending just 20 minutes in nature can cause a reduction in the levels of your stress hormones. However, you should make sure that this time is spent during daylight hours and avoid using your mobile. 

 

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