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Home / Health Insurance / Articles / Digestive Health / Managing Stress to Improve Digestive Health: Understanding the Link between Stress and Digestion

Managing Stress to Improve Digestive Health: Understanding the Link between Stress and Digestion

Team AckoJun 1, 2023

It is no secret that stress has a huge effect on our overall health, both physical and mental. Unfortunately, what many of us don’t realize is that our digestive health and function can also be greatly impacted by excessive stress. When our bodies are in a state of stress, it is common for digestion to slow down. This can lead to a wide range of digestive issues such as bloating, cramps, constipation, and gas. Over a longer period of time, this can even lead to more serious illnesses.




So, what happens in the body when it is under stress? When we experience a stressor, our body releases cortisol, a hormone that tells our body to prepare for an impending threat. This response dates back to our potential evolutionary ancestor, the “fight or flight” response. When our bodies release cortisol in preparation for a perceived danger, it also deregulates our digestive process.

When cortisol is released, our resting metabolic rate increases as our bodies enter into a heightened state of awareness. Our blood sugar levels can also spike due to the release of cortisol, and this can affect our energy levels and cause us to crash later in the day.(1) It is also very common for us to experience an increase in the production of stomach acid, leading to nasty heartburn, acid reflux, and abdominal pain.

Cortisol also causes us to produce less of a substance called cholecystokinin, or CCK for short. CCK is a peptide hormone released in the small intestines that tells our body when it’s time to digest the food we have just ingested. When this hormone is not released or is released less often, digestion slows down and our bodies cannot optimize the nutrient absorption from the food we eat.

Impact of Chronic Stress on Digestive Health

Chronic stress can have even more serious and long-term impacts on our digestive health. Studies have shown that our immune system, which helps to regulate bacteria in the digestive tract, can be weakened by chronically elevated cortisol levels, resulting in an increase in food allergies and sensitivities. (2) Chronic stress has also been linked to inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

The negative impact of chronic stress on our digestive system is further compounded by the fact that we often reach for unhealthy food sources when feeling overwhelmed. Comfort eating is a common response to chronic stress and can disrupt our gut flora, leading to an increase in harmful bacteria and yeast levels. This can lead to an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in our digestive tract, and can even cause inflammation and further damage to the lining of the intestines.

Managing and Reducing Stress to Improve Digestive Health

The good news is that if we take steps to manage and reduce our stress levels, we can help our digestive system to recover. Identifying and removing the sources of stress in our daily lives is a great first step. It is also important to engage in activities that are known to reduce and manage stress, such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques. Taking some time out each day to nurture yourself with activities that bring you joy can make all the difference when it comes to reducing stress.

It is also beneficial to reduce the amount of processed and refined foods we eat and instead focus on consuming a balanced diet rich in probiotics, prebiotics, healthy fats, and proteins. Eating a diet rich in whole foods will help to reduce inflammation, improve the microbiome balance, and promote digestive health.


The effects of stress on our digestive health are significant, and reducing stress is essential if we are to maintain a healthy gut. At times it may be tempting to reach for comfort food or to ignore our stress, but engaging in self-care activities such as exercise, nutrition, and relaxation can help to reduce stress and improve our digestive health in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

Discover the responses to frequently asked questions about managing stress to enhance digestive health.


What are the effects of stress on digestive health?

The effects of stress on digestive health can range from slowing down of digestion, increase in stomach acid, acute and chronic inflammatory conditions, discomfort, and disruption to the gut flora.

What can I do to reduce stress and improve digestive health?

The best way to reduce stress and improve digestive health is to identify and remove the sources of stress in your daily life. Additionally, engaging in activities such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness, and relaxation can help to reduce stress, as well as eating a balanced diet rich in probiotics, prebiotics, healthy fats, and proteins.


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