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Too much stress makes you have an upset stomach? What role does your brain play

Remember this goofy but hilarious kids? “Leg bones connect knee bones, knee bones connect thigh bones …” The song leaves an interesting fact: “the digestive system is connected to … the brain!”

Our tummy these days is a mess. The tensions brought about by pandemic, isolation, political turmoil and racial injustice are devastating the health of our digestive systems. The doctors noticed increase in patients complaining about heartburn, bloating, indigestion and other related diseases.

Although we are all aware of the mind-body relationship, many people are less aware of the link between emotional distress and conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). , gastroesophageal reflux disease, and even type 2 diabetes. According to the International Fund for Gastrointestinal Disorders, about 1 in 4 people Having a functional digestive disorder (GI) can seriously affect their quality of life.

Disorders involving interactions between the gut and brain are not psychiatric issues, but they can be made worse by stress.

Xia Horowitz, 61, of Richmond, California, was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome at the age of 20, but she endured the symptoms long before the diagnosis could worsen due to her condition. Her emotional state.

“My mother said I was a worried kid,” says Horowitz, who often has stomach and bowel problems growing up.

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As her illness worsened in her 40s, she started taking anti-diarrhea medicine daily and a low dose of antidepressant to slow the contraction of muscles in the digestive tract. Her IBS symptoms became much less frequent and severe.

At that time, she didn’t know that she would feel any better in the years to come, once the stress in her life had subsided.

The way the brain and gut ‘talk’ to each other

Think of it as a two-way street.

The gut-brain axis is a biochemical link that connects our central nervous system (the nerves in the brain and spinal cord) with the enteric nervous system (the nerve in the digestive tract – commonly referred to as the “Second brain”).

The “transcription” between the brain and the intestines is affected by bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms, collectively known as the “microbiome”, that reside inside of us. Each person’s microbiota is unique and is shaped by diet, stress, age and other factors like genetics.

“We are very concerned that gut microbes affect mood and cognitive function,” said Dr. Purna Kashyap, co-director of the microbiome program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. bacteria can affect this two-way (two-way) communication ”. For example, some bacteria from the gut make neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that allow communication between brain cells.

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The so-called “good” gut bacteria produce protective chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Often referred to as the “happiness hormone,” serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer. Dopamine relieves depression, fear and anxiety. Other neurochemicals, such as norepinephrine and acetylcholine, are “important for learning, concentration and memory and for regulating mood,” says Kashyap.

Our bodies often adjust to the proper levels of the neurochemicals we need, but stress can upset that balance. For example, too much cortisol – a stress hormone – can deplete the good bacteria in your gut and change the composition of your microflora.

Exercise is a well-known approach that people can take to help combat the negative effects of stress, though it’s not the only strategy that can help restore sugar health. intestines of the body.

Keep your ‘brain in your belly’ healthy

Changes in the composition of the microbiome also occur as part of the normal aging process. This condition can be made worse by lack of sleep, circadian rhythm disturbances, sedentary behavior, and unhealthy diet.

Here are a few ways to boost your gut flora:

  • Try to “feed” your healthy gut bacteria. For a calmer, healthier and happier minded diet, experts recommend eating a healthy, low-fat, high-fiber diet that is also high in omega-3 fatty acids. . Fermented foods like sauerkraut, raw yogurt and kimchi are good sources of prebiotics that cause specific changes in the functioning or structure of the gut microflora.

  • Try probiotics. A 2019 study found that long-term consumption of probiotics – live microorganisms that help restore the natural balance of gut bacteria – lead to significant beneficial changes in health. Other research has shown that probiotics are very helpful in improving anxiety, depression and memory By affecting the central nervous system as well as the intestinal nervous system.

  • Guided hypnosis can be helpful. Intestinal hypnosis therapy (helpful in “anesthetizing” the brain of the signals coming from the gut), deep breathing exercises and cognitive behavioral therapy to help change dysfunctional thoughts , very helpful in soothing the digestive system.

  • Talk to your doctor to see if medication is right for you. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, medication may be needed to control bowel or stomach disorders.

Healing ability of less stress

For some people, the lifestyle changes brought about by the pandemic have reduced the stress they are experiencing.

Last summer, Horowitz noticed that she was feeling better and was no longer tied up in her bathroom. Long quit her position as deputy director of the Disability Center at the San Francisco Regional Social Security office and spent most of her time at home, slowly quitting smoking.

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Now, she does not take drugs and does a good job, as long as she eats in moderation.

“Things are a lot better for me than they were years ago,” she said. “When the disease peaks, I have to focus on living in the gaps between the pain, even though I know it will return.”

With The COVID-19 vaccine deployment is underway And the more positive days coming, Horowitz hopes that others struggling with digestive problems may also see their condition improve.

Barbra Williams Cosentino R.

This article is reprinted with permission of NextAvenue.org, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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