A new study connects marital discord to leaky gut, which leads to inflammatory diseases. Experts weigh in on the subject
If you thought matters of love are all about heart, think again. A recent study by the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (the US) linked daily marital distress to leaky gut. This releases bacteria in the blood, which can aggravate disease-causing inflammation. Experts tell us that emotional distress, regardless of the source, can affect the whole body.
"Generalised inflammatory state in the body causes a number of ailments such as heart disease, diabetes and liver issues too. And stress is a known trigger for such diseases. Stress causes alteration in the bowel flora and also leads to other gut issues. Because of the brain-gut axis, the chemical signals from the brain can affect the motility of your gastrointestinal tract.
For example, when someone is anxious, they tend to pass motion often. This isn't just a psychological problem; the signals from the brain affect the functioning of the intestine. The central nervous system of the brain and the enteric nervous system, which are the neurons in the intestines, are interconnected. Recent nascent studies also reveal that the bacteria in a person with psychological issues such as anxiety and depression is different from that of a healthy person," says Dr Amit Gupte, gastroenterologist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central. Gupte adds that in most cases, gut-related issues are either diet related or stress related and there is an overlap between these two.
Clinical psychologist and author Seema Hingorrany sees a large number of patients, who suffer from physiological issues due to psychological reasons. "PCOD, fibromyalgia, diabetes in patients as young as 32, heart burn, or unexplained recurring fever, rashes, out-of-control tyroid, is very common among my patients. And we see a marked change in results after counselling and treatment of the physical condition," says Hingorrany.
"Your support system can be your spouse, sibling or parent. And when the support becomes the stress factor, it causes problems. Most medical conditions stem from inflammation, all the 'itises' — pancreatitis, arthritis, and even coronary diseases that refer to the inflammation of blood vessels leading to the heart can be a result of stress. All personal relationships have some sort of discord, plus if you are going through a low, problems such as marital trouble can compound the problem. It all depends on how well you can handle these situations. That's why many couples require counselling, so that they are able to vent. When you are stressed, cortisol goes through the roof and adds to the inflammation in the body," says Dr Vishakha Shivdasani, physician, nutrition and lifestyle ailments expert.
Case study 1
"One of my patients developed diabetes at the age of 30 and fainted in the office. Her boyfriend was emotionally abusive — he would stonewall her by not picking up calls, gaslight her by putting her down. She had put on weight, had facial hair, and was very angry but would cling to him. Her physician recommended that she see a psychologist. She related the story of her relationship, and said she didn't have the strength to quit the relationship since she was scared to be alone. This was because her parents had suffered a failed relationship. She was making good money and yet was depressed. Once she got out of the relationship, she started taking care of herself and within eight months, she was healthier and happier," says Hingorrany.
Case study 2
Personal stress affects the guts regardless of your marital status. A student of Std XII suffered from bloating and diarrhoea during his exams. After all investigations led to normal results, counselling and modifications in diet helped solve the issue. "Patients who have a sensitive gut and irritable bowel syndrome are advised to eat food items which are less likely to produce gas. Most dals and sprouts tend to produce more gas," says Gupte.
Do not store hostility. Hingorrany says that Indians don't feel the need to talk about their problems, as they think it's a sign of weakness. The key to solving the problem of your relationship is to find the pattern.
Your body records every bad memory. Till you don't work on it, it's unprocessed and manifests into physical issues, be it something as simple as not being able to get out of a car. The mind and body are connected. Every action of our behavioural pattern has a physiological response and the immunity of the person lowers.
"The nervous system is constantly on the edge when you are in emotional distress. The more angry you are, the more depressed and anxious you get. Be aware of why the marriage is a bad marriage. Is it past baggage? Attachment issue with parents? Is your partner controlling? Marriage on a rebound, in-laws, financial issues, parents with a broken marriage, marriage due to progressing age are common issues. Suppressing emotions is dangerous. What we have to do is correct the balance, show self love, and go for couples therapy if you can't see the patterns in the relationship. Train your mind to understand the patterns [of unhappiness and conflict] rather than just blame the partner," says Hingorrany.
Good food for good gut
- "No one reaches out for a salad when stressed. You opt for sugary foods — desserts, pizzas and pasta (sugar in the form or cereal). Sugar, gluten, milk and bread are a major causes of inflammation," says Shivdasani.
- Probiotics and prebiotics strengthen the gut lining. So do fermented items such as kimchi, kombucha, kefir, pickle and curd. Marrow soup contains collagen that helps gut health, just like gelatin and amino acids.
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