Stress Could Be Messing With Your Gut—Here's How to De-Stress Your Stomach

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The stress of the Covid-19 pandemic and post-pandemic life has definitely taken a toll—and believe it or not, the stress and anxiety could be making your stomach hurt. Gastroenterologist Dr. Roshini Raj joins Rach to explain exactly how your mental health could be impacting your gut.  

"Since our gut and brain are so interconnected, I’m seeing a lot more digestive issues in my practice since the pandemic," says Dr. Raj. "The gut is often referred to as the second brain because it has a nervous system with more neurotransmitters than the brain's central nervous system. The majority of our serotonin is produced in our gut," she explains.  

Then, Dr. Raj breaks down exactly what happens to the body when you're stressed.  

"Your body goes into fight or flight mode which you have probably heard of, but have you heard of 'rest and digest?' These are nicknames for each branch of your autonomic nervous system, which controls bodily processes without your conscious input. For example, breathing is something controlled by the autonomic nervous system.   

"'Fight or flight' comes from the sympathetic division, which prepares your body for emergencies by increasing your heart rate, widening your airways, and making your palms sweat and pupils dilate."  

"But in order to help you survive an emergency, your sympathetic nervous system has to make some sacrifices. When it feels stressed, it triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which increases your heart rate and shunts blood to your heart and leg muscles—and away from your digestive system. The blood vessels surrounding your stomach and intestines constrict and the digestive muscles contract. It's that drop in blood flow that makes you have a stomachache, feel nauseous or feel like you have to go to the bathroom," says Dr. Raj.  

"'Rest and digest' comes from the parasympathetic division. It's what controls your body during ordinary situations. It slows your heart rate and breathing and decreases your blood pressure," she explains. So, it's most important to be able to manage your stress effectively so that your body stays out of 'fight or flight' and instead remains in 'rest and digest.'  

Dr. Raj shares her tips to prevent feeling ill when stressed: 

1. Add more tyrosine to your diet. 

"Tyrosine helps produce dopamine in the brain," says Dr. Raj. "Tyrosine, found in fish, nuts, eggs, beans, and whole grains are a key component of dopamine. Since dopamine plays an important role in regulating your mood and ability to learn, adding more tyrosine to your diet will affect your state of mind in a positive way." So more tyrosine means less negative impacts of stress.  

2. Avoid caffeine and stress eating. 

"Some people relieve stress by eating their favorite comfort food because it triggers an emotional release. Ice cream, for example, takes you back to childhood when life was easier. The sugar, fat and tryptophan from the milk all have temporary calming effects on your brain’s neurotransmitters. Long-term sugar intake can cause just the opposite and increase the risk of feeling stress and anxiety," explains Dr. Raj. "The caffeine content of coffee can fuel nervousness and anxiety, making your stressed out stomach worse. Wait to drink coffee until your nerves have settled."  

3. Practice stress management activities.  

Trying things like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help both the mental and physical digestive effects of stress," says Dr. Raj.  

4. Drink herbal tea. 

"Not only is it calming the stress, but it can actually calm down the digestive system, as well," she explains.  

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