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Does stress affect our digestive health?

Can stress affect our time in the bathroom? You bet. In fact, just about everything in our health can be tied back to digestion. Did you know that so-called “brain chemicals” like serotonin and melatonin are actually produced in the digestive system?

Of course, stress can interfere with everything in our lives, so it’s no surprise that it affects digestion, too. That’s because it interferes with the body’s the ability to produce those natural “feel good” chemicals. In fact, that connection between emotion and digestion helps explain that feeling of “butterflies” in your stomach and that occasional unpredictability, (for lack of a better term) when it comes to bowel movements, too.

Some stressful days may keep you running for the bathroom often, while others can make you just wish for a bit of productive quality time. The problem is that not knowing whether or not your bowel movements are going to be regular creates more stress, that leads to more unpredictable behavior in the digestive system, including episodes of cramping, bloating, constipation, and alternating loose stools. These digestive issues lead to more stress, which leads to more digestive issues, leading to more stress. It’s a cycle that is tough to break out of. So what to do?

Stick with a healthy diet.
When you’re going through stressful times, try to keep eating a healthy diet – don’t switch over to “comfort foods” – they’re usually no real comfort in the long run. The benefits of nutritious whole foods (usually excellent sources of fiber, too), can help keep your mind and body in balance. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is a good bet for stressful times.

Stay hydrated.
This is a big deal for many health concerns, but it holds just as true for digestion. Adequate water in the digestive tract can help keep things moving along properly.

Try to find time to relax.
This is probably the toughest advice to follow when you’re feeling stressed. But whenever possible, find the time to get away from the present situation: meditate; take a walk; exercise; turn to a friend.

Stress and digestion is truly a case of the intimate connection between mind and body. Although we often try to ignore one (sometimes at the cost of the other) the best plan for staying healthy and feeling balanced (digestively or otherwise) is to remember that connection and make a point of being nurturing to yourself and your health.

Published February 01, 2012
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