5 Ways Stress Affects Your Gut

Let’s have a look at 5 ways stress can affect your gut as well as 5 ways to relieve it.

Stress can affect your body for good or for bad. Since the gut is one of our most important systems is not immune to its influence.

We already know that chronic stress can be detrimental to your overall health, but how does it specifically affect your gut?

Stress threatens our gut’s homeostasis and shows both short and long-term effects on the functions of the gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract. (1)

But what does it mean?

First of all, let’s understand the term homeostasis. It is a process that maintains the stability of the human body’s internal environment in response to changes in external conditions. It’s sweating to maintain our body temperature, for example. To maintain homeostasis, interactions take place to balance or return systems to functioning within a normal range.

Exposure to stress results in alterations of the brain-gut interactions. When these alterations become chronic, they lead to the development of a broad array of gastrointestinal disorders.

The ratio of “fight or flight” time to “rest and digest” time nowadays doesn’t support our digestion and overall health. We spend most of our time preparing ourselves to take action or react while we dedicate little time to relaxing the body.

This lack of balance affects our gut in various ways, such as:

1. Develops Prolonged Mucosal Dysfunction

Mucous is involved in the lining of many things including the skin, mouth and the stomach. Mucous membranes ensure that the underlying connective tissue remains moist.

An increased exposure to stress may represent an initial step in a dysfunction of the gut mucosa. Recent findings show the presence of microscopic inflammation and immune activation in the intestinal mucosa of IBS. These disturbances of intestinal barrier function might facilitate an excessive penetration of food and bacterial antigens across the epithelial layer and result in inappropriate immune stimulation, leading to chronic intestinal inflammation.

This abnormal response can be linked to susceptibility to IBS in healthy women. (2)

2. Causes the Intestinal Lining to Become “Leaky”

Our gut is exposed to various substances on a daily basis. From food to bacteria, everything we digest passes through our GI tract.

Making sure that this tract remains impermeable is crucial to keep the things we don’t want out while allowing the ones we need in. Increased intestinal permeability has been observed in stressful situations, such as trauma (3).

In a study done with rats, chronic stress stimulated permeability (4). In humans, leaky gut is a factor in several autoimmune conditions such as:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

3. Fuels Inflammation

As we have discussed before, inflammation per se is not all that bad. It’s when it becomes a chronic condition that our health and well-being are in danger.

A similar process can be said about stress. The state of alert it triggers is imperative for survival. But from the moment we’re exposed to prolonged stress, the chances of developing chronic inflammation increase too.

It’s necessary to manage chronic stress to prevent and treat stress-related inflammatory illnesses (5).

4. Lowers Immunity

Long-term or chronic stress can ravage the immune system, 70% of which is in the gut.

Stress gets inside our body whether through the release of substances or behaviors triggered by stressful situations, such as alcoholism or change in sleeping patterns (6).

Chronic stressors diminish the immune system’s capacity to produce antibodies and worsen diseases such as asthma and allergy. 

5. Unbalances Gut Bacteria

Stress changes the microbiota composition in our gut. The imbalance between good and bad bacteria is associated with digestive problems like IBS and Crohn’s disease, and even conditions like fatty liver disease and acne (7).

But it’s not only stress that alters our gut microbiota. Gut bacteria also affect the way we respond to stress.  Evidence from studies in rodents shows that the gut microbiome can influence neural development, brain chemistry and a wide range of behavioral phenomena, including how the stress system responds (8).

So while it’s important to keep stress in check to avoid gut problems; it’s necessary to maintain our GI balanced to prevent increasing stress issues.

Finding Relief from Stress

Surely your heart, weight and mental health were enough reasons for you to watch out for stress. But knowing how it can affect your gut and the results of it adds up the need of taking care of your gut as well.

Same of the ways you can get immediate relief for stress are:

  • Laughing
  • Decluttering
  • Singing
  • Taking a walk
  • Taking a deep breath

What’s your favorite one?


1. P.C. KONTUREK, T. BRZOZOWSKI, S.J. KONTUREK – STRESS AND THE GUT: PATHOPHYSIOLOGY, CLINICAL CONSEQUENCES, DIAGNOSTIC APPROACH AND TREATMENT OPTIONS – Department of Medicine, Thuringia Clinic Saalfeld, Teaching Hospital of the University Jena, Germany; Department of Physiology, Jagiellonian University Medical College Cracow, Poland

2. Carmen Alonso, Mar Guilarte, Maria Vicario, Laura Ramos, Ziad Ramadan, Maria Antolin – Maladaptive Intestinal Epithelial Responses to Life Stress May Predispose Healthy Women to Gut Mucosal Inflammation – Digestive Diseases Research Unit, Institut de Reçerca, Department of Gastroenterology, Barcelona, Spain. – Gastroenterology (Impact Factor: 16.72). 07/2008; 135(1):163-172.e1.

3. Faries, Peter L. MD; Simon, Ronald J. MD; Martella, Arthur T. MD; Lee, Martin J. Ph.D.; Machiedo, George W. MD – Intestinal Permeability Correlates with Severity of Injury in Trauma Patients – Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care: June 1998 – Volume 44 – Issue 6 – pp 1031-1036

4. Javier Santos, Michelle Benjamin, Ping-Chang Yang, T. Prior, Mary H. Perdue – Chronic stress impairs rat growth and jejunal epithelial barrier function: role of mast cells – American Journal of Physiology – Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology Published 1 June 2000 Vol. 278 no. 6

5. Marni N. Silverman and Esther M. Sternberg – Glucocorticoid regulation of inflammation and its functional correlates: from HPA axis to glucocorticoid receptor dysfunction – Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Volume 1261, Neuroimmunomodulation in Health and Disease I pages 55–63, July 2012

6. Suzanne C. Segerstrom and Gregory E. Miller – Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry – Psychol Bull. 2004 Jul; 130(4): 601–630

7. Kelsey Marksteiner, RD – Does Stress Cause Digestive Problems? –

8. Dr. Siri Carpenter – That gut feeling. – American Psychological Association. September 2012, Vol 43, No. 8.