A Gut Feeling You Can Be Proud Of

Are you a Stress Junkie? If you are very competitive, obsessed with finishing tasks quickly, have a strong need for control, impatient, time-conscious, hostile, aggressive, or have a hard time just relaxing, then you may just be a stress junkie. Other names for you could be: Type A personality, workaholic, or just plain stressed.

The Type A personality was first described in 1950 by two cardiologists who hypothesized that people with certain personality traits would be more likely to suffer from heart disease. Their research in over 3,000 men proved that there were indeed links between being competitive, needing control, feeling impatient, stressed, or anxious and certain diseases. They found that Type A personalities had double the risk of coronary heart disease.

It turns out that health risks don'’t just stop at the heart; your gut can be affected as well. Some fascinating new research is beginning to show that the gut and the brain are more closely related than anyone ever imagined.

A Gut Feeling
The rise of the scientific method in the last century has led us all to believe that we have individual and separate systems in our bodies. We have a cardiovascular system, a nevous system, a gastrointestinal system and so on. While this makes a handy tool to be able to study the body, our bodies act more as a whole than a collection of separate systems. One part of the body affects the other; they are all in communication.

We have known for a while that the brain influences organs such as the heart (remember: scientists discovered the relationship between Type A personalities and heart disease in 1950). However, no one ever thought that there would be such a relationship with the gut, or if there were a relationship it would be a minor one. It is now known that the brain and the gut are intricately entwined.

Research on the brain-gut connection has spawned a new branch of medicine called neurogastroenterology. Having a “gut feeling” may not just be a phrase, but a true representation of gut intelligence.

Scientists have begun calling the gut “the second brain”. While it is tiny compared to the big brain, the gut performs many of the same functions. The brain has chemical messengers called neurotransmitters; so does the gut. In fact, 95% of the body’s serotonin (the brain chemical that many popular antidepressants increase) is located in the gut. The gut, in a very real way, thinks and feels. There are more nerve cells in the gut than there are in the entire spinal column. And the gut carries on many of its functions without ever checking in with the big brain upstairs. This isn'’t to say, however, that they act independantly.

In fact, how you think dramatically affects what goes on in your bowels. Remember the last time you had to do something very stressful? Didn'’t your bowels feel the effects of that stress? 

There is no treatment for the Type A personality, but there is much you can do to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with being a stress junkie.

Stress Reduction Program
The first thing you need to do is put some mileage on. Exercise is one of the most powerful medicines you have. When you exercise, a whole series of chemicals are released (such as endorphins) that make you feel good and calm. These chemical “medicines” are delivered at exactly the right dose, in the right amount, at the right time. Clinical research studies support that a regular exercise routine will reduce the amount of stress and anxiety you are feeling. Start slow and choose an exercise that will increase your heart rate for a sustained amount of time like walking, swimming, biking or jogging. Work your way up to 20-30 minutes 4-5 times a week.

The next best treatment is deep breathing. While it sounds silly to a lot of people to try deep breathing (heck, we breathe all the time), it is actually a powerful treatment for both stress and anxiety.

Normally when you relax, your breathing gets deeper and longer, but you can turn this reaction around and make it work for you. If you consciously start deep and slow breathing, you are telling your brain that you are in a relaxed state. Remember, everything is interconnected. You are relaxed and you deep breathe, or you can deep breathe and tell your body you are relaxed. It works both ways. Try taking a breath-break at the top of every hour. Let the clock in your room remind you. If you are near the changing of an hour, take 3 to 5 minutes to relax and breathe.

While exercise and breathing can go a long way, we all need a little more help sometimes. There are many powerful supplements that can help you on your way to a healthier you.

  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): 5-HTP is great for promoting a balanced response to stress. It provides the brain with the basic building blocks for brain-calming hormones.* 
  • Magnesium and Calcium: Why do people drink a glass of milk before going to sleep? It is the calcium in the milk that is relaxing and calming. Magnesium is a mineral we all don'’t get enough of and has been used for a long time as a relaxing agent.* 
  • B-vitamins: If you are a type A individual, you are burning up B-vitamins. The B vitamins play an essential role in all parts of the stress response, including acting as co-factors in the creation of the brain chemicals that return you to a relaxed state.*
  • Amino acids: L-Theanine is an amino acid that helps to reduce both mental and physical stress without making your feel tired. This makes L – Theanine the perfect supplement for the Type A personality.*

There are also herbs that can help you relax. These include Kava, Passionflower, Valerian, and the milder Skullcap, Chamomile, Hops and Motherwort. All of these can be taken as a pill or in a tea. 

A Good Thing?
While being a stress junkie places you at a higher risk for certain conditions, it can also be looked at as a good thing. People who are Type A are some of the most successful people in the world. A lot of what gets done in the world can be contributed to these driven people. The key is to balance your competitive nature so that you can still get done what you want to get done and not do any harm to yourself. Exercising, doing breathing exercises and taking supplements can help you to create the balance you need.

Cited Sources:
[1] Spence MJ, Moss-Morris R: The cognitive behavioural model of irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective investigation of gastroenteritis patients. Gut. 2007 Feb 26

[2] Mulak A, Bonaz B: Irritable bowel syndrome: a model of the brain-gut interactions. Med Sci Monit. 2004 Apr;10(4):RA55-62.

[3] Zoccali R, Muscatello MR, et al: Anger and ego-defence mechanisms in non-psychiatric patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Dig Liver Dis. 2006 Mar;38(3):195-200.