Ever heard the phrase "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"? It's actually true, according to Dr. Kaitlyn Clarke, chiropractor and functional nutritionist at Urban Wellness Clinic—especially when it comes to how our bodies (and digestive systems) deal with stress.
"The stress response is actually a genius design to help keep us alive and safe," Dr. Clarke explains. "Short periods of stress with an appropriate cortisol [the hormone your body produces in response to stress] response actually help make us stronger."
So a thousand years ago, if you were being chased by a bear, your body's ability to produce cortisol would help you escape from the bear (ahem, so it wouldn't kill you), and it would help you increase your overall tolerance to stress for next time (making you stronger).
The issue? Now bears are replaced with constant work emails and an always-on expectations—resulting in a stress situation that nature definitely never intended. "In today's world, however, our modern, high-pace lifestyles have created a chronic stress environment," Dr. Clarke says, which means cortisol overload.
"Being in that chronically stressed out state will trigger an inflammatory immune response, both in the gut and the brain," Dr. Clarke explains. "[This] will also cause a change in your gut environment, or microbiome, by promoting the overgrowth of bad bacteria, decreased production of digestive enzymes, and lack of motility."
Luckily, the digestive problems created by this overload of stress can be eased in five simple steps with a system Dr. Clarke likes to call the five R's.
Step 1 —Remove: Step one is removing physical stressors on the gut—such as processed foods, sugars, and common allergens like gluten and dairy—so that it can stop reacting (bloat, BM issues, you know the deal) and start recovering.
Step 2—Replace: Then, you have to replace the digestive enzymes and secretions like hydrochloric acid and bile that are required for proper digestion. Taking a digestive enzyme supplement with meals can help get digestion back on track.
Step 3—Reinoculate: Next, you can tackle the likely overgrowth of bad bacteria by reinoculating beneficial bacteria. Dr. Clarke recommends taking a potent probiotic with a minimum of 25 billion CFUs from a high quality source—like Renew Life 30 Billion Extra Care Probiotics, which are made with three times more good bacteria and strains than the leading probiotic.
Step 4—Repair: Help rebuild your gut lining by eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fiber and the nutrients that your system was probably lacking while it was in a state of dysbiosis (the technical term for microbial imbalance, or poor gut health). Zinc, l-glutamine, and vitamins A, C, and E can all help heal the gut lining.
Step 5—Rebalance: Find your final state of balance by taking an assessment of your overall stress levels, and look for ways to lower them. "Take into consideration other lifestyle factors that can either enhance or moderate your level of stress," Dr. Clarke adds. "Make sure to get enough quality sleep, stay well hydrated, and exercise!" Oh, and all of those work emails? Remember to cut down on your screen time and carve out time just for you. (Your gut will thank you.)