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This is What Actually Happens to Your Gut When You’re Stressed Out


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If you’ve ever gotten butterflies before a work presentation or lost your appetite after looking at your to-do list, you’ve felt the effects that stress can have on your digestive system.

Since stress in life is pretty much a given, we teamed up with Renew Life® to get to the bottom of why exactly your gut acts up when you’re at a level 10—and tapped Kaitlyn Clarke, chiropractor and functional nutritionist at Urban Wellness Clinic, to find out what to do to keep your gut health on point in spite of it.

“You cannot truly break out of the stress/gut cycle without tackling it from both directions,” Dr. Clarke says. “You must take control of your stress level, while simultaneously improving your gut health.”

Luckily, breaking the cycle is possible if you’re proactive about it, which is why we asked Dr. Clarke to share her advice on how to ditch stress and iffy gut health at the same time.

Scroll down for more on how stress and gut health are connected—plus her tips on how to beat the stress cycle.


stress and gut health
Photo: Stocksy/Nasos Zovoilis

The science

To understand how to keep your gut calm when you’re feeling anxious, you first have to understand why it reacts the way it does. “The connection between stress and gut health really comes down to what’s known as the brain-gut axis,” Dr. Clarke explains.

Buckle in for some science: Your brain and your gut are linked by your vagus nerve (the longest cranial nerve in the body that helps tell the heart, digestive tract, and lungs what to do). When you’re stressed, it triggers an inflammatory response in your body, which prevents the vagus nerve from sending info.

Since some estimates say about 90 percent of your body’s serotonin (the neurotransmitter in charge of happiness) is made in your gut, disrupting its ability to get to your brain is dicey.

On top of that, chronic stress can directly change your gut microbiome “by promoting the overgrowth of bad bacteria, decreased production of digestive enzymes, and lack of motility,” Dr. Clarke adds. Needless to say, the effects of stress are a big deal.


stress and gut health
Photo: Stocksy/Michela Ravasio

The remedy: Take the 5R approach

So if stress causes poor gut health, and poor gut health also causes stress, how do you put a stop to the vicious cycle? Dr. Clarke’s preferred method for getting a stressed-out gut back on track requires five steps: remove, replace, reinoculate, repair, and rebalance.

Remove: Step one is removing physical stressors on the gut (you can’t heal it while it’s still reacting to the stuff it doesn’t like) such as processed foods, sugars, and common allergens like gluten and dairy.

Replace + Reinoculate: Step two and three are where you turn to your medicine cabinet. You need to replace the digestive enzymes you might be lacking for proper digestion, and reinoculate beneficial bacteria by taking a potent probiotic.

Dr. Clarke recommends taking a probiotic with a minimum of 25 billion CFUs from a high-quality source—and Renew Life 30 Billion Extra Care Probiotics, which are made three times stronger compared to the leading brand’s 10 Billion CFU probiotic, fit that bill with at least 30 billion CFU.

Repair + Rebalance: Finally, repair and rebalance your gut by eating an anti-inflammatory diet filled with fiber-rich, whole foods, and ensuring you’re getting enough zinc, l-glutamine, and vitamins A, C, and E to help heal the gut lining.

“Take into consideration other lifestyle factors that can either enhance or moderate your level of stress,” Dr. Clarke adds. “Make sure to get enough quality sleep, stay well hydrated, and exercise!”

In partnership with Renew Life®

Top photo: Stocksy/Flamingo Images

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