How Stress Contributes to Crohn’s Disease

It’s no secret that stress can be both psychologically and physically damaging. But how does stress influence the way that our bodies respond to certain conditions? According to Medical XPress, researchers wanted to explore this question in relation to Crohn’s disease. For example, researchers wanted to understand whether stress changed the gut microbiota or changed the amount of invasive gut bacteria. More so, researchers wanted to understand whether stress worsened Crohn’s disease flares. 

Interested in reading the full study findings? If so, you can find them published in Nature Communications

Stress and Gut Mucosal Immunity

In healthy individuals, the gut helps protect against illness. For example, the immune system prompts mucus secretion in the intestinal lining; this mucus prevents harmful invaders from causing illness. However, this process is interrupted in those with Crohn’s disease, as the intestinal lining becomes inflamed, causing symptoms. In the past, researchers have hypothesized that unbalanced gut bacteria could cause Crohn’s flares to occur. 

Within this particular study, researchers sought to determine the link between gut bacteria levels and stress. Researchers used mice models within this study. To begin, researchers induced stress in the mice through various efforts. Following the stressful periods, researchers then tested stress hormone and bacteria levels. Findings include:

  • Enterobacteriaceae increases in the gut correlated with heightened amounts of stress hormones. 
  • Stress prevents an adequate and strong immune response, allowing unbalanced gut bacteria to cause inflammation and ulcer development.
  • When treated with specific therapies to reduce stress, the mice saw better immune responses, more balanced gut bacteria, and reduced symptoms.

In the future, more research is needed to understand whether the same reactions occur in humans with Crohn’s disease. However, this does promote some hope for patients and novel treatments down the line. 

Crohn’s Disease

In many cases, people refer to Crohn’s disease as an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body mistakenly attacks itself (in this case, the intestinal lining). Crohn’s disease exists under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease may affect any part of the digestive tract. Risk factors include being of Ashkenazi Jewish and Caucasian descent, living in an urban area, smoking cigarettes, or using NSAIDs. Typically, symptoms – which often appear in “flares” – manifest before age 30. These symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal, rectal, or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Cramping
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stool 
  • Appetite loss
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mouth sores
  • Anal drainage
  • Skin, liver, joint, and bile duct inflammation
  • Growth delays
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Malnutrition

Learn more about Crohn’s disease.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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