Gut health

The Gut-Brain connection and its link to stress

We are all familiar with effects emotions can have on your stomach; think butterflies when you’re excited or in love, the knotted feeling when you’re nervous or even sadly, receiving ‘gut wrenching’ bad news. It’s interesting that each of these sayings are so well-known and describe that internal feeling deep within your stomach perfectly but what is actually happening on the inside? In this article we are going to explore the relationship between these emotional responses in your brain including stress and the going’s on in your gastrointestinal tract.

In this article we will focus on what is happening internally due to stress. Essentially, the gut microbiome is the environment in your gut, made up of a dense population of bacteria. Foods we eat can affect the microbiome of bacteria resulting in gastrointestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Irritable Bowel Diseases. A reminder – the gastrointestinal tract is from the point of entry into your body, i.e the mouth to the point of exit, and everything in between.

The Gut-Brain Axis has been a hot topic in recent years in terms of scientific research. Previously there was little known about this subject and some even disputed the existence of such relationship. However, such claims have since been thrown out and it has been PROVEN that there is a bi-directional relationship between the two. In other words, the gut can influence the brain and vice versa by signals via the central nervous system. The signals between the gut and brain work simultaneously both ways – stomach to brain and brain to stomach, meaning stress can signal to the stomach to respond or equally a feeling in the stomach can tell your brain stress is near – they are in constant communication with one another. Stress can affect this communication massively!


It can inhibit the signals in transit, trigger pain and bloating and if the bacteria is compromised – can affect the ability of thought and emotions. Stress is highly associated with the change in gut bacteria and this can affect the ability of thought and emotions. What we find super interesting is the knowledge of how an individual reacts to stress can develop in early childhood when dealing with stressors. If severe early stress is experienced, the development on the nervous system is affected as are the bodily reactions to stress. It’s then later on in life, that the risks for gut diseases and dysfunctions of the gut are heightened.

The biggest effect stress can have on the gut is the ability and frequency of contraction and movements of the GI tract. In other words, over contraction and over secretion of fluids resulting in gastrointestinal problems such as frequent urination (those nervous wee’s you feel before a date or queuing for a fun ride) and diarrhoea. Equally, the exact opposite is possible and one could become bloated and constipated. The difficulty with a topic such as stress and gastrointestinal health is the wide variations between individuals, and each will have different stressors and different reactions - emotionally and mentally to stress. The ability to handle these stressors has been determined to show how well one can fight off infection.

To combat the effects of stress, many people over consume carbohydrate and fat rich foods in a bid to self-medicate and make themselves feel better due to the release of endorphins responsible for stress release. Such rich foods themselves, if overconsumed, can cause gut and digestive issues. Others undereat as a result of high stress and an empty stomach is an acidic stomach, which can cause a whole host of problems itself such a heartburn and acid reflux. It’s clear the gastrointestinal tract is a very sensitive area of the body and many factors affect it daily.


Having a gut issue can cause stress, and vice versa, it’s a vicious cycle! 

So, how can we keep our guts happy to help deal with stress?

Chic Peas


Gut bacteria needs fibre to flourish so fruit and vegetables are key! Stir fry’s and salads are an easy way to get more than one at a time!



To keep the gut microbiome balanced, probiotics are essential! Yoghurt contains lots of friendly bacteria to keep your gut happy.



A small handful of almonds contains fatty acids and polyphenols known to reduce gut inflammation.

Olive oil

Olive Oil

Exactly like almonds, olive oil is rich in fatty acids and polyphenols, a drizzle over your salad and it’s a win win!

Probiotics are a key component to help keep your gut happy! As mentioned, probiotics are a form of ‘good’ live bacteria that contributes to keeping the gut microbiome balanced and delivers a whole host of health benefits. They can drastically aid digestion and improve absorption of nutrients. If you’re not a fan of the fermented foods and cultured milk products that are often the main source of probiotics then a high quality supplement is a great alternative.

Written by Grace Scott, nutrition specialist and content writer with a BSc in Nutrition & Psychology, based in London. Her interests lie strongly within relationships between food and mental health. Grace believes in the significant role of nutrients and exercise can play in combatting health issues. Grace is available to write additional content articles on a freelance basis, get in touch

Grace Scott


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