Dr. Robert Watson, M.D., is a board-certified surgeon who practices his approach to optimal health and longevity at WellCentric Health & Aesthetics. He works closely with his patients to identify their health concerns and constructs a customized treatment plan to get to the root of their problems without medication. We're excited that Dr. Watson has kindly shared his knowledge of today's common stressors and what different types of stress can do to the microbiota.
You probably already have a pretty good idea of the importance of your microbiota. Scientists continue to learn volumes about the critical role that the microbiota plays in our overall health and the two-way interaction it has between its trillions of bacteria and our brains and bodies. The food we eat is a significant component of our health because food helps to feed our microbiota.
Stressors are stimuli that can disrupt the body's natural balance or homeostasis. Generally, when we talk about stress, we think of psychological stressors: looming deadlines, relationship trouble or financial issues. There are several other forms of stress that our bodies react to that we can't forget about. Infection, inflammation, physical stress, poor diet, inadequate sleep and disruption of circadian rhythms are stressors that are just as important, or have an even greater influence on our bodies, than those we are conscious of psychologically.
The Effects of Stress on Our Gut
We understand many of these negative components stress has on our health, but did you know that stress levels can also impact the health and general makeup of our microbiota? Stress-induced changes in our microbiota can result in a vicious cycle on our bodies and brains, and can cause dangerous consequences if left unmanaged.
Both short-term and long-term stress can impact the balance and function of our microbiota in several ways. Short-term stressors are perfectly natural, and the body is well adapted for handling them. The problem arises when the body doesn't get any relief from the tension, causing is known as chronic stress. Chronic stress leads to adaptations in the body that lead to pathological states or disease.
Stress induces chemicals in the brain, adrenal glands and in the lining of our intestines to be released into the bloodstream, causing direct and indirect influences on the microbiota. Any signals sent from the brain via the vagus nerve can change gut motility and impact digestion. These changes in gut motility impact the microbiota by way of mechanical forces or elimination, and the impaired digestion changes the foods and substrates available to the microbiota.
Stress also diverts blood from the G.I. tract to other muscles in the body. A prolonged diversion of blood from the intestines can ultimately lead to oxidative stress and damage the gastrointestinal lining. This yields a condition called leaky gut, whereby components of bacteria and other products belonging only in the lumen of the intestine, can gain access to the bloodstream. The immune system then responds to this bacteria with inflammation, which causes more stress, and so the cycle goes.
Many pre-clinical and new clinical studies have demonstrated that stress can change the balance and the function of the microbiota. Changes in the microbiota's balance and function result in alterations in neurotransmitters, neuropeptides and short-chain fatty acids, all which enter the circulation and influence mood, behavior, inflammation, appetite, epigenetics and much more. Additionally, the vagus nerve can detect these changes and responds by sending messages directly back to the brain, and can sometimes result in those mysterious but familiar 'gut feelings.'
In paleolithic days, our gut-inhabiting friends lived happily as a consequence of life the way it was. In stark contrast, however, today's world of food additives, pesticides, artificial sweeteners and the barrage of constant stressors (known and unknown) are a continuous threat to the health of our microbiota. In order to optimize our health and longevity, being constantly mindful and nurturing of our microbiota has become imperative. And, fortunately, Rowdy Prebiotic Bars makes those mindful decisions tasty, too!