How Gut Health Affects Mood (and Vice Versa!)

Have you ever felt "butterflies" in your stomach? Do certain situations make you "feel nauseous"? Have you ever had a "gut-wrenching" experience?

We use these expressions for a reason – the gut is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, depression, and excitement — all of these feelings (and others) can both trigger symptoms in the gut, and be triggered by conditions in the gut.

Modern Stressors

In today’s world, we spend far too much time in the “fight or flight” mode and not nearly enough time “resting and digesting”. We’re constantly activating our “fight or flight” response with the many stressors we experience on a daily basis. Modern technology has its many perks but has added a layer of urgency to our everyday life. We are always reachable. Less downtime means more stress.

This is very different from how our hunter-gatherer ancestors experienced stress. While they may have been chased by predators on occasion, much of their time was spent in the “rest and digest” mode. Their ratio of “fight or flight” time to “rest and digest” time was the exact opposite of ours – and they had better digestive (and overall) health because of it.

Effect of Stress on the Gut

When stress activates the "flight or fight" response in your central nervous system, digestion can shut down because your central nervous system shuts down blood flow, affects the contractions of your digestive muscles, and decreases secretions needed for digestion. In other words, chronic stress results in alterations in your brain-gut connection, which can cause or worsen numerous gastrointestinal disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies, GERD and more.

As written in a 2011 study published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology:

"Stress, which is defined as an acute threat to homeostasis, shows both short- and long-term effects on the functions of the gastrointestinal tract … Psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. In other words, stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract, cause inflammation, or make you more susceptible to infection.”

Effect of Gut Health on Stress

Interestingly, increasing evidence suggests that gut troubles may also have an impact on anxiety and stress - suggesting the gut-brain axis works both ways. If you're feeling stressed, it's therefore essential to realize that not only could this affect your gut health, it could be caused by your gut health, or more specifically, your lack thereof.

Research has demonstrated significant improvements in depression, anger, anxiety, as well as lower levels of cortisol among otherwise healthy adults taking a daily probiotic supplement as compared to a placebo, suggesting that the quality and health of friendly gut bacteria has an effect on mental health and wellbeing.

 Nourish your Gut to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Increasingly, scientific evidence shows that nourishing your gut flora with the friendly bacteria is extremely important for proper brain function, and that includes psychological well-being and mood control.  

A study published in 2015 showed that bacterial by-products from digesting fiber (like Gut Garden’s Resistant Starch Prebiotic Fiber Blend) were found to increase levels of serotonin.

Check out our article When Good Guts Go Bad Part 2: Repairing your Gut with the 5 R’s for more ways to bolster your gut health.

Relieve Stress to Heal your Gut

Are you still experiencing digestive problems despite a perfect diet and supplement protocol? It is imperative that you control your stress levels if you want to completely heal. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce the effects of anxiety and stress on your gut, including:

  1. Go for a walk
  2. Take a long hot bath (we like to mix Epsom salts with a few drops of lavender oil)
  3. Exercise and Yoga
  4. Meditation
  5. Accupuncture
  6. Keep a Journal
  7. Socialize
  8. Spend more Time in Nature
  9. Unplug from Electronics