Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
August 20, 2018
We all are exposed to stress. Some of us deal with it well. Many of us don’t. Did you know that chronic stress can destroy the gut? All of us must respect the damaging effects of continuous stress on the body.
In 2015, I wrote about a patient who experienced a severe reaction to chronic stress that manifested in her mouth. It may seem incredible that stress caused so much damage in her mouth. In addition, it is noteworthy that total elimination of her unique stress allowed her gum tissues to heal without further medical or dental treatment. So, how does stress damage the mouth? The path, which progresses from psychological to physiological, may seem circuitous and bizarre.
Effects in the Gut
Stress can be the initial insult to the gut.
Although many articles have been written about stress in our lives, science had not uncovered specifically how stress can cause damage to the gut. Newly published research attempts to explain the specifics of what is going on.
Gao and colleagues revealed how chronic stress affects the gut. The investigators’ research used four groups of mice: (1) a normal group, (2) a stressed group, (3) a chemically-induced colitis group, and (4) a stressed plus chemically-induced colitis group. Mice in the stressed groups were stressed by being restrained in their ability to move forward and backward in their cage for 3 hours a day for one month. The chemically-induced colitis groups received a chemical for 7 days to induce colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Various tests were performed on each group before they were sacrificed, and the colon tissues were examined following sacrifice.
The scientific team determined that stress initially caused unhealthy changes in the gut microbiome. The immune system became compromised only after stress had induced gut dysbiosis. The end result was an increase in the severity of the chemically-induced colitis.
Although this research uses a mouse model, it has implications for humans.
Diet, exercise, and sleep are all important to support a healthy gut microbiome, a healthy immune system, and a healthy body. However, stress often is not appreciated for its powerful influence. Stress, all by itself, can be the cog in the wheel that sets off some unhealthy consequences.
From the mice study published in March 2018, we now have an appreciation of how the gut is affected by stress. The research showed that stress caused an unhealthy change in the diversity of gut bacteria. The resulting imbalance of gut bacteria caused a decrease in quality and quantity of the mucus layer, which is a protective covering of the intestinal lining of the gut. Once the mucus layer is degraded, the gut’s epithelial lining becomes susceptible to damage. As a result, the immune system can become activated, causing chronic inflammation. In this study, chronic inflammation caused exacerbation of the chemically-induced colitis.
Effects in the Mouth
How does this relate to the mouth?
In other published medical research, investigators showed that IBD has a direct effect on the health of the gum tissues. Increased severity of IBD increased active gum inflammation. When IBD was in remission, gum inflammation decreased.
The pathway from the gut to the mouth is interesting. Research has shown that the gut microbiome can affect the function of the immune system. HERE, HERE. Additional studies have shown that the gut microbiome can affect host resistance and other organ systems via a “communication process”. Interestingly, this 2015 paper suggests that all mucosal tissues can communicate with one another.
Medical research continues to provide more insights about the results of stress on the body. Here are three peer-reviewed papers that explore the body’s decreased ability to heal as a result of chronic stress. HERE, HERE, HERE
What may be obvious may also be complicated. The bottom line is to reduce external chronic stress as much as possible. I have posted several articles about stress in the past. In this article, I discuss stress and link to several of my other articles about stress. However, for me, stress reduction has been the most difficult lifestyle change to learn and adopt. It’s not easy, but it can be lifesaving.