The link between stress and gut health

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by

In the hustle and bustle of our fast-paced modern lives, stress is an all-too-familiar companion. Whether it’s work deadlines, family pressures, or other issues that come up, stress can strike at any moment, triggering a cascade of physiological responses within our bodies. 

One of the most profound connections between stress and our wellbeing is the impact it has on our gut health. Zoe Bingley-Pullin, Nutritionist, Author and Healthy Foods Chef talks us through how stress can have an impact on our gut health. 

The stress response: fight or flight

When we encounter a stressful situation, our body’s stress hormone, cortisol, surges. This hormone plays a pivotal role in initiating the “fight or flight” response, a mechanism hardwired into our evolutionary biology. Essentially, our bodies prepare to defend against threats or make a quick escape.

How does this impact the gut? 

In the midst of this stress-induced frenzy, a fascinating shift occurs within our bodies. Blood is redirected away from our gut and channeled towards our major muscles, such as our arms and legs. The reason? To prepare us for rapid action, whether it’s fighting off a predator or running from danger. This redirection of blood flow can significantly slow down our digestion and may lead to an urgency to use the bathroom. It’s all about our gut becoming “lighter” so we can escape more swiftly.

Stress and gut disorders

The relationship between stress and gut health goes beyond momentary discomfort. Stress has been identified as both a trigger and an exacerbator of gastrointestinal conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). 

The gut-brain axis: mood matters

The stress-gut connection doesn’t stop there. Stress can alter the balance of bacteria in our gut, disrupting the harmonious ecosystem that resides within. This imbalance can subsequently affect our mood and mental health through what’s known as the gut-brain axis, creating a perpetual cycle of stress and gut discomfort.

The lasting impact stress can have on the gut

Over time, stress can have a lasting impact on our gut health which has an impact on our overall health and long term wellbeing. 

  • Promoting gut inflammation: Stress can trigger inflammation in the gut, potentially leading to discomfort and digestive issues.
  • Increasing gut permeability: Stress may cause the gut lining to become more permeable, allowing substances to pass through that would normally be filtered out. This can lead to an inflammatory response.
  • Altering secretion of gastric juice and enzymes: Stress can disrupt the balance of gastric juices and enzymes required for proper digestion.
  • Increasing mucus release: Excessive stress can lead to increased mucus production in the gut, affecting the absorption of nutrients.
  • Decreasing friendly bacteria: Stress can tip the balance in favor of harmful bacteria, further impacting gut health.
  • Increasing opportunity for bad bacteria: The gut environment altered by stress can provide an opportunity for bad bacteria to flourish, potentially leading to gut imbalances.

Managing stress for a healthy gut

Recognising the impact of stress on our gut health is the first step toward finding a solution. Incorporating stress-reduction techniques into our daily lives, such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, working with a nutritionist or experienced practitioner, or simply taking time for self-care, can help mitigate the effects of stress on our gut. This, in turn, supports overall well-being.

The connection between stress and gut health is undeniable. Understanding this relationship and taking proactive steps to manage stress can significantly improve our gut health and overall quality of life. So, the next time you feel stress taking over your body, remember to nurture your gut to maintain both physical and mental well-being.

To find out more about your gut health and how you can learn to manage the symptoms of poor gut health, book a session with Zoe here

Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Zoe is a nutritionist, mother, healthy foods chef and founder of nutritional edge, a nutritional consultancy company based in Sydney.

Zoe’s passion for food has empowered her to help many people embrace the benefits of food through education. By improving people’s knowledge and understanding of food, she believes they’re able to create and sustain a healthier and more delicious life and their very own love affair with food.

As a passionate writer, Zoe has released several successful cookbooks and an online food program. Zoe regularly appears on television and is currently an ambassador and nutritional expert for the Woolworths Bunch Community.

Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Zoe is a nutritionist, mother, healthy foods chef and founder of nutritional edge, a nutritional consultancy company based in Sydney.

Zoe’s passion for food has empowered her to help many people embrace the benefits of food through education. By improving people’s knowledge and understanding of food, she believes they’re able to create and sustain a healthier and more delicious life and their very own love affair with food.

As a passionate writer, Zoe has released several successful cookbooks and an online food program. Zoe regularly appears on television and is currently an ambassador and nutritional expert for the Woolworths Bunch Community.

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