Can you imagine the stress of your house burning down?
Hopefully you never have to, but I recently spoke with someone who had exactly this happen to him. And it was straight after that happened that he was diagnosed with IBD.
Do you know what the ‘trigger’ was for your IBD?
Every time I speak with someone who suffers with Crohn’s or UC that’s one of the first questions I ask them. Now obviously I get a variety of responses…
They’ve all been given as reasons. Fortunately this was the first (and hopefully last) time a house burning down has been mentioned.
Did you notice anything in particular about that above list? They are all pretty stressful events. That surely has to be an incredibly clear indication of the effect that stress can have on your body.
In functional medicine (which is very different to conventional medicine) it’s often thought that with a chronic illness there are 3 major factors that play a part in you having the disease…
And a Mediator.
The “trigger” is some kind of event that seemed to kick off the disease, like the things I mentioned above (that’s not to say it CAUSED it, it just seems to be the trigger that pushed your body over the edge).
An “antecedent” is something that perhaps makes you more susceptible to something like this. It could be your genes, it could be a family history, it could be something you were exposed to in your childhood (high antibiotic exposure, for example).
And the “mediator” is the thing that is allowing the disease to continue to show itself. That could be something you are eating, toxins you’re exposed to, infections you have not yet addressed, or (here it comes again) chronic levels of stress.
Without a trigger, antecedent AND a mediator, you would very likely not be suffering with the chronic illness that you currently have.
Time and time again, I see stress being the “Trigger” element of the above 3 factors. I’ve rarely ever spoken to an IBD sufferer who hasn’t felt that stress plays a big part in the onset of their symptoms, yet so little help is given to control these things.
I honestly believe that increased levels of stress are one of the reasons that incidents of IBD are increasing year over year (25% increase in the past 5 years)
Well, it’s that along with poor diet, increased toxin exposure and overuse of antibiotics but today it’s stress I want to delve into more. You see people think, in this day and age, there is nothing that can be done. We’re so much more stressed than people 50-100 years ago…
…when they had things like WORLD WARS to deal with.
That is stress. Real stress.
Nowadays we worry about a meeting, a deadline, how we look, how we are perceived on Facebook and tonnes more minor things. Without a doubt, you 100% MUST manage stress if you’re suffering from Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. A huge percentage of the people I speak to certainly associate the first onset of symptoms with a lot of stressful event.
The Effects of Stress on Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis
To motivate you to take action and do something (no matter how small) to better get stress under control it’s worth understanding some ways in which stress is impacting your symptoms right now…
Stomach Acid / Digestive Enzymes / Bile Acids
Chronic stress has been shown to reduce your stomach acid levels, as well as your digestive enzymes and bile acid levels.
This can make it harder to digest certain foods (which alone can increase pain, be a cause of bloating and gas, and lead to inflammation).
What’s more, if you aren’t breaking down foods as well as you ideally would, then you won’t be extracting the nutrients from the food as well as possible
(which will lead to nutrient deficiencies, and increased symptoms, fatigue in particular).
One other common cause of low stomach acid is that it can actually cause reflux / heartburn – a very, very uncomfortable symptom for anyone who suffers with it.
Finally, stomach acid can also help to protect us against, and kill off, the bad bugs we are exposed to daily.
With too low levels we are much more susceptible to these bugs adversely affecting our health (and through the stool testing I run we commonly find these are major contributors towards someone’s symptoms).
Chronic stress has been shown, in many studies, to increase inflammation through the body.
Obviously inflammation is the main symptom of inflammatory bowel disease, and it is that which ultimately leads to the majority of other symptoms such as fatigue, pain and irregular bowel movements.
Obviously it’s not getting to the cause of the inflammation, but when someone does have chronically high levels of inflammation then turmeric can be hugely effective.
Grab some here…
Anyone who lives with Crohn’s / Ulcerative Colitis and still has symptoms has what is known as a “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability”.
Healing this leaky gut is critical for your symptoms, as well as helping to reduce the number of foods to which you are sensitive to.
There are many factors that can make a gut more “leaky” (including foods, infections, and toxins), but stress is a major contributor.
Once someone’s gut is healed then that’s where symptoms and inflammation dramatically reduce and people start to feel much better. Managing stress is an important part of getting to that place.
Stress has been shown to have an adverse effect on both the levels of good and bad bacteria within your gut.
Your gut is home to lots of different types of bacteria which ultimately affect your inflammation, immune system, digestion, mood, emotions, and more.
The balance of bacteria in someone’s gut is something we can analyse with the stool testing that I run on my clients, and gives us a really beneficial insight into what’s going on inside (so we can put in place targeted protocols to address what we find).
In an ideal world we theoretically want as much of the beneficial bacteria as possible, and as little of the bad bacteria, but stress will affect this balance, leading to numerous symptoms.
Only once balance is restored will someone feel as good as they possibly can.
What is interesting though is the effect that stress can have on these bugs. For example, it’s been shown to encourage the growth of some bugs, and increase the destructive effects of the bugs.
It’s certainly one of the reasons why you will find your IBD related symptoms can often worsen during a stressful period, and why 2 people can have the same bugs and react very differently to them.
Stress will also affect the formation of “Biofilms”.
You’ve heard of plaque on your teeth right? Well plaque is a type of biofilm. Biofilms are like a protective coating formed by bacteria to help protect them (kind of like a safety in numbers type thing).
Biofilms can help make bacteria much more resistant to things like antibiotics (which is why there is a huge concern that antibiotic effectiveness is lessening by the day, largely caused by its overuse).
Stress appears to affect the formation of these “biofilms” and in particular seems to help to protect the bad bugs, while being less effective at protecting the good ones.
Therefore, killing of the baddies is going to be that much harder when you are stressed.
Fortunately there are specific protocols that can be used (that use products aside from the antibiotics that the doctor would throw are you) that is very effective at breaking down this biofilm.
This is all obviously pretty serious stuff. You really don’t want bad bugs inside of you and you certainly don’t want them to be more destructive and harder to kill than they already are. And so the solution to doing that is to manage stress.
Hopefully you can see that managing stress is important, but sometimes doing so is easier said than done isn’t it?
How to Better Manage Stress
There are lots and lots of ways to better manage stress.
One thing that’s always important to remember though is that stress is ultimately your decision. The fact is that you will never be able to completely remove yourself from what people might perceive as a stressful situation. There’s always going to be things in your life that could stress you out, but ultimately it’s not the events themselves that are the stress but rather your reaction to those events.
As an example, if you are driving your car and someone pulls out in front of you, then it’s your decision whether to shout and holla and chase after the person, or whether you shrug your shoulders, accept it and get on with your day. That’s your decision and while it may not always be easy to make the “right” decision, it is within your control.
To take that a step further, a really important mindset to get into is that there are essentially three choices you can make in a situation that you may perceive as stressful…
The first is you can remove yourself from it.
If you could remove yourself from that situation then there is nothing to stress out about it. It’s gone. It’s done. An example of that might be an unhappy relationship or a job. Removing yourself from it would be as it sounds – leaving the job, or ending the relationship.
Easier said than done I know, but if it’s stressing you out, and making you unhappy, then for your long-term health and happiness doing so can be a sensible option.
The second choice you’ve got is to change it.
In the context of the same example as above, what is it you could change about your relationship so it doesn’t stress you out anymore? Or what aspect of your job is it that stresses you out? What steps can you take to change it? So often people allow things to bug them and stress them when they could simply change them.
The final choice, if you can’t do either of those two things, is to accept.
In fact, if you can’t change something, or remove yourself from it, then accepting it is the only logical thing to do. Like I say, all of this is easier said than done but just having that mindset, and knowing that they are your only 3 decisions, really can help.