Stress impacts more than just our mental health. Whether it's an important deadline in the office, a serious medical issue, parenting, being a caregiver, or anything else that's weighing on your mind, it's important to know that stress can also impact our physical health. Especially in our gut.
Some of the best fitness watches and best fitness trackers now have daily "stress scores" that take into account your heart rate, responses on your skin, sleep patterns, and other metrics to give off signs of real daily stress. These are a good indicator something could be amiss, but often it's pain in our stomachs, rashes, breakouts or other skin problems, and other typical signs of stress. Research (opens in new tab) has found "clinical observations link psychological stress to the onset or aggravation of multiple skin diseases".
However, stress can be much more harmful than just the occasional spots breakout. New research from McMaster University has shown that stress can also contribute to Crohn's disease flare-ups, among other gut issues.
Senior author, Professor Brian Coombes said: “The main takeaway is that psychological stress impedes the body’s ability to fight off gut bacteria that may be implicated in Crohn’s disease. Innate immunity is designed to protect us from microbes that do not belong in the gut, like harmful bacteria.”
The UK's NHS (opens in new tab) says stress slows down digestion in some people, causing bloating, pain, and constipation, while in others it speeds it up, causing diarrhea. It's also well known that gut health and skin health are interlinked through a process known as the gut-skin axis, which is why what you eat affects your skin conditions. It's theorized the brain's effect on the gut may well create a knock-on effect.
To repair your gut health, it's important to take time to de-stress. This can be through all the usual good habits: eating healthily, taking steps to improve your sleep, exercise, and meditation. One study (opens in new tab) found "meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function". When it comes to your gut health, general self-care might be able to turn the tide, in addition, to directly treating symptoms of, for example, constipation.
To get started, check out our how to meditate and how to eat healthily without depriving yourself guides. These two important habits could reduce your stress levels and boost gut health, thereby reducing the risks of inflammatory bowel disease flare-ups such as Crohn's.
A varied diet, with plenty of dietary fiber (fibrous fruits and veggies and whole grains), water, and omega-3 from meat, fish, nuts, or the best fish oil supplements, could help take you the rest of the way.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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