Your Gut and Stress, its not good – Oct 2022

This is the first of a couple of posts talking about your microbiome (gut) and how it rules your world. I have a yoga retreat coming up soon: Move, Breathe, Love (31/3/23 – 2/4 /23) in Springbrook, QLD which is all about your microbiome and the macro biome of Mother Earth and these articles are just a little taste of what we will be covering on yoga retreat.

Now the biome and I go back a long way. In my mid-twenties, between climbing the corporate ladder of my multinational employer and a family tragedy, where someone I loved was dying of cancer, I got chronic fatigue. At that time chronic fatigue was considered a myth, a psychological issue and something dreamed up by young, type-A females in stressful careers. And as an aside, long COVID mimics many of the symptoms of chronic fatigue. Fast forward and happy endings, a big part of my recovery (which took 2 years of debilitating fatigue) was rescuing my biome. Not from a world of processed food, I was a runner and health food junkie, but more from a world of stress. Although I did use diet in a big way to aid my recovery. Buts that’s for another post.

When most people hear the word biome (gut), they think fermented food and prebiotics and probiotics which is good, but this is only 50% of the story. The other half of a happy biome is a calm and centred life. Not a stressed, crazed life which many people live. And part of my biome recovery, way back, was using yoga, breathwork and meditation to rehabilitate my gut. 

And this will be the focus of our Yoga Retreat. We won’t just be munching on the delicious Ayurvedic food (all those plants, all those prebiotics) or adding probiotics in the form of sauerkraut condiments to our meals. Or sipping shrub mocktails on Saturday night (a shrub is a non-alcoholic, fermented syrup made from organic fruits, herbs, sugar and apple cider vinegar– see my Instagram page www.instagram.com/yogaunderthebodhi/ for my homemade mulberry shrub recipe). No, our main focus will be understanding how our stress response disrupts the biome and what we can do about it.

Our automatic stress response is known as fight-or-flight (FORF), and it serves an important evolutionary purpose. In caveman days the FORF response helped our ancestors to avoid being a lion’s dinner. And the FORF response occurs during all sorts of current day to day stress: the traffic jam on the Pacific Motorway, the work presentation, the deluge of bad news pushed out by the media moguls – your unconscious body deems it threatening and ramps up its production of cortisol, which induces numerous changes throughout the body, including the gut.

Firstly, stress signals travel along the gut-brain axis, instructing the gut to direct energy elsewhere in the body; if you need to flee from a ravenous predator, digestion is a waste of energy. Blood is diverted away from the intestines towards your limbs, slowing digestion and potentially causing sudden evacuation (diarrhoea).

Increased cortisol production can decrease the number of prostaglandins, a compound which reduces acidity in the stomach and stress also causes the gut to produce less mucus, a protective layer which coats the bowel wall. You now have an acidic system with a thinner mucous lining on your bowel wall and if this stress is ongoing (chronic) you will likely develop increased intestinal permeability, commonly known as “leaky gut”. Bacteria and toxins can then pass through your intestinal wall into the bloodstream causing inflammation in the body. Prolonged stress is linked with an increased risk for a range of disorders, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and depression and cause multiple GI disorders, including IBS and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.

Prolonged stress and early-life trauma are thought to cause dysregulation of the hypothalamic – pituitary – adrenal axis (HPA), leading to increased production of cortisol. The HPA axis regulates the FORF response. When it goes wrong, it can leave someone stuck in an acute state of unresolved trauma. HPA dysfunction is widely observed in numerous mental health conditions.

My next post will talk about using yoga (movement) and breathwork to manage and change your stress response and rehabilitate your biome.

4 comments

  1. I love this! So informative and this is just what I need to understand my lifelong drama with my digestive system, inflammation, anxiety and now an autoimmune. Definitely looking at the retreat. Thank you for this.

    1. My pleasure Amanda. So glad the post was helpful and I would love to have you join us on retreat. It’s going to be a fabulous, healing weekend. Margot

  2. Absolutely, a little stress is good for the body, the long term stress that today’s society delivers us, not so much.
    Great info, thank you!

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