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Research reveals as many as 86 per cent of Brits have suffered gastrointestinal problems in the last year, including wind, bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with over a third attributing it to stress.
Our emotions and digestive functions are inextricably linked and when we're stressed, we experience a surge of hormones in the body. This 'fight or flight' response helps us deal with pressure or stressful situations.
These hormones directly affect the communication between the brain and the digestive tract, which scientists refer to as the brain-gut axis. To compensate for these hormones, your stomach activity (and the muscles involved with digestion) slows down.
If you have ongoing stress, these hormones will remain in your body and your digestive tract will remain permanently affected, leading to gut symptoms including acid reflux and heartburn.
Our gut is home to more than 100 trillion types of friendly bacteria, called gut flora. This gut flora plays an active role in protecting our immune system. It also inhibits the growth of more harmful bacteria, and helps to digest food and absorb essential nutrients.
A study, published in Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, found stress can change the balance of bacteria that naturally live in the gut, contributing to conditions like IBS.
Stomach pain, constipation and feeling bloated are all symptoms of stress. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a common condition where acid leaks up into the oesophagus, is also strongly related to stress. A study, published in Internal Medicine, looked at 12,653 people with GERD and found nearly half of participants said stress was the biggest factor that worsened symptoms.
Women are more likely to experience stress than men, so it's little wonder IBS, a condition that causes abdominal pain, bloating cramps and constipation and diarrhoea, is much more common for women than men. About half of people with IBS can relate the start of symptoms to a stressful event in their life, such as a bereavement, changing jobs, or moving home.
Feeling overwhelmed by the stresses of daily life? Here are five ways to stay calm and collected:
The good news is that there are several supplements you can take to look after your gut.
Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.
See more of Jo Waters' work.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.