We have all experienced bloating or some other stomach problem when we’re stressed. It’s already clear that the stress has a profound effect on your gut system. Sometimes it is more clear to us when you feel one of the “negative” emotions like anxiety or depression. Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders, and the one that seems to have the most effect on the digestive system.
Lots of people especially those working in corporate sector, work incredible long hours and are in a constant stress mode. For most people, the bulk of their waking hours is spent commuting, working, and thinking about work. The pressure to perform at a high level has crippled them to the point where anxiety has taken over ALL aspects of their life and it is impossible to stop it.
Once you experience anxiety, your brain sets your body into the “fight or flight” mode, taking energy away from certain parts of the body, to send to your muscles and hormone system as at that time they need it most. The energy required by gut for healthy digestion, is not as necessary under stressful conditions.
Normally, since anxiety is supposed to be a temporary condition, you might not even know you have any common digestive problems. But, in our stress-filled world, your body doesn’t have time to recover from one anxiety situation before another has developed. So, you end up with chronic stomach issues such as bloating, reflux, IBS, SIBO, candida overgrowth and many other similar problem.
In the case of anxiety, you can see a mutual relationship between stomach issues and anxiety in another way. For example, indigestion, bloating and gas can cause discomfort and pain, both of which can lead to anxiety, which then can lead to increased indigestion and poor nutrition.
In the same way, neurotransmitters like serotonin can alter your mood and affect your stomach. Serotonin is one of the most important brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, for regulating the sleep/wake cycle. Diets high in the amino acid tryptophan can maintain healthy serotonin levels, but lifestyle choices like constant travel and an erratic sleep schedule can disrupt serotonin production. When serotonin levels are not normal, sleep disturbances and other issues can result, including depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. Low serotonin can cause anxiety and depression, and they can lower serotonin. Since your gut system produces much of the serotonin in your body, low levels can lead to any number of common digestive problems.
Some medications used to alleviate depression also have a detrimental effect on your gut system. Ninety-five percent of serotonin, is found in the gut. A type of medication used to help with depression, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), increases serotonin and decreases the symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, irritable bowel syndrome is often caused by increased levels of serotonin in the gut system.
This is why holistic approach is so important – it does not harm!
While conventional medicine, not surprisingly, offers medications to treat the symptoms of anxiety and depression with somewhat limited success (data suggests that 30 to 40% of patients do not respond to current drug strategies), I take a very different approach in my functional medicine practice.
Researchers have found a close communication between your brain and your gut system.. There is a close communication between these two organ systems, causing scientists to coin the gut our “second brain”. Our gut contains more than 100 million neuron, more than our spinal cord or peripheral nervous system. Gut, as a second brain, working along with the brain in your head, influences your mental state and has an effect on certain diseases in other parts of your body.
The understanding of how microorganisms affect every system of our body is leading to a shift within medicine, and specifically a shift towards appreciating how important it is to care for our healthy gut bacteria.
Therapy and, in some cases, antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications can be important pieces of treatment. But if underlying imbalances in the gut microbiome are to blame (which is often the case in my experience), you won’t heal until they are addressed. This functional medicine approach to mood disorders is an approach I frequently find to be more effective than conventional treatments, allowing many of our patients relief from their symptoms of anxiety and depression.