Got Stress? Your Gut Feels It!

By Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RDN, LDN

Digestive health continues to be a hot nutrition and health topic. You won’t want to miss this synopsis of a recent gut-centric study — and once you digest and absorb its rich content, share with your colleagues and health care providers!

Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options by P.C. Konturek et al. provides a comprehensive review on the impact of stress on the gut. I consider this a must-read article. A crucial piece of healing the alimentary canal is addressing the toll that chronic stress can take on digestive integrity. Gut functions such as digestive secretions, motility, mucosal permeability, barrier defense, visceral sensitivity and our precious microbiota are impacted by stress. Alterations of the “brain-gut-microbiota axis” trigger an array of gastrointestinal disorders from reflux to irritable and inflammatory bowel disease. The authors clearly explain how stress causes digestive disruption and ultimately leads to diseases of what I like to call the “Inside Tract.” The article contains some excellent figures that illustrate the pathophysiological processes, including the enteric nervous system (ENS) activation that results in immune system overdrive and a pro-inflammatory state. It also provides some valuable clinical pearls for the practitioner including testing and treatment options.

In my work with patients with digestive disorders, the “mind-body-self-care” piece is often a critical missing link in healing. Integrating modalities such as qigong, yoga, guided imagery, or expressive writing in a lifestyle care plan can help recalibrate the enteric nervous system and with time, patience and support, reestablish digestive resiliency.

Reference: Konturek PC, Brzozowskp T & Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Phsyiol Pharmacol 2011;62(6):591-599