Is Stress Giving You Stomach Trouble?

New research shows stress to be the most likely cause of tummy upsets.

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Pretty much everyone has been plagued by some sort of tummy trouble in his or her life, which – no matter how mild or short-lived – is always uncomfortable and inconvenient. At best, it makes us feel bloated or sluggish and at worst, out of control, exhausted and in pain.

Whether it's a common problem or a once-in-a-while concern, it may surprise you that most cases are not caused by any dietary habits. Indeed, recent research has shown the most likely cause of tummy trouble to be stress, with women suffering more than men. 

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The study, consisting of 2,000 British adults and conducted by consumer analysts Mintel, found that six out of seven people reported a gastrointestinal ailment in the past year, with 88% of women saying they have had problems compared to 83% of men. Of this, it was oncluded that 30% of stomach troubles were caused by stress, with a poor diet coming in as the second most likely cause, at 26%. 

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The next most likely culprit was lack of sleep (17%), which researchers highlighted as being an indirect effect of stress. Other likely triggers included alcohol and viruses(both at 14%). It was concluded that upsets were rarely caused by intolerance or infection.

Dr Bernard Corfe, of Sheffield University's molecular gastroenterology research group, told The Daily Mail, 'Stress has been well established as a contributor or cause of gastrointestinal problems – tummy upsets – and recent research is highlighting the links. However, stress can also cause us to change our diets and sleeping patterns, which can alter gut function.'

This comes in the same month as another study from Cambridge University (published in the journal Brain and Behaviour) found women to be twice as likely as men to have severe stress and anxiety. Researchers put this down to social changes, whereby women are juggling the demands of family life with the pressures of a career.

Senior Mintel analyst Jack Duckett echoed this, saying, 'The spike in stomach ailments amongst women can be partly attributed to their experience of menstrual cycle-related symptoms. However, it is also linked to women largely remaining the main care providers for children, with the increased exposure to children consequently rendering women ore susceptible to germs they may be carrying.'

Of those who took part in the Mintel study, it was found that 45% of those who has experienced problems had tried a natural remedy (such as drinking ginger tea) to combat problems, while just 34% sought over-the-counter or prescription cures. 

Conversely, 40% of participants said they had foregone treatment, admitting that when they experienced any sort of tummy troubles they simply did nothing and let it run its course naturally.

Mr Duckett said, 'As people have become increasingly conscious of what they eat, an opportunity has arisen for health brands to blur the lines between diet and gastrointestinal remedies. This could see inspiration from vitamins, where brands have introduced powdered supplements to sprinkle on food or drink to bolster their health properties. Brands can also explore natural remedies, such as activated charcoal, which is used medically in the emergency treatment of certain types of poison.'

With this in mind, experts emphasized the need to be cautious about health claims around natural products and the importance of managing stress.

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