Stress or Junk Food: Which is Worse for Gut Health?

Science shows that both stress and a poor diet can influence microbiome health. Here, 3 Ayurvedic tips to avoid digestive stress.

In This Article

Junk Food, Stress Levels, and Your Microbiome

Which is harder on the human body? Junk food or  stress?

Researchers at Brigham Young University published a study in Nature Scientific Reports comparing these two health hazards. While the study was performed on mice, the researchers believe that the impacts from stress and junk food are comparable to what happens in humans.

The researchers evaluated a large group of eight-week-old mice over a period of four months. During the 16 weeks, half of the male mice and half of the female mice were fed a junk food diet. After those 16 weeks, all of the mice were exposed to mild stress over the course of 18 days.

Before and after the study, DNA from the microbes in the fecal matter of the mice was extracted and examined. This allowed the researchers to see the impact of stress (and junk food) on the microbiota of the mice. The researchers were able to determine the level of anxiety experienced by the mice by measuring how willing they were to move into an open area.

The differences between the way male and female mice behaved after being stressed was quite staggering.

The male mice that were given a junk food diet experienced significantly more anxiety in response to stress compared to the female mice that were given a junk food diet.

But at the same time, the female mice that were given a normal diet saw a dramatic shift in their gut microbes in response to stress. Post-stress, the gut microbes in the female mice changed to different types of microbes, as if they were eating a high-fat, junk food diet. The gut microbes in the male mice that were exposed to stress only did not change.

The researchers concluded that the results of this study may explain the gender discrepancy in response to junk food and in rates of anxiety. They suggested that men may want to take a healthy, whole food, organic diet more seriously, while women may want to focus on managing stress. Stress seems to alter the microbiome of women in a negativeway. Of course this is a animal study and humans could respond quite differently, but the concept of how stress and diet impact the gut and how the gut influences behavior is not new—Ayurveda predicted this thousands of years ago.

See also Manage Your Microbiome, Manage Your Mood

Ayurveda, Stress, and Digestion

This study highlights one of Ayurveda’s most essential principles: Stress has a negative impact on the digestive system. In fact, the seat of the nervous system in Ayurveda is understood to be in the large intestine. Now, we have overwhelming evidence suggesting that stress can indeed alter our microbiomes and, in turn, have a negative impact on mood.

Eating organic, whole, non-processed, seasonal foods is a mainstay in Ayurvedic medicine, as are stress-reduction techniques like yoga, breathing, and meditation. But more precisely, Ayurveda has always placed great significance on how you eat, encouraging slow, relaxing, and mindful eating.

See also Mindful Eating: How You Eat is More Important than What You Eat

3 Tips to Avoid Digestive Stress

In the study described above, junk food was found to be worse for men than women, but we should all be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies (and how)!

The study shows how stress adversely affects digestion and mood. Here are my top three tips to avoid digestive stress:

  1. Make your meals count.

Visualize and plan your meals, so that you know where you will be stopping, relaxing, dining, and enjoying each of your three daily meals.

  1. Make your lunch bigger, or have dinner as early as possible.

Studies suggest that eating earlier in the day rather than later supports healthy weight loss and optimal digestion.

  1. Don’t snack.

Snacking throughout the day turns the digestive system on and off all day long. Research shows that this forces the body to burn the snacks, rather than fat, for energy.

See also The Dangers of Frequent Eating

Ayurvedic Spices to Combat Digestive Stress

The most profound formula to help yourdigestive system deal with stress and symptoms like gas and bloating may be in your spice cabinet.

There are five time-tested digestive spices used in Ayurvedic cooking: ginger, cumin, fennel, cardamom, and coriander. At LifeSpa, we’ve put these five organic spices together into capsules to make it as easy as possible for you to achieve superb digestion. The formula, called Gentle Digest, is my most popular digestive formula.

See also 5 Ayurvedic Spices to Rock Your Digestive World

7 thoughts on “Stress or Junk Food: Which is Worse for Gut Health?”

  1. Thanks for highlighting this research, I am reading the original articles now and even though I studied neuroscience (admittedly, almost a decade ago), I never got to see any research on the microbiome’s neurological effects before — mind-blowing!

    Reply
  2. What really dislike about this site is that it constently refer to research using animals.Animals are sentient beings just like you and me. It is time for humans to understand that. If we want to help ourselves we should practice on our own spiecies, not on inocent animals who are defensceless and cannot talk.

    Reply

Leave a Comment