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Being at home these days means you have extra time to focus on little things, like the fact that your digestion hasn’t been quite right. Whether you’re suddenly dealing with stomach cramps and bloating, or pooping more or less than usual, experts say it’s pretty likely there’s a common denominator behind all of this: You’re dealing with higher-than-normal levels of stress.
“There is a profound connection between gut flora composition and our mood—including stress,” Dr. Raphael Kellman, founder of Kellman Wellness Center, tells Yahoo Life. (Your gut flora, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a collection of microorganisms in your intestine that help digest your food.) Your gut and brain are in constant communication, he explains, and stress in your brain can cause indigestion and other stomach issues in your gut. On the flip side, bacterial imbalance in your gut can spark depression and anxiety. “Ultimately, it’s a two-way conversation, each side having something to contribute,” Kellman says.
The effects of stress
As for how, exactly, this stress impacts your digestion depends on you and your body, Dr. Ashkan Farhadi, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, and author of The Evolution of Happiness, tells Yahoo Life. “Many of the effects are not ideal,” he says. Some people may develop constipation while others can start having more bowel movements or even diarrhea, Farhadi says.
Stress and social distancing can actually mess up your gut flora, Farhadi says. “We know for sure that when you’re stressed out, some of the bacteria in the gut could be more aggressive, and that can lead to digestive issues,” he says. At the same time, Farhadi says that the change in everyone’s behavior also has an impact. “We used to shake hands, touch things in public and eat a wider variety of food, and all of that increased our gut flora diversity,” Farhadi says. “But with social distancing, we’re keeping our bacteria and germs to ourselves. That’s reducing flora diversity, and it’s not necessarily positive.”
Consider your diet
Farhadi points out that people are eating more non-perishable foods these days to try to help minimize grocery store trips. Those foods are more likely to have high levels of salt and sugar, both of which can mess with your gut bacteria, he says. Couple that with the fact that if you’re eating less fresh fruits and vegetables than usual, your gut flora can suffer.
That’s why Kellman recommends adding a powerful probiotic to your day. “Look for [bacteria strains like] acidophilus and lactobacillus,” he says. That can be in the form of probiotic-rich foods like Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, Jerusalem artichoke and kefir, he says.
You can also take a probiotic supplement, Farhadi says. “If you’re already using probiotics, you should increase your use,” he says. “If you’re not using probiotics, you should start.” Diversity of probiotic strains is also important, he says.
Adding in other lifestyle changes, like trying to limit your exposure to stressful news each day, practicing mindfulness and meditating regularly can also help, Farhadi says.
Of course, if your digestion is completely out of whack and it’s interfering with your quality of life, you should call your doctor. But if it’s just something you’ve noticed, and you want it fixed, these tools can help.
Culturelle is a wildly popular brand in the probiotic world, and with good reason: They make a quality probiotic. The company’s Digestive Health Daily Probiotics feature a 60-day supply of lactobacillus rhamnosus strains to help your digestive system work better. The capsules are vegetarian and contain 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of probiotics each.
For those times when you just need to shut out the world (and all the stress that comes with it), there’s the Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones. These noise-cancelling headphones have three different levels of noise cancellation, so you can use them to block out everything from background chatter to loud TV. The headphones are also Alexa-enabled and have a noise-rejecting dual microphone system for clear sound and audio pickup.
Zentastic’s supplements contain a mix of prebiotics (which are forms of fiber that help feed good bacteria in your gut) and probiotics to help your digestion. This organic supplement is vegetarian and contains 50 billion CFUs, including lactobacillus acidophilus, to support digestive health.
Matthew Sockolov’s book on mindfulness meditation is an Amazon best-seller. The book breaks down 75 evidence-based exercises to help you feel a little calmer, less stressed and more peaceful every day. There are mental exercises designed to fit the amount of time you have, including a five-minute The Power of the Mind exercise and 25-minute Open-Awareness Meditation.
If the idea of taking a daily pill isn’t appealing, there’s Zebora’s probiotic powder. You can quickly and easily get your probiotic fix by adding the powder to smoothies, coffee, water or even by just putting it straight into your mouth. The powder contains 50 billion CFUs to help keep your gut functioning well.
This audiobook is a perfect introduction to meditation, helping you to focus on your breathing, posture and various techniques to help lower your stress levels and boost mental health. The audiobook goes over the importance of meditation before offering exercises on abdominal breathing, mindfulness and more.
Want to take your probiotics without even thinking about it? Kind’s Breakfast Probiotic Bars are a great way to get your probiotic fix while you eat. The bars come in a variety of flavors, including peanut butter dark chocolate and orange cranberry, and contain 500 million CFUs of probiotics each.
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.
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