With over 100 million neurons and a vast assortment of neurotransmitters present in the brain, the gut truly has a mind of its own—and our stress levels can alter the composition of our gut population of bacteria.
The ever-harmful symptoms of stress
When we experience stress, the central nervous system sends a signal from the brain and the stress hormone known as cortisol is released, which contributes to gut symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea and nausea. Changes in cortisol affect chronic anxiety disorders and irritable bowel syndrome (Tillish ’11, Labus ’13).
Gastrointestinal illness is commonly connected to behavioral health illnesses. Antidepressant drugs are commonly used for IBS treatment. 20 milligrams of Citalopram, for example, can effectively reduce abdominal symptoms of diarrhea, constipation nausea and pain (Tack ’06).
Two strains of bacteria support a link between gut microbes and stress. Lactobacillus helvisticus and Bifidobacterium longus are diminished during the administration of a stressful exam. However, they are present in higher concentrations during periods of reduced stress and anxiety.
High concentrations of Heliobacteria pylori (or H. pylori) that are capable of escaping the gut and entering the brain can inhibit memory, cognitive abilities and IQ. Aggregates of H. pylori are frequently found in cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
Next week: The Second Brain: Beyond Gut Feelings (Part II)
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