Stress & Digestion

Why does stress affect digestion?

We all know the feeling of having butterflies in our stomach or feeling nauseous when we’re worried, but why does that happen?

When we’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or upset, our bodies are in a sympathetic nervous system state. This is more commonly known as “fight or flight”.

During stressful situations, we release a cocktail of hormones that instructs the body to reroute blood flow from “unnecessary” to “critical to survival” areas of the body. This includes taking blood flow away from digestive organs and sending it to the heart, lungs, and large muscles. From a survival perspective, this makes sense: let’s focus on running from a lion now and we can deal with digestion later.

The problem is that if we’re feeling stressed for a prolonged period of time, our digestion suffers long term consequences:

  • Stomach: Lack of production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid leads to nausea, heartburn or indigestion.
  • Small intestine: If we don’t break down foods well in the stomach AND we have a lack of blood flow to the intestinal tract, we poorly absorb nutrients. This leads to fatigue and other symptoms of nutrient deficiency like brittle hair and nails, headaches, and muscle tension.
  • Large intestine: Poorly broken-down foods become hyper fermented by our gut flora. This leads to bloating and leaky gut.
  • Motility: The normal action of moving food through the digestive tract in a healthy time frame with proper bowel movements is affected. This can cause diarrhea in some people and constipation in others.

Long term stress has other impacts on how our digestion moves, too. It can slow our metabolic rate (causing constipation) through slowing thyroid function. Stress also alters our gut microbiome, impacting our immune system, mood, and appetite. Suffice it to say that stress has a huge impact on our digestion as the foundation of overall health!

So, what do we do?

  1. The opposite of “fight or flight” is “rest and digest”. The key is that you can’t be in both nervous system states at the same time. When you’re feeling stressed, worried, or if you notice that your digestion has been off lately, try taking a few moments before you eat to take five slow, controlled, deep breaths. This pulls you out of fight or flight and moves you into rest and digest.
  2. Focus on your meals. Avoid screens, phones, and other distractions while eating. Sit down and enjoy your food! Eating with others is helpful for the digestive process because keep us relaxed and focused on the meal.
  3. Engage in restorative and restful activities throughout the day. Remember that digestion isn’t just happening while we’re eating, it’s a continual process.
  4. Don’t work out too much. Intense workouts put our bodies back into fight or flight. Make sure your workouts are challenging but not exhausting. A good rule is that if you’re sore two days after a workout, you’ve pushed too far.
  5. Get a good sleep. Sleep inhibits our stress hormones. When we’re more tired, we feel more anxious and irritable, and this is because our stress hormones weren’t sufficiently lowered during sleep. Click here for more tips on sleep.
  6. Seek out support for coping with stress and anxiety. Dr. Chambers may use herbs and/or supplements, adjust your nutrition, improve your sleep and provide stress coping tools to help reduce stress.
  7. Uncover what else may be sabotaging your digestion. Food intolerances, IBS, thyroid issues, candida overgrowth and SIBO are all conditions impact our digestion and are made worse with stress.

Book an appointment to address the underlying cause of your digestive concerns, learn to cope with stress, and get you on the path to great digestion even in the face of stressful circumstances.

Benefits of Vitamin B12

As we wade-through the winter months, many people get tired and bogged down. Energy and mood can be low, and stress levels can become more difficult to manage. Vitamin B12 injections are something that I love to use to help my patients (and myself!) cope with stress, low energy, and a whole host of other concerns.

What is Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient called cobalamin that your body cannot produce on its own. Typically we get B12 from foods; the richest sources being clams, mussels, salmon, beef and eggs. Vitamin B12 is necessary for many crucial functions in our bodies. It is used to convert food to energy, make red blood cells to carry oxygen around our bodies, make DNA and nerve cells, balance hormones, detoxify, and fight infection. It’s amazing to think that this little nutrient is so important, and yet many of us are deficient.

Who benefits from B12 injections?

B12 deficiency causes fatigue, depression, mood swings, poor circulation, poor memory, brain fog, muscle weakness, and/or tingling in the fingers and toes. People with a B12 deficiency often have difficulty coping with stress, have low energy, and have symptoms of excess estrogen. Most people with these symptoms can benefit from B12 injections, and it’s not toxic at moderately high levels.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common, especially in people under stress, people over 50 years of age, and vegetarians or vegans. We often don’t get enough B12 from our diet, so B12 injections provide a boost of B12 into the body, and then in most cases you can take a supplement to keep your levels high.

Some people have a condition called pernicious anemia. These people produce less intrinsic factor, which is needed in the stomach to absorb B12. Moreover, if you are over 50, or taking proton pump inhibitors or antacids, you are also likely not absorbing B12. For these people, B12 injections are necessary to ensure your body is getting enough of this essential nutrient.

Energy Production and Stress Management

Vitamin B12 is an essential for converting food into energy, or ATP, and without it the process slows down dramatically. People who feel sluggish, or low in energy even with adequate sleep and a good diet, would likely benefit from B12 injections. The injection gets that pathway working efficiently and gives you a boost of energy.

Stress takes both an emotional and a physical toll on our bodies. Vitamin B12 helps us to cope with stress by balancing our brain chemistry, sharpening our cognitive abilities, and improving our memory. It also reduces physical stress in the liver by methylating and detoxifying hormones and toxins.

Brain Function – Depression and Alzheimer’s disease

Vitamin B12 is necessary for the production of monoamine transmitters, which are deficient in people suffering from depression. Research shows that B12 injections improve mood in some depressed patients without the use of antidepressants.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency such as memory loss and reduced mental state are also found in dementia. There is growing evidence that many people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia are actually overlooked cases of B12 deficiency. Studies show that the progression of Alzheimer’s can be prevented if treated early with B12.

Infertility and Hormone Health

B12 deficiency is also often overlooked in cases of infertility and irregular hormone patterns. Vitamin B12 it is used to break down estrogen so that it can be excreted from the body. As a result, women with B12 deficiency may experience infertility or irregular cycles because high estrogen levels can cause lack of ovulation, embryo implantation failure, and difficulty maintaining pregnancy. Low B12 can also cause hypercoagulability, which is a cause of early recurrent miscarriage.

Testing and Treatment

I recommend annual B12 testing every 6-12 months, with regular monitoring of your levels if you are receiving B12 injections to improve your mood, memory, energy, immune system or balance hormones.

If you and your ND decide that vitamin B12 injections would be beneficial for you, we are pleased to provide B12 injections at our clinic. Please contact our office for more information.

References

Bennett M. Vitamin B12 deficiency, infertility and recurrent fetal loss. J Reprod Med. 2001;46(3):209-12.

Dubey RK, Jackson EK, Gilespie DG, Zacharia LC, Imthurn B. Catecholamines block the antimitogenic effect of estradiol on human coronary artery smooth muscle cells.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004;89(8):3922-31.

Ellinson M, Thomas J, Patterson A. A critical evaluation of the relationship between serum vitamin B, folate and total homocysteine with cognitive impairment in the elderly. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2004;17(4):371-83.

Quadri P, Fragiacomo C, Pezzati R, Zanda E, Forloni G, Tettamanti M, Lucca U. Homocysteine, folate, and vitamin B-12 in mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer disease, and vascular dementia. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(1):114-22.

Reznikoff-Etievant MF, Zittoun J, Vaylet C, Pernet P, Milliez J. Low Vitamin B12 level as a risk factor for very early recurrent abortion. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Repord Biol. 2002;104(2):156-9.

Tiemeir H, Ruud van Tuijl H, Hofman A, Meijer J, Killaan AJ, Breteler M. Vitamin B12, Folate, and Homocysteine in Depression: The Rotterdam Study. Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:2099-2101.