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Stomach phobia: How stress affects gut health

Stomach phobia: How stress affects gut health

According to a recent study, psychological stress affects the immune system in the gut, creating conditions conducive to the development of inflammatory diseases.

It has now been proven that psychological stress significantly affects inflammatory processes that affect many organs.1. This is particularly striking in relation to inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis: several studies have already reported that stressful life events (job loss, divorce, deaths) are associated with sudden flare-ups (break out) One of the most important symptoms of these diseases (abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue).

immune effect

Psychological stress activates two pathways in our bodies, the sympathetic nervous system that triggers the production of adrenaline and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that generates glucocorticoids such as cortisol.

In a study recently published in the prestigious scientific journal cellThe researchers note that the production of glucocorticoids is largely responsible for the molecular link between psychological stress and inflammation.2.

Dissection of the biochemical pathways involved in this link revealed a new mechanism of action for these glucocorticoids: Rather than interacting directly with inflammatory cells in the gut, as they usually do during inflammation, the study showed that glucocorticoids act somewhat indirectly. , by targeting the nervous system (neurons and glial cells) located at the organ level.

In the presence of high levels of stress-induced corticosteroids, neurons secrete factors that attract immune cells and cause them to release inflammatory molecules, which severely irritate gut cells.

At the same time, glucocorticoids interfere with the maturation of neurons in the gut, preventing them from producing the molecules normally required to generate the muscle contractions that allow food to move through the digestive tract. In other words, it is an increase in local inflammation, combined with a reduction in intestinal transit velocity, which explains the exacerbating effects of stress on IBD.

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stress management

According to the authors, these findings suggest that improving patients’ mental status could represent an important aspect of treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases and possibly for all diseases that involve inflammation.

We see that more and more people find it difficult to adjust to the madness that characterizes modern times, which can lead to the development of many psychological problems such as chronic stress, anxiety and depression.

Since these mental disorders can, in turn, affect physical health, it therefore seems desirable to adopt a holistic approach to disease treatment that takes into account the interaction between body and mind.

“A healthy mind resides in a healthy body,” said the Greek philosopher and researcher Thales of Miletus, more than six centuries before our era. Words that are still relevant nearly 2,700 years later.

1 Haykin H and Rolls A. The neuroimmune response during stress: a physiological perspective. immunity 2021; 54: 1933-1947.

2 Schneider Kim et al. The enteric nervous system transmits psychological stress to enteritis. cell 2023; 186: 2823-2838.e20.