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Why do you get bloated when you are stressed?

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) can cause many disruptions to your daily life. A common symptom that occurs is bloating. However, have you ever felt that your mood can physically have an effect on your body? For example, a current question that is asked frequently is ‘why do I get bloated when I am stressed?’





One of the most cutting-edge areas of research involves the ‘gut-brain axis’ – the connection between the brain, gut, and microbiome and its potentially huge influence over our health. It has now been shown that IBS is not just a gastrointestinal disorder, instead it involves a complex interaction between the microbiota, immune system and the autonomous nervous system in your body. The pathway between the gut microbiota and the ANS is called the gut brain axis (Also known as the gut-brain connection.) The gut brain axis consists of bidirectional communication (two way connection) between the central and enteric nervous system[1], this links both emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. The gut and the brain are connected through the largest nerve in the body, called the vagus nerve, and they communicate both ways through this nerve connection. However, aside from this there are also additional pathways that are involved in the complex functioning of the gut brain axis including communication through various chemical messengers, the endocrine system, gut hormones and neurotransmitters

Therefore, what is happening in the gut can directly influence our brain function and behaviour.


What does this have to do with microbiome in the gut and IBS?

Well further research has shown that the gut microbiome is also involved in the gut brain axis. So, any miscommunications between this three way connection can bring on a range of issues such as IBS[2]. So, to answer the first question, ‘why do I get bloated when I’m stressed?’ It is because when your body’s under stress, the fight or flight response in your body is activated - your body’s natural survival reaction that occurs when it perceives a threat. When this response happens, digestion in your gut slows down and your gut sensitivity increases. The body is using energy it was supposed to use for digestion to face the perceived threat.


This survival reaction was important in the past to face threats that were life threatening such as being chased by wild animals. However, in modern day life the stressors we face can include meeting deadlines in work or school and financial problems. Which although can be stressful they are non-life threatening. This system has not evolved in our body, meaning the body cannot differentiate between types of stressors. Consequently, your gut function is altered, and you may experience symptoms such as bloating, cramps, wind and altered bowel habits[3].


There is now strong evidence that shows gut microbiome is different in people who have IBS and those who don’t[4]. Studies have shown an imbalance in gut communities including both a reduction in the numbers and diversity of healthy microbes and an increase of potentially harmful microbes, collectively known as gut dysbiosis.


This difference likely plays a role in the dysfunction with the gut-brain connection.

Stress, which can make IBS symptoms worse, also changes the gut microbiome[5].

Studies have shown that even short-term stress can change the profile of the gut community, including lowering the amount of healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus[6]. Therefore, Changes in the gut-brain-microbiome axis, caused by things like stress, can lead to digestive conditions such as IBS.


However, as confusing as all this can seem. There are a range of treatment options that can help this. Including probiotics and prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods that your body can't breakdown and absorb (digest). They encourage the growth and activity of healthy gut microbes. By doing this they may improve your health. Probiotics are microscopic, live organisms (microbes) that, if you swallow in large enough amounts, are good for your health.

Probiotics have numerous positive effects which include: increasing the number of ‘healthy’ organisms in your gut, strengthening the barrier in the gut to harmful substances, stimulating the immune system in the gut, lessening the amount of inflammation in the gut and helping to reduce the number of episodes of diarrhoea.


Nutrition and Co offer a IBS 3 month program, which specifically addresses the gut-brain axis, stressors, diet , lifestyle and supplementation. By eliminating trigger foods and re-introducing them , we modify your diet according to your personalised symptoms. You will no longer have extreme bloating and discomfort!


To find out more about our IBS Gut re-set program click HERE.


[1] Lerner, A., Neidhöfer, S., & Matthias, T. (2017). The gut microbiome feelings of the brain: A perspective for non-microbiologists. Microorganisms, 5(4), 66. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms5040066

[2] Md, J., & Peter, M. (n.d.). Intestinal microbiome-gut-brain axis and irritable bowel syndrome Gabriele Moser, MD,corresponding author Camille Fournier.

[3] Qin, H.-Y., Cheng, C.-W., Tang, X.-D., & Bian, Z.-X. (2014). Impact of psychological stress on irritable bowel syndrome. World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG, 20(39), 14126–14131. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i39.14126

[4] Menees, S., & Chey, W. (2018). The gut microbiome and irritable bowel syndrome. F1000Research, 7, 1029. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.14592.1

[5] Cryanc, J. F. (n.d.). Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome Jane A. Foster,a Linda Rinaman.

[6] Lutgendorff, F., Akkermans, L. M. A., & Söderholm, J. D. (2008). The role of microbiota and probiotics in stress-induced gastro-intestinal damage. Current Molecular Medicine, 8(4), 282–298. https://doi.org/10.2174/156652408784533779



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