Are you holding your stress in your gut? We often associate gut inflammation with GI diseases and overly processed foods, but it might actually be stress in hiding. And unfortunately, stress is also one of the hardest inflammatory factors to overcome.
As someone who deals with gut inflammation and chronic stress, I couldn’t have been more displeased to find the close link between gut health and stress levels. Of course, I would be healthier with less stress. I’d also be richer with an extra million dollars.
My schedule (and stress levels) don’t appear to be changing anytime soon. So, I wondered—am I supposed to just suffer through my symptoms indefinitely? Are there actual ways to get relief without taking a six-month holiday to the Mediterranean?
I reached out to two nutrition experts, and luckily, there are.
The Mind-Gut Connection
“The gastrointestinal tract is a long tubular structure that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus,” explains Dr. Jacelyn Tolentino, board-certified physician and senior doctor at Parsley Health. “It includes all the main organs of the digestive system, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, intestines, and anus.”
“The gut is home to something called the enteric nervous system,” Tolentino continues. “The ENS has a massive network of millions of neurons lining the GI tract. This is why researchers call our gut our ‘second brain.’”
We feel this mind-gut connection in abstract ways: butterflies in our stomach, our guts “dropping” when we get bad news. But it also reveals itself in physical symptoms: upset stomach, gas, bloating, constipation, indigestion, fatigue, and nausea.
In a perfect world, we could find ways to manage our stress and be more active. But if reducing your stress isn’t a feasible option, there are still ways to fortify your body’s gut health and reduce inflammation.
1. Strengthen Your Mind With Adaptogens
“Adaptogens, like ginseng or ashwagandha, exert an anti-fatigue effect,” says Paulina Lee, MSHS, RD, LD, and founder of Savvy Stummy, LLC. “This increases mental work capacity against a background of stress and fatigue, particularly in tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhanced attention.”
“Four Sigmatic makes quite a few drinks with Lion’s Mane mushrooms, another adaptogen,” Lee continues. “Find one that tastes best for you and is most helpful in managing your stress response.”
2. Not Just Good Nutrients, The Right Nutrients
Different nutrients serve different purposes. And while a well-balanced diet is never a bad idea, there are more efficient ways to pinpoint what your gut needs. Lee suggests including foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon or sardines.
“[Omega-3 fatty acids] are something our bodies don’t make,” Lee says. “So, it’s an essential food that should be included through food or supplementation. Healthy fats can reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and feed some good gut bacteria to support gut healing.”
“Add antioxidant foods, like berries, at least one to two times per day,” Lee continues. “Foods high in Vitamin C, like broccoli and oranges, support adrenal glands and regulate cortisol, our stress hormone.”
“Pumpkin seeds have magnesium that indirectly modulates neurotransmitter pathways and decreases cortisol levels. Brazil nuts contain selenium that neutralizes free radicals and reduces oxidative stress.”
3. Soothe With Your Sips
The right drinks can help soothe the gut, too. “Have a cup of green tea daily,” Lee says. “Green tea contains antioxidants and L-theanine, which improves neurotransmitters in the brain to decrease stress and anxiety.”
“You can buy green tea packets or go for matcha. Vital Proteins makes a Matcha Collagen powder that you can make into a drink. This is a powerful gut-supporting product because of its L-theanine and antioxidant properties. Collagen contains high glycine content, which works to strengthen the gut lining.”
Additionally, “aloe juice can soothe gut inflammation. It also helps speed up intestinal motility and has been used against constipation. It contains a large amount of antioxidants,” Lee explains.
4. Use A Daily Probiotic
Finally, Lee recommends taking a quality daily probiotic to reintroduce good bacteria into the gut. “Try a spore-based probiotic, which is extremely stable and highly resistant to stomach acid’s low pH,” Lee says. This “results in the delivery of more usable probiotics to the gut where they revert to active, growing bacteria.”
Alternatively, Lee says you can “add fermented foods at least once daily.” This can include kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, yogurt, or kombucha to support a healthy gut microbiome.”
Ideally, stress management, more exercise, and staying hydrated will also help an angry, inflamed gut. But when you have no other choice but to be giving 100% 24/7, following these tips can help soothe your stomach so that you have one less thing to be stressed out about.