Chronic stress can take a major toll on our health on so many levels — its impact can be far-reaching and complex. But according to new research, eating high fiber foods can protect our guts from the effects of stress. Research shows that long-term stress can negatively affect both gut and brain health, putting our overall health at risk over time, and even causing disruptions in behavior via changes to our mental health. Stress-induced changes to gut bacteria have been linked to anxiety and depression, and can also precipitate gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome. There is even evidence to show that stress can trigger the genes that cause celiac disease, thereby activating the onset of the illness.
Published in The Journal of Physiology, the study was authored by scientists at APC Microbiome Ireland, University College Cork, and Teagasc Food Research Center. Researchers found that certain compounds in high fiber foods like legumes, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables stimulate the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are the primary source of nutrition for cells in the gut. SCFAs help promote resiliency in the gut wall, and help prevent and reverse leaky gut syndrome, which is what happens when microscopic holes or breakage points appear along the intestinal wall, causing undigested food particles, bacteria, viruses, and germs to leak into the bloodstream. Leaky gut syndrome can lead to chronic inflammation, and a slew of potential health problems.
Per The Irish Times, high fiber foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, are key to keeping our digestive systems healthy and fully functioning. They can also help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer. In addition to these benefits, the Teagasc study shows that eating plenty of fiber can also help protect the gut from the effects of stress, by keeping the protective barrier that lines the gut wall strong and intact. Not only does a strong gut lining help protect the body from stress-induced inflammation and illnesses, it helps reduce mental health concerns like anxiety and depression.
Study author Professor John F. Cryan was quoted in a recent press release as saying that “There is a growing recognition of the role of gut bacteria and the chemicals they make in the regulation of physiology and behavior. The role of short-chain fatty acids in this process is poorly understood up until now. It will be crucial that we look at whether short-chain fatty acids can ameliorate symptoms of stress-related disorders in humans.”
The study’s authors affirm that these findings provide key insights as to how stress, gut bacteria, and brain health intersect — and the development of dietary treatment plans for targeting gut health, and stress-related illnesses and disorders is an exciting new possibility. Upping your intake of high fiber foods like fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and legumes is a powerful way to help boost your digestive and mental health, while protecting your body from the long-term effects of stress overall.