Scientists know of the many interconnections between the body’s many systems, resulting in complex interactions that researchers now understand a bit better. Recently, studies have proven a link between the digestive tract and brain function. What happens in your gut affects both physiological and psychological activity in the brain. Thus, can stress cause constipation or stomach pain?
The Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health
In the past, researchers believed that mental health issues could create problems within the digestive system. Those who were anxious or depressed were more likely to experience stomach or intestinal disturbances. Thus, the answer to can stress causes constipation or stomach pain is, yes.
However, more recent studies show that it could be the other way around: gut health may affect mental health. In fact, many scientists believe that all disease begins in the gut.
Microbiome in the Gut
Your digestive system is designed to contain colonies of bacteria, both good and bad. Good bacteria are necessary to break down the foods that you eat. This allows your body to effectively use the nutrients for better health.
In healthy individuals, the good bacteria proliferate and outnumber the bad. As good bacteria thrive, there is no room for bad bacteria to take hold. Equilibrium and homeostasis refer to a proper balance within the gut microbiome.
However, there are multiple factors that can decrease the number of good bacteria or increase the number of bad ones. Once the bad bacterial colonies begin to outnumber the good, problems can happen throughout your entire body. This includes within the brain, which regulates mental health.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The connection between the digestive tract and the brain is commonly known as the gut-brain axis. All throughout the digestive tract, there are nerves that are similar to those found in the brain. Neurons in the gut can actually talk with your brain through the vagus nerve, which is a two-way communication system.
The bacteria present in your digestive tract release chemicals that activate neurons that signal various responses within the brain. When there is a balance in the digestive tract, the good bacteria produce beneficial neurotransmitters to the brain.
Consequently, an overabundance of bad bacteria can produce chemicals that are detrimental to good mental well-being. When colonies of bad bacteria increase, it sends inflammatory signals to the brain. This can lead to inflammation in areas that affect mood and lead to psychiatric disorders that include the following:
- Bipolar disorder
- Schizoaffective disorder
The Science Behind Gut Health and Its Effects on Mental Health
Important neurotransmitters proven to affect mental health are produced within the gut. Serotonin and dopamine are both hormones that help you feel better. Those with mental or psychiatric conditions show an imbalance in bacterial colonies. Good bacteria are responsible for creating these feel-good neurotransmitters.
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is created naturally within the body and acts as a neurotransmitter that delivers signals to the brain and other areas of your body. Most people associate serotonin with a positive mood, but this chemical also aids digestion among its other functions.
About 90 percent of the body’s serotonin receptors are located within the gut. An imbalance in the microbiome can lead to decreased production of serotonin, resulting in conditions such as depression or anxiety.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that can affect mood and other psychiatric conditions. Multiple areas in the body produce this chemical compound, including the digestive tract. When you engage in pleasurable activities, the body releases dopamine to trigger the reward center in your brain.
Again, the gut’s microbiome can dramatically impact how much dopamine is present within your body. Too much or too little of this neurotransmitter is associated with certain conditions that include schizophrenia and ADHD.
Symptoms of Bad Gut Health
So how do you know if an imbalanced gut microbiome causes your mental health issues? Those who suffer from poor gut health from an overabundance of bad bacterial colonies commonly experience some of these symptoms.
Can stress cause stomach pain? Can stress cause constipation? Well, an imbalance within the gut may cause an upset stomach, heartburn, food intolerance, bloating, gas, constipation, and/or diarrhea. All of these things can also help cause a person to experience stomach pain or constipation along with stress. Thus, can stress cause constipation, and can stress cause stomach pain? Yes. Just like constipation and stomach pain due to bad stomach bacteria can cause a person stress.
Both good and bad bacteria tell the body when they need to eat. If you crave sugary foods, the unhealthy bacteria may be triggering the body’s responses to foods that they thrive on. Such unhealthy foods often cause people to experience constipation and stomach pain when too much of it is consumed. Because many people crave bad food when stressed, the fact that unhealthy cravings for food can lead to constipation and stomach pain goes to show that the answer to can stress cause constipation and stomach pain is yes.
Unintentionally losing or gaining weight can be due to intestinal microbiome imbalances. This occurs as your body cannot properly utilize the foods you eat. This can cause malabsorption or increased appetite.
Many people lose or gain weight when stressed. If such weight gain or loss then causes an imbalance in people’s intestinal microbiomes that then causes such people to experience constipation and/or stomach pain, the answer to can stress cause constipation and stomach pain is once again…yes.
Your body tells you when it is hungry and when it is full. When bad bacteria take over, they produce signals that can lead to overeating because your body does not feel satisfied. Such overeating can cause a person to suffer from constipation and stomach pain. Because many people overeat when stressed, the answer to can stress cause constipation and can stress cause stomach pain is yes.
Sleep Disturbances or Fatigue
Serotonin produced in the gut plays an important role in the body’s ability to sleep restfully. A gut imbalance can lead to insomnia and chronic fatigue without enough of this neurotransmitter. A gut imbalance can also lead to stress.
It doesn’t help though that people also often lose sleep when stressed. Thus, stress can cause constipation or stomach pain.
Unhealthy bacteria in the gut can negatively impact the immune system, which can result in a variety of skin rashes or acne.
Since gut health affects the body’s immune response, you may develop allergies if your gut microbiome is out of balance.
An excess of bad bacteria produces specific proteins that encourage your risk of developing certain autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune disorders cause your body to attack healthy cells.
Here’s What You Can Do to Improve Gut Health
Fortunately, your diet plays the biggest role in maintaining a healthy microbiome within your gut, and this is something you have control over. There are additional measures you can take as well to improve your overall gut health.
Increase your fiber intake:
Fiber is a vital food source for good bacteria. Because it takes a while for fiber to break down in the gut, this gives good bacteria time to flourish. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Add probiotic and prebiotic foods to your diet:
Probiotics increase the number of good bacteria in the gut while prebiotics feed these beneficial colonies. Try adding cultured yogurt, fermented foods, garlic, onions, and berries to your diet.
Drink plenty of water:
Unlike your body, bacteria cannot hold onto their own water, so drink enough to keep these colonies, and yourself, fully hydrated.
Get enough sleep:
Getting enough rest is vital to the proper functioning of your digestive tract as this is when your body does the majority of its healing. The digestive process slows down, allowing beneficial bacteria to do their job.
While exercise is great to stay fit, maintain your weight, and improve your mood, it also helps your gut. As your body moves with activity, it increases blood flow to all areas of the body, including the digestive tract. This helps carry nutrients to the gut and remove toxins.
Because certain chemicals can destroy good bacteria, knowing what to avoid can improve gut health. Nicotine, caffeine, sugar, fat, preservatives, and processed foods can all negatively affect your digestive tract. Eating a diet that is high in refined products is not good for gut health or overall well-being.
If your mental health treatment could use a boost and you suspect an imbalance in your gut microbiome, help is available here at Montare Behavioral Health (BH). This is because we here at Montare BH specialize in treating various mental health disorders. Contact us here at Montare Behavioral Health to learn more.