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How Stress Impacts Digestion & Vice Versa

Each and every one of us knows from personal experience, that anxiety, nervousness, and even heartache, can create a physical pain response in the body. Most commonly discomfort in the gut, or the well-known feeling of ‘butterflies’. The fact that these sensations frequently occur together is no coincidence.

The 'Gut-Brain Connection' is real.

Our digestive tract harbours ten times more microorganisms than we have human cells in our body. These bacteria are the community of bugs that make up our ‘microbiome’ which first develops during birth and is integral to immunity, digestion and as we're discussing here - emotional well-being and mental health.

It's been discovered that there are more happy hormones; serotonin and dopamine in our digestive tract than can be found in our brain which is pretty incredible and provides further insight as to why so many people feel physical discomfort in their tummy when faced with an emotional stressor. In neuroscience, research into the ‘gut-brain’ axis is ongoing.

The gut-brain axis is the invisible connection between our brain and all the bacteria residing in our digestive tract.

The microbiome communicates with our nervous system, affecting how we behave, how we respond to stress, and even how we react to therapy and psychiatric medication.

A study from the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry found that normal adult brain function depends on the presence of healthy gut microbes during childhood development. This means that our exposure to bacteria as children plays a role in both our digestion and our mood as an adult.

Which begs the question, were you, or your child, born via caesarean section? Were you, or were they breastfed?

When a child is born naturally they receive a big mouthful of bacteria as they emerge through the vaginal canal. If a child misses out on this inoculation of bacteria they are more likely to develop food intolerances, allergies, skin conditions like Eczema and potential behavioural issues. When a child is breastfed in the first several weeks after birth, they receive colostrum from breast milk which also sets up their immunity and microbiome, for life.

Of course, not every mother is able to breastfeed or have a natural birth. Thankfully in some countries, women have access to probiotics or fermented foods and drinks. For some, it’s as easy as putting powdered probiotics on the mother's nipple or giving them directly as a supplement in water or milk.

If learning about the gut-brain connection tells us anything, it's the importance of taking care of our digestion and our emotional well-being and this does not have to be a complicated task. Below are some of the simple things you can start including in your day, today.

6 Ways To Take Care of Your Gut-Brain Axis


Obviously, exercise releases endorphins, but you don't have to sweat it out at the gym to reap the benefits to your mood (and thus your digestion). If you live a stressful life your body could very likely prefer and need something more gentle like yin-style movements such as stretching, walks, swimming tai chi or yoga.

Consume Fermented Foods & Drinks

Consuming fermented foods and drinks provides the body with probiotic bacteria that nourish the microbiome and your mood. Aim to have at least a few serves a week. You might like to try making your own kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir or yoghurt -it's much easier than you might imagine!

Learn more about the different types of ferments that can benefit you, and why, in our article here.


Dietary fibre is so undervalued. In my opinion, it's one of the easiest and most important things to consider when it comes to preventing bowel issues. Fibre acts as the primary fuel source for our microbiome. It passes through the digestive tract undigested where it is fermented as a source of pre-biotics for the bugs there. I'm a big fan of soluble, mucilaginous forms of fibre too. They're the kind that becomes viscous or gelatinous in texture.

Think soaked chia seeds, ground-up soaked flaxseeds (linseed), bananas, cooked oats, psyllium, aloe vera, figs, slippery elm and okra. The bonus is that they're also anti-inflammatory to both the bowel and our brain. An inflamed brain (brain 'on fire') is one of the main causes of brain fog, next to a leaky gut (ie. leaky brain).

Limit or Avoid Alcohol

Not only does alcohol impair the delicate balance of microbes in our digestive tract, but it also creates intestinal inflammation and depletes the body of B vitamins vital to a healthy mood. The same goes for refined sugars. Need help kicking the habit? Get onto our 30-day Sober Habits Challenge!

Self Care

Prioritizing self-care is an act of kindness and is truly a necessity rather than a luxury, particularly in modern society. Stress, pressure, anxiety, addiction and isolation are rife while sleep, nutrition, time in nature and connection are lacking. Make a conscious effort to integrate simple practices into your life, like a magnesium salt bath, a 10-minute meditation, waking for sunrise or heading out for sunset.


We don't hesitate to reach out for expert guidance when we want to improve our work performance, learn a new sport, eat healthier or become a better parent but when it comes to improving our mental or emotional health there's a stigma. Talk therapy isn't for everyone and it's certainly not the only kind of therapy available. If you want to improve your gut-brain connection and in turn your mood and digestion, consider other modalities like breath work, art or music therapy, yoga, dance, family constellation, reiki, micro-dosing, energy healing, psychedelic therapy, and spiritual healing. The options are endless.

Naturopathic Support

If you suffer with digestive discomfort and also have a high-stress lifestyle, reach out for a free 10 minute call or book one of our packages: 'Heal Your Gut' or the 'Kiyah Calm'. Naturopathic medicine takes a holistic approach to healing and considers all aspects of wellbeing in its efforts to restore a happy and healthy balance.


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