Gut Health

Why Stress Causes Diarrhea (And how to stop it from ruining your day)

Have you ever had diarrhea strike on the morning of a big meeting… or before a first date… or when you're looking at your checking account? As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, now you’re trapped in the bathroom, probably running late, and anxious about when the next episode will hit.

If stress gets you right in the gut, you’re not alone, and you’re certainly not crazy. Stress alone can cause diarrhea, not to mention a whole host of other GI (gastrointestinal) problems.

So before the next stressor strands you in the bathroom, get the lowdown on how stress causes diarrhea… and what you can do to make it stop.

What You Need to Know About Diarrhea

Talking about diarrhea usually falls into the “no thank you” category, but here it’s a must. Before you can get your stress diarrhea under control, you need to know how diarrhea works.

When you eat something, your digestive system breaks it down and absorbs nutrients, other healing components (like antioxidants), and liquid. Whatever is left over – the waste – gets transformed into poop. 

Diarrhea happens when that process hits a snag, usually one of two things:

  1. The food moved through too quickly before your body had a chance to pull out all the liquid
  2. Your GI (gastrointestinal) system added extra fluid, usually caused by some kind of infectious bacteria or virus

Either way, your poop ends up loose and watery… a classic case of diarrhea. And when that’s not the result of something like IBS, stomach flu, or food poisoning, there’s a fairly high chance that stress is driving your diarrhea.

upset stomach

How Stress Causes – and Worsens - Diarrhea

Diarrhea seems like it all takes place in your gut, but it also involves your brain. 

Your brain and your gut communicate constantly in a permanent two-way conversation called the gut-brain axis, or GBA. And through the GBA, each affects the other’s activities and performance.

In fact, your gut works like a “second brain.” Your GI tract contains oceans of nerve cells – hundreds of millions of them. It’s like an offshoot of your nervous system. And when your main brain feels stress, it sends distress signals directly to your gut as part of a normal stress response.

When you get stressed out, your body can’t tell the difference between a fender bender, a missed deadline, or an animal attack. All it knows is that your brain sent out the “fight or flight” message. So your body responds with a preprogrammed set of physical reactions, like increasing your heart rate and sending more blood to your arms and legs (so you can fight or flee). 

But the threat reaction that matters most here is that stress speeds up the contractions in your colon. That makes food move through much faster… and leads to distressing bouts of diarrhea.

Chronic Stress Causes Longer-Term Gut Issues

A stressful incident can cause a few days of crampy, uncomfortable diarrhea, but it eventually goes away when things settle down. But when you’re dealing with chronic stress – any intense situation that lingers for longer than it should – that takes a much more serious toll on your gut health.

Here are the 3 main ways chronic stress damages your gut health:

ONE. Chronic stress knocks your gut microbiome – the trillions of bacteria in your gut – out of balance, a condition called dysbiosis. With dysbiosis, harmful bacteria overgrow and outnumber beneficial bacteria. Dysbiosis can cause or worsen a wide variety of symptoms and health problems, including:

Plus, dysbiosis can also cause breaches in the protective shield known as the gut barrier.

TWO. Chronic stress weakens your gut barrier, the inner mucosal lining of your intestines. Your gut barrier works around the clock to keep undigested food particles, toxins, harmful bacteria, and other pathogens locked safely inside your GI tract and out of your bloodstream. 

But when stress and dysbiosis team up to weaken the gut barrier, all of those harmful substances sneak through to escape your gut and enter your bloodstream – a condition known as leaky gut. And studies show that leaky gut may be the root cause of:

THREE. Chronic stress decreases absorption of key nutrients, which can lead to deficiencies and interrupt proper function of cells, organs, and body systems. Stress responses can speed up intestinal transit time, pushing food through too fast for your body to be able to properly breakdown and absorb all the nutrients you need. At the same time, stress hogs a lot of essential nutrients – including B vitamins, vitamin C, and magnesium – which leaves less for the rest of your body.

Whether your stress is short-lived or long-term, it will probably affect your gut… often by causing diarrhea and other digestive upsets. And while you can’t avoid stress, you can minimize the impact it has on your gut… your gut barrier… and your gut microbiome by taking steps to support the health of your gut every day.

tree pose

Keep Your Gut Worry-Free with Just Thrive

A happy gut microbiome is a well-balanced microbiome, an environment where beneficial probiotic bacteria can flourish. And when your gut microbiome is in healthy balance, it supports:

  • Proper digestive system function
  • Complete nutrient absorption
  • Strong, resilient gut barrier function
  • Better GI health

You can give your gut the support it needs with Just Thrive Probiotic, which contains four strains of clinically proven spore probiotics. 

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