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The surprising effects of stress on your gut

If you’ve ever listened to an older friend or family member speaking of the “good ole days,” they might have referred to them as being simpler times. I know when I look at the world my kids are growing up in, it seems more complicated and difficult.

With the evolution of society came an increase in day-to-day stress that we are all working to manage. Today, I want to talk about how stress can impact your gut health and what you can do to protect it.

First a quick lesson on stress. You’ve probably heard the analogy about a bear walking into the room and your body’s immediate transition into “fight, flight or freeze” mode. It’s a natural change of state that’s been around from the beginning of time to help us survive the severely stressful events we encounter. The problem is that the fight or flight response was never designed to be a long-term solution; which it has become.

Stress taps into your immune system and shifts the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut, which leaves you more prone to bacteria and parasite overgrowth, tons of pain and discomfort, and the inability to cope with life. Most of us tap into our stress response daily for the constant demands of our jobs, commutes, to-do’s and needs of others. Your body can manage the nonstop stress response for years; however, beware that your body will rob and steal whatever it needs in its attempt to restore balance.

When gut bacteria are not in balance, they can create their own stress response or produce hormones and neurotransmitters that can alter the body’s central stress response system. Stress also halts digestion and absorption. This means that if you are eating while stressed out, you aren’t fully digesting and absorbing food. It’s all tied together, managing stress and having proper nutrition for a healthier gut, and your gut in turn has a huge influence on your overall health and how you look and feel.

How can you keep stress “in check” in your life?

Limit your exposure to negative news stories.Edit your to-do list to only the most important items so you don’t always feel behind.Let go of pointless arguments that don’t matter but rob your time and energy.Avoid or limit exposure to people who stir up drama and drain your vitality.Try massage, chiropractic care or acupuncture because bodywork helps reduce stress and can even enhance digestion.Here’s what I’ve seen over the years: You will either spend your time preventing disease and use these solutions to improve your daily self-care or you will spend your time managing disease as you are forced into sick-care.

You only have one place to live – your body. Respect it and support it with self-care. You don’t have to do it all alone either. Create a support system that allows you to better manage your stress, and your gut will reap all the benefits too!

Fran Sutherlin is a local registered dietitian, health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition, which has offices in Durango and Bayfield. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.