How Does Stress Impact The Gut?

7 September 23

By Brooke Schiller
Gut Health Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist

As a gut health naturopath and clinical nutritionist, guiding others on their gut health journey is Brooke Schiller’s number one driver. We couldn’t agree more with her that education and empowerment are so important in making long-lasting changes to our health.


We asked the passionate and incredibly talented Brooke to give an insight into the impacts of stress on your gut, and steps we can take to combat the affects.

Firstly, what happens in the body when we are stressed?

Our bodies can’t tell the difference between running away from a tiger and reading a bad email or persistent mental worry. It physically responds in the same way, and the end result is equipping the body to run away from danger.

Here’s the kicker – digestion is not an essential function when it comes down to acute survival. When we are stressed, the body diverts blood away from the gut to feed the muscles and the brain so we can run away or fight to survive the threat.  

So what does that mean for the gut?

1. Stress reduces the amount of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes that are produced when we eat something

As explained above, digestion is not an essential function. Therefore, processing food becomes a low priority when stressed. With a reduction in hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes, our digestive capacity and ability to breakdown food is impacted, cue bloating & abdominal discomfort.


2. Stress has the ability to change the bacteria in the gut

Hydrochloric acid not only breaks down food, but it prevents any ‘undesirable’ bacteria from overgrowing. If we produce less hydrochloric acid our stomach becomes too alkaline, which is a trigger point for reflux and a breeding ground for the wrong types of bacteria.


3. Ongoing stress leads to mucosal lining inflammation

The higher growth of the undesirable bugs, aka pro-inflammatory bacteria, results in these endotoxins cause low-grade intestinal inflammation on the mucosa lining. 

What can we do about it?

1. Stress management techniques are key

Meditation is my absolute favourite, so many people say they can’t do it and that is the whole point. Learning to stick at it despite the discomfort prepares you when confronted with uncomfortable situations in your life. You might prefer sitting on the sand watching the ocean. Whatever helps you turn off. 


2. Stress supporting foods

The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil have an anti-stress affect on your body by decreasing glucose and cortisol levels. Omega-3 helps your body to handle stress and can directly decrease elevated cortisol levels. Try adding oily fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts into your diet. Leafy greens, nuts and seeds for their high magnesium content. Magnesium is a relaxant and directly modulates the body’s stress-response system. 


3. Stress supporting nutrients

B Vitamins, specifically vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12, which help to maintain a healthy nervous system and support the body during times of stress. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which can directly reduce levels of stress hormones in the blood, and is necessary for optimum function of our adrenal glands. 


4. Stress supporting herbs

Adaptogens increase the body’s resistance and adaptability to physical, emotional or biological stressors. Herbs include korean ginseng, rhodiola, schisandra, shatavari, siberian ginseng and withania.