Stress Is Biggest Factor When It Comes To Stomach Problems, Research Suggests

'The bowels are extraordinarily susceptible to stress and mood.'

23/06/2016 11:58

The majority of British adults have suffered from some kind of gastrointestinal problem over the past year. 

Now, new research from Mintel has discovered what might be to blame.

It suggests that stress is the most likely factor contributing towards stomach issues, closely followed by poor diet, lack of sleep, alcohol consumption and viruses. 

Experts have suggested that ultimately we need to become better at managing stress, rather than searching for remedies and cures. 

Tom Merton via Getty Images

Gastrointestinal problems can be anything from trapped wind, bloating, and indigestion to diarrhoea, heartburn, stomach ulcers, constipation and more. 

As many as 86% of all British adults have suffered some form of gastrointestinal problem over the last year, Mintel's research of 2,000 British adults found.

Women came off worst, with almost nine in 10 (88%) experiencing some kind of stomach issue in the last year compared to 83% of men.

Stress was seen as the most likely factor contributing towards stomach problems, with some 30% of adults saying their stomach woes were caused by it.

"The bowels are extraordinarily susceptible to stress and mood," Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, told The Huffington Post UK.

"The typical symptoms of wind, bloating, pain and diarrhoea, that we see with irritable bowel sufferers, are well known to be worse during stressful times."

The next most likely culprit for causing stomach issues, according to the survey, was poor diet (26%), followed by lack of sleep (17%), alcohol consumption (14%) and viruses (14%).


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Overall the nation’s top three stomach issues include: wind, bloating or flatulence followed by indigestion and diarrhoea.

Among women, menstrual cycle-related symptoms were hugely influential on their stomach ailments, as was caring for children as "exposure to children consequently renders women more susceptible to germs they may be carrying".

While many people seemed to know what caused their stomach troubles, the same couldn't be said when it came to curing them.

Over one third (38%) of those who experienced stomach problems said they didn’t always know which remedy to use and a large proportion tended to skip treatment altogether. 

Despite this, many seem to believe that diet and exercise was the key to prevention.

Of those who experienced gastrointestinal problems in the last year, 43% said they know what foods to avoid to prevent them.

While 52% of those who have experienced gastrointestinal issues believe that exercise can help to alleviate symptoms.

More than one third (34%) of those surveyed said they buy over-the-counter remedies specifically for their stomach troubles, while 45% said they try to treat it with natural remedies such as drinking ginger tea. 

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Dr Webberley said that meditation and hypnotherapy can sometimes help people with stress-related bowel symptoms.

"Of course, healthy eating and exercise do help, but perhaps as a regulator and marker of a balanced mindset, rather than as a direct effect on the bowel," she explained.

Dr Bernard Corfe, from Sheffield University’s molecular gastroenterology research group, added that there's plenty of research to back up the link between stress and gastrointestinal issues.

"However, stress can also cause us to change our diets and sleeping patterns, which can alter gut function," he told the Mail Online.

Ultimately, he said we need to be better at managing it.

Dr Webberley concluded: "If you are having a flare up of your 'usual' bowel symptoms, then maybe you should take a different approach and ask yourself who or what is upsetting you and are you trying to squeeze too much into your already packed agenda?"

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