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Does Good Gut Health Help Reduce Stress?

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Introducing the Psychobiotic Diet...


The idea that our gut health could have an impact on our overall mood and stress levels is nothing new. There's a growing body of research to support the connection between gut health and mental health and recent developments are proving that the simplest of dietary and lifestyle changes can provide substantial benefits. So, could a healthy gut really help us feel less stressed? Recent research into the 'psychobiotic diet' which boosts gut health through pre and probiotics certainly looks promising...


So how is the gut connected to our stress levels?

In recent years the importance of gut health has been highlighted more and more, as research reveals its impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. Personalising your diet with a food intolerance test, checking your microbiome status with a gut health test, and learning more about the role of the microbiome can help us ensure we're giving our gut the unique care and support it needs. With more awareness about delving below the surface to improve overall health, many are already seeing positive impacts from supporting their gut - an approach we at Food Intolerance Australia have seen grow in exponential popularity over the past decade.


How stress can impact our gut health


Increasing levels of stress can profoundly affect our gut health, leading to food intolerances and disruptions in the delicate balance of microbes that support and maintain digestion and the digestive system itself.

In Australia, food intolerance is one of the most common health issues, with over 10 million individuals reporting suffering at some point in their lifetimes.

Stress hormones hinder digestion and weaken the muscles surrounding the small intestine, leading to blockages that interrupt normal food transit - this can lead to fermentation, gas and painful bloating. Stress hormones are also reported to be a leading cause of leaky gut, which allows food particles and toxins to pass through into the bloodstream, initiating an inflammatory response by our immune system. Overtime this typically leads to food sensitivities or even food allergies may develop as a result. With basic self care strategies such as regular exercise, adequate rest and relaxation, along with a balanced diet that is personalised to suit your neeeds (and free of problem foods) we can reduce food intolerance symptoms and prevent long-term damage caused by persistent stress.

Tips for improving gut health

A recent clinical trial found a psychobiotic diet, which includes probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, can not only improve gut health but may also reduce stress and overwhelm - whilst also improving sleep. Eating prebiotic and probiotic foods helps restore the natural balance of bacteria - leading to improved stress perception and quality of life. Interestingly, this research showed that the improvement in mental health was:

  1. Dose dependent - the better a participant adhered to the diet, the more significant the improvement in stress levels.

  2. Independent to the level of stress hormones. Despite the improvements in sleep and stress perception, stress hormones still measured high - with changes not found to be statistically significant. This proves that the changes in mental health and stress perception were related to the optimisation of gut health and microbiome and not to the level of stress they were under or of the level of stress hormones produced.

In addition to removing food triggers and increasing 'Psychobiotic foods', a healthy balanced diet with adequate protein, fibre, a healthy intake of fruits and veggies - coupled with a reduction of processed foods and sugar can create substantial changes to your energy and wellbeing. Our Microbiome and Gut Health test helps deepen the understanding of the balance of your gut microbes - and helps us tailor a personalised dietary and lifestyle program that optimises your digestive, mental and general health.


So, what's going on here? Can a healthy gut really help us feel less stressed?


During times of stress, our gut microbiome increases neurotransmitters that regulate mood and emotions. These neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and dopamine, can help us manage the effects of stress, improve energy levels, reduce cravings for unhealthy foods and promote a sense of calm. These same healthy microbes also help protect against food sensitivities by regulating the immune system, maintaining and repairing the intestinal walls and playing an active role in digestion and absorption of nutrients. Many microbes are also involved in important processes that regulate energy such as controlling blood sugar, regulating insulin and of course - promoting a healthy bowel movement. So, in summary - these 'gut bugs' help us feel less stressed by releasing 'happy hormones' whilst also offsetting many of the negative consequences of stress.


Summary

The importance of gut health cannot be overestimated. Our gut health is intricately connected to our overall health, and we are only just beginning to understand the ways in which they interact.


Ensuring that the digestive system is supported with prebiotics, probiotics and other nutrients, is the key for optimal physical and mental wellbeing. When we’re feeling stressed, our gut suffers and can lead to a variety of problems like leaky gut syndrome, food sensitivities and autoimmune diseases.


Fortunately, there are many things we can do to improve our gut health and reap the benefits of improved mental health. Simple changes such as eating probiotic-rich foods, reducing sugar intake and removing problem foods, is a great place to start. And when our gut is healthy, it helps us feel less stressed - even if our cortisol is still peaking. If you’re interested in learning more about your own gut health, book a Gut Health & Microbiome Check and learn how you can feel healthier and happier through personalised Nutrition.



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