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Gut Health and Anxiety

Posted by Geoff Beaty on 2 September 2021
Gut Health and Anxiety

Pay attention to your gut-brain connection – it may contribute to your anxiety and digestion problems

The gut-brain connection is no joke; it can link anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa. Have you ever had a "gut-wrenching" experience? Do certain situations make you "feel nauseous"? Have you ever felt "butterflies" in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.

 When your digestive system is running smoothly, you tend not to think about it. Once trouble begins, your gut — like a squeaky wheel — suddenly demands your attention. 

The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways.

A troubled intestine can signal the brain, just as a troubled brain can signal the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.

This is especially true where a person experiences gastrointestinal upset with no obvious physical cause. For such functional GI disorders, it is difficult to heal a distressed gut without considering the role of stress and emotion.

Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it becomes easier to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation, or feel intestinal pain during times of stress. 

That doesn't mean, however, that functional gastrointestinal conditions are imagined or "all in your head."

Psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms.

Stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract.

In addition, many people with functional GI disorders perceive pain more acutely than other people do because their brains are more responsive to pain signals from the GI tract. Stress can make the existing pain seem even worse.


 

Author:Geoff Beaty
Tags:NewsMost PopularCancerGut Health

Associations

  • The Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Society for Integrative Oncology
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology
  • Australasian Integrative Medicine Association
  • Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia