A healthy gut is paramount for a healthy body - linked with important functions such as metabolism, and even the immune system. However, did you know that your mental wellbeing can also be linked to your digestive health?
Stress & Digestive Health
Stress is undoubtedly something we’ve all experienced in our lives at some point or another, and there are numerous physical symptoms that come with it. The NHS lists the most common physical symptoms as headaches, dizziness, muscle pain, and of course, digestive issues. Most stomach problems can be linked to lifestyle and the foods we eat, however, stress can also be a factor. In terms of how stress affects our digestive system, this depends on the individual. Some may lose their appetite, some may experience diarrhoea or constipation, and some may suffer from heartburn or acid reflux. But why exactly do we experience these symptoms?
It’s all down to a hormone known as cortisol, also aptly named the “stress hormone.” You may have heard about the fight or flight response, which occurs when we’re faced with a stressful or frightening situation, and as part of this response, our bodies release cortisol. As a result, we can experience a number of physical symptoms such as a rapid heart rate and faster breathing, but along with this we can also experience a few digestive changes too. Our stomach may produce excess acid, causing indigestion, we may feel nauseous, or we may have diarrhoea or constipation. Not surprisingly, when it comes to digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stress can be a known trigger for symptoms.
IBS & Mental Health
According to digestive charity Guts UK, it's estimated that nearly 1 in 20 people in the UK are affected by IBS, which equates to a whopping 3.2 million people. With it being such a common condition, and coming with a range of unpleasant, unpredictable and often embarrassing symptoms, it’s no surprise that it can have an affect on our mental health.
According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, IBS leads to a disruption of the balance between the brain and the gut, meaning that stress and anxiety can result in triggering the unpleasant symptoms many with the condition will have experienced. It’s actually estimated that 40-60% of people with IBS have some form of mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. What we don’t know is what causes the other - for example, it could be that someone suffers with IBS as a result of anxiety, or it could be that someone experiences anxiety as a result of IBS. Similarly, with depression, it may be that the isolation that comes with IBS results in the person’s low mood, or it could be that the low mood and lack of motivation that come with depression prevent someone from seeking help or handling their IBS effectively.
Taking Care of Your Gut and Your Mental Health
The good news is that there are many ways in which we can engage in a little self care for both our mind and our gut.
Manage Your Stress: How we manage stress differs from person to person, but common ways you can do so include exercise, engaging in a hobby you enjoy, keeping a journal, practicing mindfulness, and even cuddles with your pets. If you’re experiencing regular digestive distress, it may be worth keeping a journal of your symptoms and any potential triggers (such as certain foods or life events) to see if you can spot a pattern emerging.
Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet: It’s no secret that if you feel good physically, your mental wellbeing will also benefit. Avoiding foods that are overly fatty or spicy and reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake are always ways that can help with unpleasant digestive symptoms too.
Exercise: We’ve mentioned that exercise is beneficial for stress management, but we all know the importance of regular exercise when it comes to our physical health too.
Consider Probiotics: The NHS recommend trying probiotics for a month if you’re suffering with IBS symptoms, as they can help to restore the ‘good bacteria’ in the gut. Additionally, some studies have identified a class of probiotics known as ‘psychobiotics,’ which may enhance the gut-brain connection, giving the potential to boost mood and reduce anxiety - certainly some food for thought.
The takeaway? A healthy gut and a healthy mind go hand in hand. By taking small steps to eat well, manage our stress and keep a generally healthy lifestyle, we’re certainly doing a good thing not just for our digestive health, but also our mental health too.
Written by Amy Jackson - Content and Features Writer at My Favourite Voucher Codes - 22nd October 2020