Mental Health and The Gut: Interactions between Stressful & Traumatic Experiences and IBS

Mental Health and The Gut: Interactions between Stressful & Traumatic Experiences and IBS

This last year has been harder for most people and maybe you’ve felt that in your gut? That nervous stomach isn’t such a coincidence. The phrases “I have a gut feeling about this,” “I have butterflies in my stomach,” or “there’s a pit in my stomach” have been used often. This is the gut-brain connection.

Research has shown extensively over the years that leaky gut syndrome is linked to serious conditions and diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Turns out, science is uncovering that the connection between our guts and our emotions is just as strong (and vice versa). 

 

What Is the Gut-Brain Connection?

The gut microbiome plays a significant role in the human body's function as they are responsible for everyday functions, including digestion and the nutrient absorption.

The gut and brain work in a “bi-directional manner” via the gut-brain-axis, which means that gut health can impact stress, anxiety, depression and cognition. And alternatively, stress, anxiety, and depression influence the way our gut functions. 

The gut is home to the enteric nervous system. In fact, your gut’s nervous system has more nerve endings than your spinal cord. The enteric nervous system allows the gut to regulate its movement, create feedback loops based on sensory and even immune inputs and enables two way communication with your brain. 

Roughly 90% of the communication is from the gut to the brain, which is one of the reasons your gut can tell your brain that you’re full after a high fiber meal. 

Stress and the impact on the gut  

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Over this last year, an estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults have experienced increased levels of anxiety. Maybe you can relate?

Research shows that stress is intimately tied to our guts. When our bodies are stuck in the fight-flight-freeze (aka the parasympathetic response), blood flow is directed to our survival organs and away from digestion. This not only causes neuroinflammation, but also impacts the gut barrier and can lead to issues like leaky gut, uncomfortable bloating, and IBS. 

Have you ever noticed that you have to poop before a presentation or a date? Or maybe you were nauseous before you had to tell someone some bad news? You can thank ENS for that nervous belly. 

Typically, if you’re in a stressful situation which is then resolved, your body goes back to normal. However, if you’re chronically stressed or dealing with unresolved trauma, your body is stuck in that fight or flight phase over an extended period of time. This is what leads to the majority of health issues we see many people dealing with today.

Impact on IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome is wildly misunderstood. For many years it has been thought to be a food sensitivity issue, but recent studies have shown that IBS is a nervous system issue greatly impacted by the gut-brain connection. 

Due to the high levels of stress, the body struggles to digest foods which results in unwanted food sensitivities and nutrient deficiencies. This results in symptoms like lethargy, bloating, irritability, cramping, bloating, acid reflux, headaches and so much more. 

So is it a food sensitivity or is it the chronic state of inflammation the body is stuck inside of that is causing the food sensitivities? 

If we want to get our gut health back on track, we have to investigate the nervous system inputs, like faulty gut-brain connection which can be a sneaky cause of IBS. 

We have to look deeper than meal journals and functional lab testing to understand why issues aren't resolving. ⁣This is why when working with clients and creating a plan to improve the gut, we have considered stress and trauma in equal measure to our nutrition to reduce systemic inflammation and improve mental health thanks to the gut-brain connection.

Doing all the elimination diets and still struggling with IBS symptoms? You can find more information like this over on instagram at @itslaurapatriciamartin