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  • Natalia. Integrative and Functional Medicine Nutritionist

WHAT’S THE CONNECTION? 

Updated: Jul 5

UNDERSTANDING HOW STRESS IMPACTS YOUR GUT, HORMONES & WEIGHT


The body is an ecosystem. The millions and millions of microorganisms that live inside of us, known as the human microbiome, coexist in balance with internal body processes that they help and enable. That is why when something breaks this balance, it results in a chain reaction that can affect the whole body. When the side effects of stress start acting on the gut it has an impact on the hormonal system. But it doesn’t stop there. Ultimately, all of these changes and imbalances impact weight, the immune system, and overall health, causing issues like Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome.


This is why it is important to learn methods and techniques to manage chronic stress and stop its impact in the gut, to keep hormones in balance, and know how to eat to combat the effects of stress and maintain a healthy weight. In this article I will explain how the gut and the hormonal system are connected, how this is impacted by stress, and what we can do to reverse these effects and maintain a healthy weight.


Sign up for the online class and find out how to balance your gut, hormones and weight.

WHERE IS THE GUT-BRAIN-HORMONE CONNECTION?

We are just starting to understand the links between the gut and the central nervous system. We are now aware of the direct and constant communication route between the gut’s microbiome and the brain through the valgus nerve. There is even evidence that the gut microbiota may modulate brain development, function and behavior. When something upsets the gut’s balance, it can have an immediate effect on the brain. This is where stress comes in.



Saying it plainly, stress is a toxin. Stress impacts the body in a variety of ways and its effects are very real and destructive: it not only increases the heart rate, elevates blood pressure and tenses the muscles, but it commands the brain to produce stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), which naturally prepare the body for emergencies but that can also have long term effects when the stress response becomes a chronic occurrence. When whatever is causing the stress doesn’t go away, the stress hormones start to affect the cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular, reproductive, immune and digestive systems.


STRESS HORMONES AND THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM

The rush of stress hormones disrupts the digestive system in a variety of ways, affecting your digestive organs, the way that food moves through your body, and how we use food to cope with anxiety. 


How do STRESS hormones play a role in digestion?                      

  • Feeds the bad bugs in the gut and causes them to proliferate 


  • Causes inflammation


  • Inhibits digestion


  • Affects the body’s ability to heal
 itself

  • Suppresses the immune system


  • Disrupts sleep


  • One of the possible causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome


  • Disrupts hormone levels


                 

So the chemical signals that the brain sends to the body when faced with stress can affect every part of the digestive system. Therefore it is quite important to find effective ways and take measures to manage stress and protect our health. Besides actions like getting regular exercise or practice yoga and meditation, we can also fight stress when eating, turning the experience of having a meal into a mindful moment that can fill us with a sense of presence and calmness.


HOW TO EAT

We usually pay attention to what we eat, at times we are reminded on when to eat (like with Intermittent Fasting), but very seldom we focus on HOW to eat. Let’s remember that a person in stress mode, it might be more difficult to produce or secrete stomach acid, enzymes, or bile. So eating when stress interferes and hinders the digestion and absorption of food. Shifting focus on how to eat in order to have a relaxed experience with food can benefit everyone regardless of digestive issues. 


As a general advice, we should always give a meal our full attention. If we eat when watching TV or playing with our phone, we eat on autopilot without giving the body a chance to relax and be consciously aware of our inner physical signals. So before starting:


  1. Sit down, relax your body and don’t eat while standing up, walking, driving, etc.


  2. Pause for 30 seconds


  3. Just breath



With these actions, we are telling the body that everything is alright and that what follows will be a time to relax. After the initial 30 seconds you can start the meal by chewing slowly and deliberately. Pause between bites so your body has time to process and secrete digestive enzymes, chemicals and hormones.. Take your time to appreciate food with all your senses, notice the color, smell, flavor, texture and temperature. Make eating time a space for relaxation and mindfulness. 


It is a good idea for everyone to give their bodies 12 hours rest from digesting and absorbing. For most people, nighttime is the ideal time to do this. This means avoiding eating after dinner until breakfast the next morning. 


These are just some of the actions you can take to manage stress and turn eating into a more fulfilling experience. There are a lot of techniques and practical tips that can help you to reduce the impact of stress on your hormonal balance and gut, and to achieve and maintain your healthy weight is a sustainable way.

Join the online class on July 13 & 15 and learn about:

  • The Gut-Hormone Connection


  • How to keep stress hormones in balance


  • How to eat in a way that will help your weight

  • How to manage stress and take care of your gut




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