The gut is closely connected to the brain. The two communicate constantly via bidirectional biochemical pathways. This communication network includes the central nervous system (CNS), both brain and spinal cord, the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which includes the parasympathetic and sympathetic arms, the enteric nervous system (ENS), the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis (the stress response), the vagus nerve, and the gut microbiome.
Stress is a broad term that can be acute or chronic and generally means a threat to our homeostasis. Stress can disrupt the health of our gut by altering gut motility, gastric secretion, intestinal quality, permeability, visceral sensitivity, and mucosal blood flow.
The intestinal mucosa is infiltrated by nerve fibers and neuron cell bodies, which is why it's termed the gut-brain. The "gut-brain" is influenced by signals from the brain, which makes the gut a fundamental part of the nervous system. This means the brain can easily affect gut function.
Not only does stress affect the physiological function of the gut, it can also change the composition of the gut microbiome. Studies have shown that normal transit time in the small intestine slows due to psychological stress, which can lead to bacterial overgrowth and a weakened gut barrier.
Chronic stress also puts us at risk of developing SIBO and leaky gut syndrome.
Acute stress in particular, otherwise known as fight or flight, is when stress hormones are released and energy stores are made available for the body's immediate use (survival). Energy is diverted to the tissues that need it most during times of stress, such as skeletal muscles and the brain and away from the digestive system, which takes a lot of energy to run. When blood flow is diverted from the digestive system, nutrient absorption and waste formation slows, which causes bloating and constipation.
Not to mention that when we're stressed we often make poor dietary choices and our breath becomes short, choppy, and labored, which does nothing for the movement of your bowels.
Interesting fact: Anxiety and mood disorders are seen more in those who are constipated.
Now that you understand the big impact that irregular bowel movements have on health, will you let your embarrassment and shame stop you from exploring solutions?
Remember, we all poop; it's a natural bodily function, and most of us experience snags in regularity at different times in our lives. Sometimes constipation can be resolved quickly, while at other times further investigation and a long-term, repair approach is needed.
Learn ways to get the bowels moving in "13 Tricks To Have A Great Poop, Every Time."