Stress & the Digestive System

Stress & the Digestive System

In times of stress or excitement we often feel something in our stomachs, hmmm…

Stress puts us into fight or flight mode.  This means that our body releases stress hormones, so we can act quickly in the advent of danger.   Our body reacts by: –

  • Diverting blood away from the digestive tract
  • Increasing our heart rate to pump blood to the brain, heart, lungs and muscles
  • Increasing our respiration rate to supply our muscles with oxygen
  • Increasing perspiration to cool down our body
  • Increasing blood sugar levels
  • Constricting blood vessels

Gut Peristalsis

In times of stress, the digestive tract can shut down completely, leading to constipation or diarrhoea.  Constipation prevents the body from performing its normal detoxification process which in turn can lead to problems such as bloating, pain or weight gain.  Having diarrhoea means that ingested food doesn’t stay long enough in our systems for its nutrients to be assimilated, which can cause nutrient deficiencies.


Another response to stress can cause the sphincter to go into spasm.  The sphincter prevents stomach acid from entering the oesophagus.  A non-functioning sphincter means heartburn.  The stomach acid literally burns the lining of the oesophagus.

Body’s Immunity

Most people are surprised to hear that our digestive system houses between 60% to 80% of our body’s immunity.  Our good gut bacteria help us to fight off infections and keep our brain and bodies functioning optimally.   Unfortunately, the resulting chemical reaction from stress, kills a large percentage of our good gut bacteria.  This leads to a lowered immune system and inflammation.

Digestive Metabolism

When you are stressed, the body produces cortisol and insulin.  These hormones instruct the body to store weight and fat, rather than build muscle.  It is therefore exceptionally important to enjoy your food, eating it slowly and in a relaxed manner.  Part of the mindfulness way of living, encourages mindful eating, allowing us to savour the foods we eat, in a peaceful and tranquil environment.

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