How Stress Can Impact Your Gut Health

Last updated on June 7, 2023

Have you ever been stressed to the point your stomach hurts and feels uncomfortable? Or maybe you’ve been so nervous you’ve had to evacuate your breakfast (if you know what I mean).


Stress can have a significant impact on the gut, leading to a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms and conditions. This is because the gut and the brain are closely connected through the gut-brain axis, which involves a complex network of neurons, hormones, and other signaling molecules that allow the two systems to communicate with each other.

When we experience stress, the brain releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can affect the functioning of the gut in several ways. For example, stress can cause the muscles in the gut to contract more strongly, leading to cramps, diarrhea, or constipation. It can also affect the production of digestive enzymes and the absorption of nutrients from food, leading to indigestion or malnutrition.


Stress can alter the composition of the gut microbiome, which is the collection of microorganisms that live in our gut and play a crucial role in maintaining our health. Chronic stress has been linked to changes in the gut microbiome that can increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and other gut disorders.

Chronic stress can have a significant and long-lasting impact on the gut.


Chronic stress can disrupt the intestinal barrier function, causing increased gut lining permeability. This condition, often referred to as “leaky gut,” allows toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream. The immune system reacts to these foreign substances, triggering inflammation and potentially leading to various digestive disorders.


The gut microbiome, composed of trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms, plays a vital role in digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and overall gut health. Chronic stress can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome, leading to dysbiosis (an imbalance of microbial populations) and a reduction in beneficial bacteria. This imbalance has been associated with gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and increased susceptibility to infections.


Stress can affect the movement and contractions of the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to altered gut motility. Some people may experience diarrhea or loose stools, while others may suffer from constipation or slowed transit time. These disruptions in gut motility can contribute to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and discomfort.


Chronic stress can lower the pain threshold in the gut, making individuals more susceptible to experiencing heightened pain sensations. This is known as visceral hypersensitivity and can lead to increased abdominal pain and discomfort, even in response to normal gut functions.


Chronic stress can worsen the symptoms of pre-existing gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), acid reflux, and peptic ulcers. Stress doesn’t necessarily cause these conditions, but it can trigger flare-ups and make the symptoms more severe.

It is important to note that the relationship between stress and the gut is complex. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, therapy, and a healthy lifestyle can help reduce these effects and promote better gut health.

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