Why stress can make gut inflammation worse

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Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), including conditions like colitis or Crohn’s disease, often experience worsening symptoms under stressful conditions.

The biological processes behind this phenomenon, however, remained unclear until recently.

The Breakthrough

A multi-institutional research team from the U.S. and the Netherlands has discovered a connection between the immune system and the brain that could explain why psychological stress intensifies gut inflammation issues in people with IBD.

This groundbreaking study was conducted on lab mice and published in the journal Cell.

What Did They Do?

The researchers subjected the lab mice to stress by confining them inside small tubes, then induced IBD-like symptoms using chemical irritants.

Following this, the mice were administered drugs to block the production of glucocorticoids – stress hormones that lead to inflammation. The team then conducted colonoscopies to assess intestinal damage.

What Did They Find?

The study revealed that mice with blocked glucocorticoid production had less intestinal damage, indicating that stress indeed plays a significant role in intestinal inflammation.

Further investigation of the mice’s colon tissue samples showed that mice with higher glucocorticoid levels had differences in their glia nerve cells, which are known to respond to stress hormones.

Increased stress levels were found to prevent the maturation of some nerve cells, which are crucial for facilitating the movement of fecal matter in the bowels.

Human Correlation

The researchers also examined tissue samples from 63 human IBD patients and found similar results.

The patients who reported experiencing more stressful events had stronger IBD symptoms and more intestinal damage.


These findings establish a significant connection between stress and worsening IBD symptoms, providing a better understanding of the biological processes involved.

This could pave the way for new approaches to managing IBD, potentially including stress reduction strategies and treatments that target stress-related biological processes.

If you care about mental health, please read studies that high doses of common depression drug could switch off the brain, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that fermented foods and fiber could help you reduce stress, and MIND diet could improve cognitive health in older people.

The study was published in Cell.

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