The Stress/Gut/Immune System Link

The strain of everyday stress can lead to headaches, heart disease and high blood pressure. But did you know stress can alter your gut bacteria, and ultimately harm your immune system?

The gut microbiome in your digestive system includes a diverse collection of bacteria, viruses, archaea, protozoa and fungi. These are not invaders; they are an important part of your health and weight. And there’s a lot of them. In fact, there are so many organisms in the gut, they “outnumber the total amount of human cells in the human body.”

Stress has a direct effect on gut bacteria. As a response to stress, your body can create new bacteria in your digestive system. This might not sound so bad at first. However, researchers suggest that the newly formed bacteria can have altered DNA that makes them more aggressive.

These aggressive bacteria are then able to travel into your lymph system, “triggering the immune system to become overactive and turn against the body, which is how autoimmune diseases takes root.” People with autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis have high amounts of the same bacteria observed in the research.

As mounting evidence suggests that the gut microbiome affects more and more of our bodies, it’s increasingly important to take care of it by reducing stress. In fact, sustained stress should be treated as a danger to your health, the same way we look at smoking and binge drinking.

For some tips on reducing the effects of regular stress, read “Don’t Let ‘Stressed’ Become Your New Normal” or visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine resource for stress.