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Stress and the Stomach – The Gut-Brain Connection

Did you ever wonder why your stomach gets “tied in knots” when you are worried, or have you had a “gut-wrenching” experience, or feel “butterflies” in your stomach before doing something stressful? If so, then you have felt the powerful ways that stress can affect the gut.

There is a strong communication link between our digestive system and our nervous system known as the gut-brain axis. Apart from the brain, the gut contains the largest area of nerves in the body with a nerve highway, called the vagus nerve, connecting the two. The result is that the brain, and our levels of stress, have a direct effect on the stomach and digestive tract.

The opposite is also true, irritation in the gut may send signals to the brain that can trigger mood changes. Many of the chemicals produced in the brain, called neurotransmitters, are also produced in the gut. For example, the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, is produced in both locations. So is the chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety. In addition, the trillions of microbes that make up our gut microbiome also make chemicals that affect our brain.

Stress to Gut Pathway

Whether it’s a one-time unnerving experience or chronic worry and tension over time, stress can cause a host of negative effects on our digestion and interfere with our gut microbiome. We’ve all heard that prolonged stress can “give you an ulcer,” but it can also cause indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, among other unpleasant conditions.

The good news is that there are many steps that we can take to manage, buffer, and reduce the stress in our lives and thereby improve our digestive health (see 8 Ways to Naturally Reduce Stress) including exercise, meditation, and taking herbal supplements that can increase our resistance to stress. Stress Remedy™ is a comprehensive formula of herbal adaptogens, nervous system tonics, and mood balancers that promote a healthy response to everyday stress, foster a more balanced mood, and support a sense of calm.

Gut to Brain Pathway

On the flipside, there are several foods and supplements that can aid the digestive tract and help the gut-brain axis. Foods rich in omega-3 fats like fish and flaxseeds, fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and pickles, as well as high fiber foods like whole grains, nuts, fruit, and vegetables are all important gut allies. It’s also beneficial to eat foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan since it is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the body. Some tryptophan-rich foods are poultry, eggs, dark leafy vegetables, and soy products like tofu. Examples of helpful supplements include probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes. With its full spectrum of concentrated, plant-based digestive enzymes, Enzyme Power™  is one step towards activating digestive health. It supports healthy digestion, optimal nutrient absorption, and a healthy balance in the gut microbiome.

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