When you feel anxious or stressed, your adrenals glands secrete cortisol-the stress hormone-into your blood stream to help your body cope. One of the effects of cortisol is to shift blood flow in the body to where it’s needed most. This, in effect, takes blood away from the digestive organs – because fighting off those lions (real or metaphorical), becomes more important than digesting your last meal! Cortisol also has a direct effect on the developing immune system that lies along the intestinal wall, and a direct effect on the gut flora. When stress goes on too long, your flora and gut-immune system can become damaged, and this is one of the triggers for autoimmunity. Another issue is that when you’re stressed, your digestive function suffers, affecting the release of digestive enzymes and gastric acid, and this in turn also changes the balance of your gut flora, and the health of the gut lining. When you are chronically stressed over time, the gut lining is less able to regulate which substances move through it into the body, often leading to a condition called “leaky gut”, or in scientific terms, increased gut permeability. So, substances that were never meant to enter the body actually do, filtering through the immune tissues surrounding the gut, setting off immune reactions that can result in autoimmunity. Now you can see the big connection between stress, gut health and autoimmunity. You can help to heal the gut by decreasing the stress response through meditation, conscious breathing, rhythmic gentle movement, a walk in nature, or any quieting activity that gives you the “Ahhhhh……” response. Even 10 minutes of daily practice can make a difference in turning off the stress chemistry. If you need some support in one of these practices, consider trying our Learn to Relax Tool Kit that comes with guided exercises on a CD.