A nervous stomach can often make one feel uneasy, but does it have any real, fact-based, negative effects on the body? Read on to find out how symptoms of digestive problems such as an upset stomach, abdominal pain, and stomach cramps trigger anxiety.
In this article:
- The Gut-Brain Relationship
- Gut Microbiota and Brain Interaction
- Behind the Nervous Stomach Anxiety Process
- Findings from the Study Review
- What Can You Do?
The Connection Between Anxiety and a Nervous Stomach
Some people start feeling nervous when they experience an upset stomach. The pain can make them confused, agitated, and generally unwell.
Can nervous stomach symptoms really lead to anxiety? In a study review by the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology, the researchers explored the correlation between digestive tract issues and stress.
The Gut-Brain Relationship
Researchers revealed that the gastrointestinal tract and brain have a more direct, connected relationship than initially perceived.
The way you take care of your stomach muscles and digestive organs can have varying effects on mood, motivation, and even cognitive functions. This complex system of gut-brain communication is dubbed as the gut-brain axis (GBA).
The GBA’s main role is to regulate and link digestive health with the cognitive and emotional areas of the brain. These include gut functions such as intestinal permeability, entero-endocrine signaling, and immune activation.
How Microbiota Affects GBA
Gut microbiota consists of fungi, viruses, and bacteria. They have an impact on how the body functions, so it’s only natural that they affect GBA, as well.
Clinical and experimental evidence from the same study review published by the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology shows that microbiota interacts with the enteric nervous system, central nervous system, and intestinal cells through metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.
One of the best studies to back up the theory on microbiota affecting GBA is a study from 1991. Patients suffering from encephalopathy, a virus that affects brain functions, showed astounding improvements after being treated with gut health-boosting oral antibiotics.
More than two decades later, the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Canada decided to further expound on how the GBA process impacts people suffering from anxiety. The key takeaway was that the GI tract could directly interact with the central nervous system through signaling neurotransmitters.
A more recent study published in 2014 dives deeper into gut-brain relationships and studies the correlation of depression and human fecal microbiota. Results show that specific probiotic strains act as a neurotransmitter that can affect overall brain health and function.
Gut Microbiota and Brain Interaction
So how does the gut microbiota and brain interact with each other?
Here’s what we know right now:
Gut to Brain
Research shows gut microbiota interacts with the brain through several neurotransmitters and pathways. This affects the way one’s mood and emotions change daily.
Apart from short-term mood changes, gut microbiota to brain interactions are important to the development of both the enteric and central nervous system.
An example of the gut to brain interaction would be where one feels confused and anxious every time they experience stomach problems. The hormonal and bacterial imbalance causes interruptions in the gut to brain transmissions.
Brain to Gut
The brain plays a vital role in maintaining digestive functions such as acid secretion, mucosal immune response, intestinal fluid handling, and motility.
If your brain temporarily stops functioning properly because of hormonal imbalance, the anxiety and nervousness may manifest itself through issues such as an upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and functional abdominal pain, among others.
Behind the Nervous Stomach Anxiety Process
The stomach pain-induced anxiety process can be broken down into five steps:
Step 1: There is an Increase in Stress Hormone Levels
When you’re feeling nervous, the body begins to produce more cortisol, the stress hormone. This response gives you animalistic survival instincts in times of crisis and danger.
It may provide you with a temporary high, but after your energy levels crash, you begin to notice physical symptoms of pain.
Step 2: Cortisol Affects the Gut
Once the stress hormone is released, it’ll spread and affect bodily functions, including the digestive process. This can lead to issues such as an upset stomach, increased heart rate, nausea, and other digestive symptoms of pain.
Step 3: Sustained Release Causes Bacteria Alteration
If the gut is constantly under pressure, it may develop problems with digestion and an imbalance in the number of bacteria present in the tract. Note that many of these bacteria play an important role in fending off harmful contaminants that cause abdominal pain or an upset stomach.
Step 4: Production of GABA and Serotonin Decreases
GABA Definition: Stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. Its main function is to suppress feelings of fear and anxiety when the neurons are overstimulated.
Serotonin Definition: A neurotransmitter commonly found in the bloodstream, central nervous system, and GI tract. It helps regulate mood and appetite.
Step 5: There’s Added Anxiety
Finally, the circle comes back to anxiety. These negative effects create a chain reaction that can virtually start and stop anywhere.
Let’s say you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Even if you were initially calm, it wouldn’t take long for your gut bacteria and fungi imbalance to affect your hormone levels.
Similarly, anxiety may manifest itself as nausea, diarrhea, and bloating.
Findings from the Study Review
Can a nervous stomach trigger anxiety disorder issues? The answer is yes.
In the review, it was concluded that the digestive tract could interact with the central nervous system through the microbiota. But note that some of the effects are limited to certain types of strains.
This leads us to the conclusion that using specific probiotics may be the key to alleviating symptoms of stress and anxiety.
What Can You Do?
If you’re getting a nervous feeling in your stomach, a quick way to calm down anxiety is through breathing techniques.
A basic one is the counting technique. The goal is to count every inhale and exhale you take for at least 7-8 minutes.
By doing so, you’ll be providing your cells with the oxygen they need to function properly. At the same time, you can keep your mind distracted.
Overall, your goal should be to maintain a sound, healthy digestive tract, one that’s capable of handling physical symptoms such as nausea, acid reflux, diarrhea, and stomach problems without inducing stress and anxiety.
How do you deal with the stress induced by a nervous stomach? Share your tips with us in the comments section!
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