How often do you have a gut feeling? While you may just think these feelings are “in your head,” research suggests that our brains and our guts (our digestive systems) are closely linked. Think about the last time you had to do something stressful. How did your stomach feel? Experts see stress as a prime contributor to a range of digestive problems.
The digestive system holds more nerve cells than the entire spinal cord. Ninety-five percent of the body’s serotonin, a mood hormone, is found in the digestive system, not the brain. When the brain is feeling stressed, it releases hormones that can have strong effects on the digestive system. Stress can cause stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea. Long term stress can cause far more problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The National Institutes of Health estimate that one in five Americans have some signs of IBS. IBS may not always be a clear diagnosis as it is characterized by cramps, bloating and alternatively having diarrhea and constipation.
Here are other digestive issues that can be affected by stress:
-Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to get the digestive system back to its regular state. Or they can check to ensure these symptoms aren’t part of another issue.
To help bring your body to a good place, a great way to start is with calming the mind through meditation or by some therapeutic approaches. Also establishing exercise programs, a healthy diet, and sleep are key. Get yourself to a better place.
Karen L. Leibowitz, MD