Most of us know the answer to this. Stress affects every part of our digestive system to cause indigestion or problems related to digestion. The connection between our brain and the entire digestive system is very complex. Since stress affects the functioning of our nervous system, the every biological and biochemical process that take place in our entire body are affected as a result.
Nerves Control the process of Digestion
A nerve system called Enteric Nervous System controls the entire process of digestion. The Enteric Nervous System is made of millions of nerves that are controlled in turn by the Central Nervous System of the brain. In a way it can be compared to a central computer server controlling the other computers by way of a LAN connection.
The blood flow to every part of the body is controlled by the nerves only. So is the blood flow to the digestive system. This blood flow to the digestive system is required to either switch on or switch off the digestive system. The organs of the digestive system are made of involuntary muscles and the movement of these muscles are essential to the process of digestion. The blood flow to the muscles makes the contraction or expansion of these muscles possible. This movement is necessary to carry on with the process of digestion. For example, stomach is an actively moving organ with churning motion like a mixie. The movement of the stomach is made possible by the rich supply of nerves. This fast and complex movement of the stomach converts the food into a chime. Chime is pulpy acidic fluid passing from the stomach to the small intestine. It consists of partly digested food, enzymes and stomach acids.
Hormonal and Enzyme Imbalances Caused by Stress
Stress increases the amount of cortisol hormone in the blood. An increase in cortisol provides the body with glucose. This is done two ways. First is by increasing the intake of sugary foods that are rich in glucose. This is why people with stress often eat a lot. Second is by tapping into the protein store via a process in the liver. An increased glucose level sends a signal to the body to produce more insulin. When this cycle is repeated, the body develops insulin-resistance over a period of time. Hence the diabetic condition is worsened when people have stress. So in effect the hormonal and enzyme balance are disturbed when there is stress leading to poor health conditions.
How Stress can affect Digestion?
- Stress can affect the nerves of the Enteric Nervous System giving them signal not to pump enough blood to the digestive organs. As a result, the movement of the digestive organs become sluggish causing indigestion and other problems.
- Stress is the number one reason for constipation. We are aware that chronic constipation can lead to many other conditions like Piles, Anal Fissure, etc.
- When there is food in the stomach and the digestion process becomes sluggish then it can give rise to a nauseating feeling.
- Similarly when there is food in the stomach and there is stress, the nerves do not function properly, they might cause the LES or Lower Esophageal Sphincter to open causing heartburn or acid reflux.
- Though stress directly does not cause conditions like Ulcer or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, they can aggravate the condition if they are present.
Dr Maran is an experienced Surgeon in the field of Gastro-enterology. He specializes in Advanced laparoscopic Surgery procedures of the gastro-intestinal (GI) tracts. Dr. Maran is also a leading Bariatric Surgeon in Chennai and has a penchant for addressing problems concerning Obesity.