ColoWell America

How does stress affect your digestive health?

Is stress throwing your gut out of whack? Are odd digestion issues popping up whenever life gets crazy? You’re not alone. Over 60% of us see tummy troubles flare up when anxiety and tension take over. Let's find out the impacts of stress on our digestive health.

The gut-brain connection is very real. What affects our mind, affects our digestive system. Let’s get the down low on exactly how stress wreaks havoc on our gut health and simple tips to keep your stomach chill even when life gets hectic.


Our Nervous System Conflicts Digestion and Stress Responses

See, our nervous system usually vibes in one of two modes:

Chillin’ Out Activates Optimal Digestion

When we’re relaxed, our body activates the “rest and digest” mode through the parasympathetic nervous system. This tells the entire digestive tract it’s all good, allowing more blood flow so you can properly break down last night’s feast [1]. Nutrient and electrolyte absorption also occurs smoothly to rehydrate and refuel cells. The perfect setting for embedding that burrito from last night!

Stress Triggers “Fight or Flight” Harming Digestion

But when we perceive threats or become stressed, our sympathetic nervous system sends us into “fight or flight” mode. Non-essential bodily functions like digesting food get put on hold so your muscles, lungs, and senses can deal with more pressing needs — like outrunning a bear! Great for surviving life or death scenarios, really bad news for your gut [2].

Blood flow is constricted from your GI tract and diverted towards areas that can help you fight or scramble. But this completely diverts energy required to properly digest, absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste.

How Stress Influence Your Digestion In Multiple Ways

What really goes down in your gut when you’re all stressed out? Unfortunately, a lot!

Inflammation & Blood Flow Disruption

Those stress hormones and neurotransmitters that mobilize our body for action also increase inflammation and reduce blood flow in your GI tract. Over time, this progressively damages the lining of your entire digestive system [3]. Major buzzkill! A stressed out gut will start showing symptoms like:

  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite

Enzyme & Gut Microbe Suppression

Meanwhile, stress also suppresses the release of key digestive enzymes and stomach acid you need to properly break down meals chemically. Especially lipids and proteins take a hit. Stress also alters populations of helpful gut microbes that aid digestion and maintain harmony in the gut ecosystem [4].

This microbial disruption is connected to multiple GI issues. Main digestion-supporting microbes like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium decline while inflammation-triggering microbes like Clostridium and Escherichia increase. More digestion saboteurs!

Motility Mayhem

And our intestinal motility ensures food residue and waste products smoothly move through our 30+ foot digestive tract in rhythmic contractions. But stress can either put this motor function into overdrive (causing urgent diarrhea) or completely clog things up (leading to painful constipation) by altering smooth muscle contractions [5]. Neither are fun bathroom scenarios!

Myth-Busting Popular Beliefs on Stress and Digestion

With gut issues on the rise, lots of theories attempt to explain surprising connections we observe between stress, digestion, and disease. But how accurate are they? Let’s explore.

Myth: Short-Term Stress Only Causes Temporary Tummy Troubles…

Fact: Repeated short-term, acute stress over-activates our physiological stress responses over time. This accumulates to cause progressive digestion disruption ranging from mild symptoms to chronic inflammatory conditions [6]. Even daily work stress adds up!

Myth: IBS, IBD, and Other Digestive Diseases Are Just Stress Manifesting Physically…

Fact: While stress definitely plays a huge role in spotlighting symptoms of digestive conditions, additional factors like genetics, infection history, gut barrier integrity, and diets high in saturated fats often set the stage. Stress is not the lone cause, but rather a key trigger [7].

Myth: Anti-Stress Techniques and Chill Pills Alone Will Cure Chronic Digestive Diseases…

Fact: Methods like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and anti-anxiety medications can help activate relaxation responses. But dietary triggers, microbial balance, gut barrier strength, and intestinal inflammation often need addressing as well – not just reducing stress levels [8].

While calming our mind is hugely impactful, other facets of digestive diseases depend on additional factors beyond thought patterns alone.

a lot of medicines for stress and digestive health

Brain-Gut Tea…It’s a Real Thing!

Believe it or not, your brain and intestines are like besties. When your mind feels off, it impacts your gut, and vice versa. Wild stuff! The vagus nerve connects and communicates signals between the two. So managing stress isn’t just to feel calmer, it helps your tummy too!

 5 Ways to Manage Stress and Digestive Health

Keep that mind-gut connection from getting crazy with these moves:

  1. Laugh it Off: Giggling boosts blood flow and tells the brain to relax, which calms the nervous system and aids digestion. Bust out those funny cat videos!
  2. Breathe and Flow: Daily meditation and yoga help activate the relaxation response, reducing cramping and normalizing gut motility. Yes to those zen vibes!
  3. Hang with Your Tummy’s Micro-Homies: Fermented foods feed healthy gut bacteria promoting optimal breakdown and absorption of nutrients. Sauerkraut over soda, please!
  4. Slash Processed Foods: Cut out gut irritants like added sugars, refined grains, and industrial oils. Let digestion focus on real food sources. Your family jewels (intestines) will thank you!
  5. Moderate Exercise: Regular workouts reduce GI inflammation (but don’t overdo it!). Stick to leisurely movement like light jogging – save the marathon for race days.

Stress and bowel problems

When pushed to the max, stress can make the bowels go haywire – causing diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids, and increased guts pains from spasms or ulcers. Don’t gamble with your intestines! Rein in the stress when you can for a happy belly.

Chronic Stress Simmers Digestive Inflammation

If high anxiety persists long-term, it brews chronic low-grade inflammation making intestines more sensitive and reactive over time. This gradually impairs their ability to bounce back from typical exposures to “stressors” like fatty foods or spices. Pretty soon, tummy troubles become the norm! Don’t let prolonged stress simmer your insides.

Tips to Reduce Anxiety or Worry and De-Stress

High-strung brains equal distressed digestion. When anxiety builds, nip it fast with these tips:

Jam Out
Tune into favorite chill playlists. Soothing tunes lower cortisol and unwind both mind and body.

Power Down Devices
Ditch screens to ditch scrolling stress. Blue light and constant news stimulates nerves. Unplug regularly for full relaxation.

Laugh Out Loud
A solid giggle sesh tells the brain to relax. Laughter yoga helps reduce bowel inflammation too – yes, it’s a real thing! Busting up is good medicine.

Early research shows CBD oil helps normalize gut motility, reduce intestinal inflammation, and ease IBS symptoms from stress. Discuss with your doctor if it could support your digestion.

Tips To Alleviating Stress And Calming Your Stomach

When your belly has you doubled over, fast relief might come from:

Ginger tea – settles stomachs
Heating pads – ease cramping
** Gentle stretches -** reduce gas and bloating
Mindful breathing – relaxes the nervous system and intestines
Peppermint oil – reduces spasms

Warning: If severe symptoms last over 2 days, call your doctor to rule out other conditions. Don’t assume it’s just stress without proper evaluation!

A cup of tea and flowers in the morning sunshine to breathe fresh air and improve stress for better digestive health

Keep Your Belly Happy: Actionable Tips

Bummed our anxious, overwhelmed minds can directly harsh our gut’s mellow? Try these tips to keep your digestion chill even when stressed:

Activate the Relaxation Response

Do daily deep breathing, gentle yoga flows, mindfulness, or use apps with calming playlists to turn on your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system – especially before meals.

Avoid Common Gut Irritants

Say bye to heavily processed foods, added sugars, and industrial seed oils that research links to increased gut permeability and inflammation (9). Make clean eating easy on your gut.

Sweat Without Strain

While moderate exercise promotes healthy gut microbes, overdoing intense workouts causes inflammation and gut barrier disruption. Stick to gentle movement like walking, light biking, or relaxing yoga poses rather than marathon running.

Consider Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic supplements containing digestion-supporting bacteria strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can help fortify your internal microbiome ecosystem, especially when stressed (10).

Show your digestion some love by keeping stress chill! Stay relaxed with caring lifestyle tweaks, and your whole body will thank you through happier gut health and decreased inflammation

Getting Properly Diagnosed

If your gut distress persists, get the full workup! Describe in detail:

  • Symptoms and their timing, triggers
  • Family history
  • Diet and lifestyle habits

Doctors can run blood tests, stool analyses, allergy testing, and endoscopies or colonoscopies to check for underlying causes like IBS, IBD, SIBO, ulcers, colon cancer, etc. Proper diagnosis is key for effective treatment plans!


Few people are meditating and exercising to lower stress and have better digestive health


Stress negatively impacts the digestive system in several ways:

  • It decreases blood flow and muscular activity in the gut, slowing motility and digestion. Food moves more slowly through the intestines.
  • It suppresses secretion of key digestive enzymes and stomach acid needed to break down food chemically.
  • It increases inflammation in the GI tract, damaging the protective mucosal lining over time. This leads to increased intestinal permeability.
  • It alters populations of beneficial gut bacteria that aid digestion and nutrient absorption. Harmful bacteria overgrow.
  • It directly stimulates intestinal pain nerves, causing symptoms like cramps and bloating.
  • It catalyzes changes in GI motility – either speeding up transit (diarrhea) or slowing it down (constipation).

In summary, stress disrupts several digestive mechanisms, potentially causing immediate symptoms like indigestion, abdominal pain, and bowel changes as well as long-term inflammation and gut dysfunction. Managing stress is key for maintaining overall digestive health.

Your additional FAQs About Stress Digestive Health Answered

 What are 3 common stomach conditions that are affected by stress?

  • IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
  • Ulcers
  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

How do you calm a nervous digestive system?

  • Deep breathing/meditation
  • Gentle yoga poses
  • Laughing/humor
  • Relaxing music
  • Peppermint tea

What are 4 signs of poor functioning of the digestive system?

  • Bloating
  • Heartburn/reflux
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Does stress and anxiety cause bowel problems?

Yes, stress and anxiety can directly cause or exacerbate many bowel problems like IBS, ulcers, chronic constipation/diarrhea, and increased intestinal permeability.

Can stress cause stomach pain that won’t go away?

Yes, if stress is chronic it can result in functional dyspepsia causing ongoing epigastric pain in the stomach region.

Can stress cause stomach ulcers?

Yes, stress contributes to stomach ulcer formation by increasing stomach acid production and decreasing protective factors that prevent ulcers. Managing stress is key for ulcer healing.

References and Citations: 

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Roundtable on Health Literacy; Wojtowicz A, Alper J, editors. The Intersection of Behavioral Health, Mental Health, and Health Literacy: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2019 Apr 4. THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001. Available from:
  2. Kinsey AW, Ormsbee MJ. The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients. 2015 Apr 9;7(4):2648-62. doi: 10.3390/nu7042648. PMID: 25859885; PMCID: PMC4425165.
  4. Wilkinson I. One-Armed Economists and The Invisible Hand: An Introduction to Economics. EJIFCC. 2004 Mar 23;15(1):7-9. PMID: 30250419; PMCID: PMC6043906.
  5. Shenefelt PD. Herbal Treatment for Dermatologic Disorders. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 18. Available from:
  6. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017 Jul 21;16:1057-1072. doi: 10.17179/excli2017-480. PMID: 28900385; PMCID: PMC5579396.
  7. Bourin M, Dailly E, Hascöet M. Preclinical and clinical pharmacology of cyamemazine: anxiolytic effects and prevention of alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. CNS Drug Rev. 2004 Fall;10(3):219-29. doi: 10.1111/j.1527-3458.2004.tb00023.x. PMID: 15492772; PMCID: PMC6741725.
  10. Martínez-Alonso E, Guerra-Pérez N, Escobar-Peso A, Peracho L, Vera-Lechuga R, Cruz-Culebras A, Masjuan J, Alcázar A. Phosphorylation of Eukaryotic Initiation Factor 4G1 (eIF4G1) at Ser1147 Is Specific for eIF4G1 Bound to eIF4E in Delayed Neuronal Death after Ischemia. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Feb 6;23(3):1830. doi: 10.3390/ijms23031830. PMID: 35163752; PMCID: PMC8836865.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Improving your digestive health is a multi-faceted endeavor that involves lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and stress management. Here are some actionable tips:

  • Eat a Fiber-Rich Diet: Foods high in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can help improve your digestion. Fiber helps move food through your digestive tract, reducing the risk of constipation and promoting gut health.

  • Stay Hydrated: Adequate water intake is essential for digestion. It helps dissolve fats and soluble fiber, allowing these substances to pass through more easily.

  • Incorporate Probiotics: These are beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut. Yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods are excellent sources.

  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity increases the efficiency of your digestive system. Even a simple 30-minute walk can do wonders.

  • Manage Stress: High stress levels can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Consider stress-reducing activities like meditation or deep-breathing exercises.

Poor digestion can manifest in various ways, and being aware of these signs is the first step in managing your digestive health effectively. Some common symptoms include:

  • Bloating and Gas: Excessive gas can be a sign that food is not being digested completely.

  • Heartburn: A burning sensation in the chest area, often after eating, can indicate acid reflux.

  • Constipation: Less than three bowel movements a week can be a sign of poor digestion.

  • Diarrhea: Frequent loose stools are another sign of digestive issues.

  • Unexplained Weight Changes: Either weight loss or weight gain can be a sign of nutrient malabsorption.

Your gut health is integral to your overall well-being. Here are ten signs that could indicate an unhealthy gut:

  1. Stomach Discomfort: Constant bloating, gas, and heartburn.
  2. High Sugar Diet: A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut.
  3. Unintentional Weight Changes: Either gaining or losing weight without making changes to diet or exercise habits.
  4. Sleep Disturbances: Poor gut health can affect your sleep cycle, leading to insomnia or constant fatigue.
  5. Skin Irritation: Conditions like eczema may be related to a damaged gut.
  6. Autoimmune Conditions: An unhealthy gut can increase systemic inflammation and alter the proper functioning of the immune system.
  7. Food Intolerances: Difficulty digesting certain foods can be a sign of a damaged gut.
  8. Constant Fatigue: An unhealthy gut may contribute to sleep disturbances like insomnia, hence leading to chronic fatigue.
  9. Frequent Illness: If you’re frequently sick, your gut may not be effectively protecting your immune system.
  10. Bad Breath: Foul-smelling breath can be a sign of an imbalanced gut.

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