Tummy Troubles? Stress & the Gut-Brain Connection

By Alexandra Inman, RD and Stephanie Dang, RDhanie Dang, RD a2 Milk™ Council Members

Did you know there are more nerve cells in your gut than there are in your spinal cord? In fact, there are over 500 million neurons that connect the brain and the gut! Many people even refer to the gut as the “second brain”. This brain-gut connection is bidirectional, meaning that your brain sends signals to your gut and your gut sends signals to your brain. Have you ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” or “gone with your gut” to make a decision? This is the brain-gut connection at work!

If you experience digestive troubles and have already tried making changes to your diet, such as changing from regular cow’s milk to a2 Milk™ but still have residual symptoms - it may be time to consider the brain-gut connection! Stress is a common trigger for digestive symptoms, which is why many people often complain about needing to use the washroom just before a competition or presentation! Stress seems to be all around us these days, and the effect of stress on our body is measurable as it:

  • increases heart rate and blood pressure
  • releases hormones such as cortisol
  • reduces blood flow to certain organs
  • slows digestion

Causes of stress are known as ‘stressors’ and stressors vary widely from person to person depending on their individual tolerance. Stress can include everything from major traumas to seemingly average things like busy schedules or sitting in traffic. Stress increases sensitivity in your gut and can cause your brain to become more aware of body sensations. Chronic stress can also change the types and amounts of bacteria in your gut, activate an immune response, and result in hormonal changes.

All this to say, reducing stress in your life can have a huge impact on your digestive health! In fact, several stress management strategies have even been clinically proven to be helpful for improving digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including:

Even if you don’t have a digestive disorder, reducing stress in your life will have a huge impact on your overall health including your digestion. Many people find that being physically active helps to reduce stress, even just a short walk can do the trick! Other strategies to reduce stress may include deep breathing, meditation, journaling, or talking to a trusted friend or family member. Whatever works best for you, use it! If you’re having difficulty with reducing your stress, we strongly recommend working with a therapist to identify stressors in your life and ways to manage stress as they are invaluable resources in this area.

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