As much as lack of nutrition is causing harm to your body, stress does too.
A new finding suggests that stress is just as harmful to our bodies like junk food to our digestive system.
Researcher Laura Bridgewater professor at the Brigham Young University, found through the studies that when female mice were exposed to stress, their gut microbiota- the microorganisms vital to digestive and metabolic health- changed to look like the mice had been eating a high-fat diet.
"Stress can be harmful in a lot of ways, but this research is novel in that it ties stress to female-specific changes in the gut microbiota," Bridgewater added. "We sometimes think of stress as a purely psychological phenomenon, but it causes distinct physical changes."
The researchers took a large group of 8-week-old mice and exposed half of the males and half of the females to a high-fat diet. After 16 weeks, all of the mice were exposed to mild stress over the course of 18 days.
For the study, they then extracted microbial DNA from the mice fecal pellets before and after the stress to test how the gut microbiota was affected. They also measured mouse anxiety based on how much and where the mice traveled in an open field arena.
The study also revealed fascinating differences between genders.Male mice on the high-fat diet exhibited more anxiety than females on the high-fat diet, and high-fat males also showed decreased activity in response to stress.
However, it was only in female mice that stress caused the gut microbiota composition to shift as if the animals were on a high-fat diet.
Researchers believe there are could be significant implications for humans although the study was only carried out on animals.
"In society, women tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety, which are linked to stress" said Bridgewater.
"This study suggests that a possible source of the gender discrepancy may be the different ways gut microbiota responds to stress in males vs. females," she noted.
The finding was published in the journal of Nature Scientific Reports.