Mental Stress and the Gut

There are trillions of bacteria (microbiota) in your gut, controlling your mental and physical health. The gut microbiota communicates to the brain and your brain feeds back to the gut. The brain controls the movement of food through the intestines. 80% of our serotonin, our ‘feel good’ hormone, is made in the gut. Certain microbiota make neurotransmitters, a balance of which is vital for mental health.

The gut microbiota – The Good and the Bad

  • We impact our gut microbiota through our genetics, our lifestyle, toxins that we take on board, and in what we eat. A healthy diet will increase the beneficial bacteria that we need to combat stress.
  • Good or bad bacteria in the gut can change the mycology of the gut and therefore change neurotransmitters (reducing serotonin and increasing dopamine)
  • Infection, including yeast overgrowth and clostridia, inhibits genes that regulate dopamine and serotonin enzymes, which may cause anxiety and depression.

The effect of Emotional stress on the gut:

  • Chronic stress increases cortisol, which directly alters gut function.
  • An altered gut function may lower stomach acid levels, reducing B12 and protein absorption and making us more susceptible to toxins.
  • High cortisol may lead to weight gain, particularly around the middle.
  • Continued elevated cortisol levels also makes us more sensitive to blood sugar dysregulation.
  • Stress uses proteins that are essential to neuronal function.
  • Stress depletes key nutrients that are required for brain function, such as Zinc, B vitamins and Magnesium.

Treatment for the Gut-Brain Axis

  • Manage stress through diet, lifestyle and supplementation.
  • Control diet: We need to feed our good bacteria and starve the bad guys. Food choices are key.
  • Test for B12/folate and protein deficiencies, as well as stomach acid levels. An Organic Acid test (OAT) will test for nutrient absorption, protein levels and effects on neurotransmitters.
  • Test for any infection or inflammation that may be present and treat accordingly. A Complete Microbiome test or Comprehensive stool analysis is a good place to start.
  • Reduce inflammation in the gut, which may cause a ‘leaky’ gut (a hyperpermeable gut lining). Inflammation can reduce nutrient absorption and impact microflora.

Warm wishes for a healthy you.



About the Author

Louella Wood

Registered Naturopath DipNat, member NZSN, AIMA. BA (Hons)Env. Std., Dip.Tch. Working at Whangarei Natural Health, Whangarei.