Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS • Nutritional Periodontist
January 29, 2018
Recently, Chris Kresser wrote about Mark (one of his patients who had serious Crohn’s Disease). Mark had done his homework and learned a great deal about diet and nutrition. As it turned out, Mark was a fanatic about researching methods to resolve his disease. He implemented various healthy diets and food restrictions to try to get his gut healthy. But, to no avail. On examination, Chris Kresser identified Mark’s primary source of his gut dysfunction to be significant psychological stress. Stress is the quiet destroyer. Stress disturbed Mark’s gut microbiome, which went on to create gut and systemic problems. Mark would not be able to get his health issues under control with just nutrient-dense food regimens. The first thing Mark would need to do would be to address his psychological stressors.
I have written about stress and the damage it can create in the mouth. In this article, I wrote about a woman who was under extreme emotional stress. Her stress resulted in multiple serious lesions in her mouth. These lesions were not the result of bacterial infection. Once she completely removed the stress in her life, the lesions in her mouth healed. No dental treatment was needed. No medical treatment was needed. Just the complete reduction of the stress!
In addition, I wrote several articles describing many causes of stress and some ideas on dealing with these stresses. (HERE, HERE, HERE) The following two research projects prove that stress creates gut problems.
Two Studies on Military Soldiers
Military personnel in training and in combat are under significant stress. In each of these studies, acute stress resulted in unhealthy gut outcomes for these soldiers:
This first study, published in 2013, looked at 37 military troops. They were involved in prolonged and intense combat-training. As expected, this training induced increases in stress, anxiety, and depression. However, the results also showed GI symptoms, pro-inflammatory immune activation, and increased intestinal permeability – all resulting from acute stress.
In this second study, published in 2017, 73 soldiers were subjected to intense military training, which created significant psychological stress. No matter what these soldiers ate, stress caused unhealthy changes in the gut bacteria and the way bacteria metabolized nutrients. These changes resulted in increased markers of inflammation and leaky gut. The authors of the study wrote this in their paper’s abstract:
Military training, a unique model for studying temporal dynamics of intestinal barrier and intestinal microbiota responses to stress, resulted in increased intestinal permeability concomitant to changes in intestinal microbiota composition and metabolism. Pre-stress intestinal microbiota composition and changes in fecal concentrations of metabolites linked to the microbiota were associated with increased intestinal permeability. Findings suggest that targeting the intestinal microbiota could provide novel strategies for mitigating increases in intestinal permeability during stress.
The stress of military training cannot be avoided. However, if the gut microbiome could be enhanced prior to stressful combat training, then damage to the gut might be prevented.
Ideally, a person needs to identify and resolve psychological stressors. A healthy diet will not solve the stress. But, based on these two military studies, there may be a means to improve the health of the gut bacteria to prevent inflammation and leaky gut once stress ensues. Research trials are beginning to evaluate the potential of consuming spore-based probiotics and specific prebiotics as proactive measures to improve the diversity and metabolic functions of the gut bacterial population. This supplementation might reduce or avoid gut damage following stressful events.