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Is Stress Wreaking Havoc On Your Stomach?
Ahh, stress, is there no part of the body that it does not affect? No, there is not. Stress affects your physical, mental, and emotional health. In its chronic form, it hits your body like lightning and can cause all types of problems, and in some cases plays a key role in serious chronic diseases.
It isn’t hard to make the connection between stress and your stomach. Think about the indigestion you experience whenever dealing with relationship stress or a work stressor. Stress does more than just cause indigestion, however. Researchers have determined that there is a deep connection between your brain and your gastrointestinal system. Stress, in fact, is one of the major contributors to getting heartburn, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome.
The Mind-Gut Connection.
There are strong connections between the mind and the gastrointestinal system. The intestines and stomach are lined with nerve cells—more even than the spinal cord. This connection of nerves begins at the brain and goes down to the digestive tissues, sending messages in both directions. The neurotransmitter used in many of these situations is serotonin, of which 95 percent is made in the digestive tract.
It all boils down to the “fight or flight response” in which our bodies respond to stress by causing the adrenal glands to put out epinephrine and norepinephrine, two hormones that shunt blood away from the gut toward the more vital structures of the body, such as the muscles and brain. This was so our ancestors could fight off an attacker with the best strength possible.
In addition, the brain under stress causes a large number of hormones to be released, including corticotropin-releasing hormone that tells the adrenal glands to make cortisol that also affects the gut’s response to stress. Cortisol increases blood sugar so that the body has fuel to do what it needs to do in response to a stressor.
Corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) decreases one’s level of appetite, which is why you don’t usually feel hungry after stress. The steroids, however, result in an increase in cravings for junk food so we tend to eat chocolate, ice cream, and potato chips under stress.
Stress And Irritable Bowel Syndrome, GERD, And Ulcer Disease.
Stress is one of the causes of functional digestive disorders, which are stomach problems that have no particular physical cause. While the GI tract looks good under the microscope, it still doesn’t work right and you have GI symptoms.
Functional digestive disorders are very sensitive to stressors and are very common diseases. Researchers have determined that about 25 million US citizens suffer from some sort of function digestive disorders. These include things like indigestion, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Stress reduces the effectiveness of the sphincter that protects the esophagus from stomach acid. It also increases the amount of stomach acid you make. Some of this stomach acid leaks up into the esophagus, which isn’t protected well from acid and becomes inflamed and spasms. You experience it as pain in the chest, a burning sensation in the chest, acid coming up into your throat, and sometimes a sore throat from acid reaching the top of the esophagus to affect the throat.
Stress lessens the ability of the stomach to be protected from its own acid and causes an increase in stomach acid. Rather than being protected, the stomach lining becomes inflamed, leading to poor function and indigestion. In severe cases, the stress and acid can cause erosion into the stomach lining, causing an ulcer.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The patient experiences severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, or both in this disorder. It comes from an inability of the gut to contract normally in response to food in the gut. Stress appears to affect the nerves that control gut contractility, leading to these very common symptoms. About one in five US citizens suffer from this stress-related disease.
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