How Burnout Affects Your Gut

Feb 7, 2021

Dr. Jeremy Hayman, ND

Dr. Jeremy Hayman, ND

NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR

As stress levels eventually hit a tipping point, not only will it develop into burnout, but symptoms created by an unsustainable state will also continue to develop. It’s widely accepted that the human gut houses a collective influence on overall health. Since a large proportion of the gut is innervated by the nervous system, and since burnout has direct and negative consequences on this system, it’s no wonder the gut is directly impacted and, in turn, wreaks havoc on digestion, hormone homeostasis, and ultimately depletes the physical and emotional functioning of those who suffer from this modern epidemic of our times.

Burnout, as its defined, is the state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. For anyone who’s previously experienced (or currently experiencing) the heavy effects of burnout will realize that the gut is one of the easily influenced systems hat can be largely affected.

There is no human benefit whatsoever to long term chronic stress. No matter how you look at it, burnout it is disastrous in every way. When the body is chronically stressed (and burnout ensues), one of the last things the body is interested in supporting is that of the digestive system. Rather, all resources, including current nutrients within the body, carried by the blood, are shunted elsewhere to organs such as the adrenals, in order to help stave off a complete shut down by the body. With burnout, only survival mode matters. What this means, is that the body is signalled to be under chronic ‘attack’. With short term stress, this is adaptive; the body shuts down all secondary functions in order to shunt energy to the muscles, heart, and circulatory system to help evade an imminent risk (such as being attacked, eaten or killed). With long term stress or burnout however, the body constantly feels like it is never safe, so chronic shutdown of secondary systems ensue. Think about it; if you were being attacked, the last thing you’d be concerned about would be ‘I’m hungry, what am I going to eat’?

With the chronicity of burnout, the same energy, blood supply and innervation by the afflicted nervous system is otherwise diverted. What does this mean for those dealing with burnouts effects? It means poor digestion, poor nutrient absorption, deregulated appetite, suboptimal toxin collection (the bowels are all about collecting what the body no longer needs in order to eliminate it out), sporadic and unhealthy bowel movements, ineffective digestive enzyme production, lowered gut immunity and good bacteria presence, and ultimately, eventual digestive and whole body illness and disease. By this simple and elementary description, you can already see that not only is an affected gut a major issue within itself, but the gut is the pathway to all other systems in the body. Thus, as nutrients can no longer be properly absorbed and assimilated into the cells of the body, many physiological and anatomical aspects of the body can no longer function well. Hormones, for example, can no longer be built, utilized and shuttled to their target receptors, and organ dysfunction (such as the brain) rapidly begin to deteriorate. The implications of burnout on the brain are many, but you can begin to see that if the gut is immobilized, the brain can not optimally function, memory becomes reduced, emotions turn labile, and overall decision making on all aspects of life are stalled.

Burnout is not a pleasant experience for anyone. Chronic stress widely impacts all aspects of human health, yet implicitly deregulates the function of the gut. It’s absolutely essential to address both burnout and its symptoms, while often times healing at the level of the gut is key.

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