The year 2020 got off to a bad start. First Kobe's tragic death. And now we are almost half way through and things have gotten a whole lot worse. I pray for all of us that current situations will improve, no more lives will be lost, and livelihoods will be restored. Hopefully lessons will be learned on an individual and community level and there will be advancements in society and healthcare.
As human beings, our stress level will drive behavior choices like excess food purchases. Many businesses are in peril now, but food stores have increased profits. Why? Likely because everyone has stocked up on food and continues to stock up on food. Being at home and being stressed out from watching the media and social media, worrying about finances, etc., can cause one to eat much more than they should.
I mentioned in a previous blog how stress will increase cravings in the brain. Therefore a true food craving (as opposed to hunger) comes from emotional stress. And stress is at an all time high.
Stress can impact our gut health in multiple ways. The cravings caused by stress are often for processed, sugary and fatty foods. In our intestinal tract we have pounds of bacteria that perform a multitude of functions, including aiding the digestion of our food and even regulating our metabolism. Our "good" gut bacteria feed off of and grow from plant based proteins we consume, but not from processed food. Processed food will feed "bad" bacteria, causing "dysbiosis", disrupting proper gut health and immunity and even causing leaky gut. This can lead to heartburn, constipation and diarrhea, and even weight gain. Yes, you heard right. Having an unhealthy gut and dysbiosis can drive weight gain by increasing "insulin resistance", reducing metabolism, and increasing the absorption of calories.
Overeating is probably the biggest cause of chronic disease such as weight gain, diabetes, gut problems, and even cancer. However, natural foods are typically higher in fiber and water and lower in calories, and are naturally more filling. Processed and packaged food, on the other hand, are typically high in calories and and not very filling. So if you are going to stress eat, why not stock up on natural foods? An example would be frozen raspberries. Frozen raspberries are a good snack that is satisfying and will help crush cravings for processed sugar.
Another way stress can damage our gut is via the hormone cortisol. In a healthy person with an optimal metabolism, the hormone cortisol should be high in the morning, helping one to get out of bed and start their day. In the afternoon and evening cortisol should gradually decrease, allowing one to fall asleep at a proper time. Chronic stress keeps cortisol levels high and imbalanced. And this chronically high cortisol can "melt" away our protective gut lining so to speak, which also can contribute to leaky gut. Cortisol can remain out of balance not just from emotional stressors, but physical stressors as well such as not getting enough sleep, too much screen time, and even having blood sugar "crashes" from improper eating.
As our lives hopefully transition back to normal, our immune system has to be strong. And a lot of our immune system comes from our gut. 60-70% of it, in fact. Our immune system and good gut microbes work together to maintain our health. So let's be conscious of how we behave by practicing stress reduction measures and what we consume by reaching for foods high in healthy fibers and nutrients to support our immune health and the health of our intestinal tract.