Adrenal Fatigue & Gut IssuesAug 12, 2020
Are you living with an unhappy belly? Maybe you've got bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, loose stools, or reflux?
While I will always investigate the gut in this instance (usually with a stool test or a SIBO breath test), I will also consider your adrenal stress hormones in the work up.
Because stress can be a major underlying cause of, or exacerbating, your gut issues. Let me explain...
Cortisol & Secretory IgA
Your adrenal glands secrete your stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol has been switched on too high, for too long, it can have a very direct impact on your gut.
For example, the immune cells that line our digestive tract (known as secretary IgA or SigA) are regulated by cortisol - when cortisol is high, it drags down your SigA levels. SigA is measured in some of the functional medicine GI stool tests that we run. It can tell us a lot about your gut function, and also about your immune system.
When sIgA is HIGH it tells us that your immune system is either fighting a gut infection (i.e. parasites, yeast, bacterial infections) or it is responding to a problematic food. When sIgA is LOW, well, low is not good news...It tells us that overtime your immune system in your gut lining has depleted (due, for example, to longterm chronic gut infections, problematic foods, medications, or stress/adrenal fatigue - in fact, one research study showed that frustration can reduce your SIgA by 50%!). If depleted, you are more likely to develop infections in the gut, which can lead to gut symptoms.
Low SIgA can also lead to immune system issues. If you're someone who gets chronic infections - whether that be in the gut, or somewhere else like the sinuses, vagina, urinary tract, chest, or skin - chances are your SIgA is low, and in order to fully get over your reoccurring infections, you'll first need to address your low SIgA and the underlying causes.
Stress & Reduced Blood Flow
When cortisol is out of balance, resulting in adrenal fatigue, it can also affect your gut by reducing blood flow to your digestive tract. When the body (or mind) is under stress, blood flow to the gut is restricted to allow maintenance of appropriate flows to the other fight-flight body systems, such as the brain, heart, and skeletal muscles. This leaves the poor gut in its own state of stress, which can lead to all types of gut issues if there is chronic stress.
Intestinal blood flow is critical for digestion, including for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which helps to break down foods. Dysfunctional stomach acid can lead to heartburn and reflux, but also downstream issues such as irregular bowel movements, bloating, and gassiness due to undigested food particles.
Cortisol & Catabolic Damage
Stress can also lead to gut issues as it is very catabolic in nature. When cortisol is switched on, it will start breaking down muscle tissue as it gets your body ready to fight or flee from 'the tiger'! The easiest place to pull amino acids from the muscle tissue is from the gut lining. If you are in a state of stress for too long, you can literally eat away at your gut lining, leading to intestinal impermeability. This is also known as 'leaky gut' where you gut lining starts to separate. This is a very inflamed state to be in, and can lead to gut issues.
Lastly, I can't talk about the connection between stress and the gut, without talking about the Vagus Nerve. For anyone who has gut issues out there, I'm sure many of you would agree that stress and anxiety exacerbates gut issues, or maybe even causes them!
There is a nerve - the VAGUS NERVE - which connects the brain to the gut. If you are anxious, this nerve will send signals to switch off the digestive system, which can lead to all sorts of gut issues.
There is a lot of research out there which supports this gut-brain connection. Some research shows:
- When participants are under stress, their migrating motor complex (muscle contractions that move food from one end to the other) switches off.
- There is a higher prevalence (44%) of sexual or physical abuse in patients with GI disorders.
- People with anxiety are more likely to have chronic post-infectious gut issues following food poisoning.
Addressing Stress Can Help Address Gut Issues
Here are some top recommendations for addressing stress:
- Our Rise Up Protocol is a 45 day journey designed to get on top of and reduce stress levels. It is a signature protocol which helps to prep our unhappy gut clients for gut treatment. This is highly recommended for anyone feeling stressed-out and overwhelmed!
- Testing and treating adrenal stress hormones and/or neurotransmitters if out (sometimes this is all that is needed to reset the gut!).
- Mindset coaching and NLP, or EFT tapping, to help calm the mind and take control over anxious thoughts. All of this is delivered in our Rise Up Protocol.
- Meditation and mindfulness therapies such as QiGong or Yoga.
- Stimulating the vagus nerve with alternating nostril breathing.
Author: Filipa Bellette, Functional Medicine Practitioner & Clinical Nutritionist
Chris & Filly Functional Medicine
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