Stress can cause nausea

Psychiatry, Psychosomatics & Psychotherapy


When the psyche affects digestion

There is a hot line between the brain and the digestive organs. Hundreds of million nerve cells are located in the gastrointestinal tract and can react to stressful situations.

There is a hot line between the brain and digestive organs. There are a hundred million nerve cells in the gastrointestinal tract, as many as in the spinal cord. "What they are supposed to do - namely control movement, the release of digestive juices and the intake of food - they do all by themselves," says Prof. Joachim Erckenbrecht from the Gastro League in Gießen. "But they can be influenced by the autonomic nervous system, which is controlled by the brain."

The bridge between the brain and the body is the diencephalon. All hormones are directed through this relatively small, very well-wired region. "For example, if someone who is afraid of dogs comes across a very large black dog, it triggers in the brain:" Oh, escape! Oh, stress! ", Says Prof. Peter Falkai from the German Society for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Neurology (DGPPN). "The diencephalon reports this to the adrenal gland." They immediately release a large amount of the stress hormone cortisol. "And that ensures that breathing is accelerated, the heart beats faster, and the muscles are supplied with blood." The body is thus prepared according to the motto «hit or run away».

In order to be ready for defense, the heart, lungs and muscles need energy reserves that are withdrawn from the gastrointestinal tract. “Our digestive processes cost a lot of energy and require a lot of oxygen and blood. This is unproductive in stressful situations, ”says Paul Enck, Professor of Psychosomatic Medicine at the University Hospital in Tübingen. If the oxygen carrier blood is withdrawn from the digestive organs, they stop their regular activity and no longer transport the food.

In a mild form, pressing the stomach causes nausea, in extreme cases the body wants to get rid of the food residues as quickly as possible - through vomiting or diarrhea. “For the organic reactions, it is more or less irrelevant what kind of stress it is - work stress, travel excitement or a bereavement. The more unforeseen an event is, the stronger the reaction of the body has to be, ”explains Eck.

Sensitivity to stress is innate or acquired Why people react differently to stress has not been conclusively explained scientifically. But there are different explanatory models. The different levels of sensitivity to stress are partly innate, but partly also acquired, ”says Falkai. People who have received a lot of attention in early childhood are more resistant to stress than people who have received little attention. In addition, how you deal with the complaints plays a role in their intensity. "Physical stress reactions intensify when those affected perceive them as a catastrophe."

Psychosomatic Enck also sees possible causes in individual history. “It may well be that someone who today reacts strongly with the stomach and intestines has the digestive tract sensitized in early childhood by frequent or even severe infections. Exactly the same experiences can, however, also have resulted in the digestive tract becoming hardened to stimuli and only reacting very weakly today. "

But there are various ways of influencing the level of physical reactions. "You can go to the toilet in peace before leaving the house, and you can stop eating or try to change certain eating habits," suggests Enck. The stomach and intestines are not stressed by small meals with little fat and fiber. «These ingredients are digested particularly slowly. Accordingly, they cause more problems when the body wants to get rid of them quickly. " Severe nausea and pain could be accompanying symptoms.

In the case of particularly sensitive people, severe psychological stress will still affect the digestion. "In acute situations, for example before an exam or if you have travel fever, abdominal patients can also think about preventive medication," advises Falkai. A hot water bottle, for example, promises relief.

Starting point number two is the stress level: If you are constantly under power, an acute situation gives you the rest. The risk can be reduced by reducing the general stress, for example through relaxation exercises. “A lot of people are the best therapists: they know what is good for them. On the one hand, they can take this to heart to reduce their general stress level, ”explains Falkai. "If I know that it will take me a long time to read documents carefully, I can plan time accordingly." In times of stress, a cup of tea after coming home or a bath can be good.

The third way is based on the fact that body reactions can be trained to a limited extent. "It is possible that you can achieve a certain habituation effect through recurring stimulus situations," says Erckenbrecht. That means: Those who simulate exam situations not only practice, but may also harden themselves.

Source: dpa