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Stress is as bad for your gut as junk food

But the effects of stress on your gut largely depends on your gender.
Gut Health Stress Health Effects
Photo: Getty Images

Stress can make us feel sick to our stomachs from time to time, but a new study from researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, shows that living a stressful lifestyle could have the same impact on your gut health as a diet full of junk.

For the study, researchers split a large group of mice into two groups, both comprised of 50 percent male mice and 50 percent female mice. One group was fed a high-fat diet for 16 weeks, while the other group ate a standard diet. After the 16 weeks, researchers subjected both groups of mice to different kinds of stressors — including predator sounds, wet bedding and cold water — and then took samples of their fecal matter for 18 days.

The results? The gut microbiota in the group fed a high-fat diet changed significantly — and the male mice experienced more anxiety than the female mice, along with a decrease in activity. However, the female mice in the standard diet group experienced significant changes in their gut microbiota like the high-fat group. The male mice in the standard diet group didn’t show a change.

These results suggest that women and men react differently to stress.

"Stress can be harmful in a lot of ways," said study co-author Laura Bridgewater. "But this research is novel in that it ties stress to female-specific changes in the gut microbiota. We sometimes think of stress as a purely psychological phenomenon, but it causes distinct physical changes."

Of course, the study was done on mice and not humans, but it also suggests that staying stressed for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on your gut health. An unhealthy gut is shown to be a factor in a number of diseases, including IBS, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and fibromyalgia.

So, tell your boss you can’t take on that project because you don’t want to put your gut health at risk. Just kidding — that probably won’t fly. Instead, just do what you can to minimize the stressors in your life. And guys? It should also be a warning to you: Don’t mix high-fat food and stress because it could be a double punch to your gut (health).