How Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Gut - and What to Do about It | Chris Kresser
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How Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Gut – and What to Do about It

by Chris Kresser

Last updated on Sommer

One of the major recurring themes of the Paleo f(x) Theory to Practice Symposium I attended this past weekend was the importance of managing your stress.

Beyond poor diet, many other lifestyle factors can greatly increase your level of stress, such as overtraining, not sleeping enough, or not including enough pleasure in your daily life. Many of the conference speakers (including myself) focused on how stress causes cortisol dysregulation and subsequent weight gain, sleep disturbances, and even a reduction in life span.

Stress also plays a major role in the health of one of our most important organ systems: the gut.

The word stress is a broad term, and can refer to any real or perceived threat to the homeostasis of an organism, eliciting adaptive responses to help maintain internal stability and ensure survival. (1)

Stress can be acute or chronic, and it tends to be those chronic stressors from our lifestyle or environment that are far more damaging to our health.

The gut is especially vulnerable to the presence of chronic (and even acute) stress, demonstrating stress-induced changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal permeability and barrier function, visceral sensitivity and mucosal blood flow. (2) There has also been evidence to suggest that gut microbiota may respond directly to stress-related host signals. (3)

I’ve spoken extensively before about the brain-gut axis and its role in health. As I’ve mentioned before, the intestinal mucosa is infiltrated by the myenteric plexus, which is a network of nerve fibers and neuron cell bodies that are influenced by signaling from the brain. In this sense, the gut is an integral part of the nervous system, so the brain can easily effect gut function. We anecdotally recognize our brain-gut connection as a “gut feeling”, which can range from butterflies in the stomach to full-on anxiety-induced nausea. (4)

The biochemical changes that occur in times of stress have significant and immediate impact on gut function.

A family of peptides called corticotrophin releasing factors (CRF) are responsible for coordinating the body’s response to stress, and CRFs have a potent effects on the gut through modulation of inflammation, increase of gut permeability, contribution to visceral hypersensitivity, increased perception to pain, and modulation of the gut motility. (5) This hormone affects the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) to eventually stimulate the secretion of cortisol from the adrenal glands.

Not only does stress affect the physiological function of the gut, but it has also been shown to actually cause changes in the composition of the microbiota, possibly due to the changes in neurotransmitter and inflammatory cytokine levels. (6) Research in mice has found that exposure to stress led to an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria while simultaneously reducing microbial diversity in the large intestine of the stressed mice. (78) Furthermore, this disruption of the microbiota increased susceptibility to enteric pathogens.

Chronic exposure to stress may lead to the development of a variety of gastrointestinal diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, IBD, IBS, and even food allergies. (9) Experimental studies have shown that psychological stress slows normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and even compromises the intestinal barrier. (10)

Chronic stress may therefore play an important role in the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and leaky gut syndrome.

The Gut-Brain-Skin Axis plays an important role in our overall health.

Another fascinating line of research that dates back to the 1930s is the relationship between skin, gut, and mental health. I recently recorded a podcast in which I discussed the role that gut health plays in the development of acne, and research suggests that chronic stress may also play an integral part in the gut-skin axis. (11) Stress-induced alterations to microbial flora could increase the likelihood of intestinal permeability, which in turn sets the stage for systemic and local skin inflammation. (12) When gut integrity is compromised, an increase in circulating endotoxins derived from gut microbes can manifest as skin eruptions such as rosacea and acne.

On the flip side, having a healthy gut flora can modulate the hypersensitivity and leaky gut permeability that comes from chronic exposure to stress. Consuming probiotic foods and/or supplements might influence both mood and acne, by reducing systemic inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress, increasing peripheral tryptophan levels, normalizing brain levels of stress hormones, modulating tissue lipid levels, and possibly even regulating glycemic control. (1314151617)

Recently, research has demonstrated significant improvements in depression, anger, anxiety, as well as lower levels of cortisol among otherwise healthy adults taking a daily probiotic supplement as compared to a placebo. (18)

This data suggests that not only can chronic stress change the diversity of microflora in the gut, but that the quality and health of friendly gut bacteria may also conversely have an effect on mental health and wellbeing.

As we continue to learn more about the intricacies of the interplay between stress and gut health, what steps can we take in our daily lives to help minimize the health damage that arises from chronic stress?

One interesting method of treatment that researchers used in the 1930s to treat acne and mood disorders was the combination of “an acidophilus milk preparation and cod liver oil”, which we now know provided patients high levels of probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, and fat soluble vitamins A and D. (19) Healing the gut, reducing inflammation, and providing a diverse array of friendly bacteria can make a big difference in your gut’s susceptibility to the negative effects of stress. Taking cod liver oil and probiotics on a regular basis may make a significant difference in your overall resilience to stress.

That said, it goes without saying that a major component of a healthy lifestyle should include stress reduction techniques. 

As I mentioned before, many of my colleagues at the Paleo f(x) Conference focused on reducing stress as a key component of weight loss, longevity, and mental health. Stress may even cause hypothyroid symptoms such as weight gain, blood sugar swings, fatigue, decreased immunity, and sleep disturbance. I highly recommend that anyone struggling with these types of symptoms evaluate the level of stress in their life, and incorporate different strategies for minimizing stress on a regular basis.

There are many ways to mitigate the impacts of stress, including meditation, yoga, taiji (“Tai Chi”), deep breathing and spending time in nature – to name a few.  However, here are two options that I’ve found to be particularly helpful for healing the gut-brain axis:

  • The Body Scan (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, MBSR): MBSR was developed by clinical psychologist and long-time Buddhist practitioner Jon-Kabat Zinn to cultivate greater awareness of the ways the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can undermine emotional, physical, and spiritual health.  It has been studied extensively at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center for over 30 years, and is clinically proven to relieve chronic pain and illness.  You can download a free audio recording of the Body Scan here, and I recommend doing it once a day if possible. If you prefer more in-depth training, MBSR is offered as an 8-week intensive in hospitals and medical centers around the world. It is also offered as an online course, and can be done via home study with books and audio recordings.
  • Rest Assured is marketed as a program for healing insomnia naturally – and it’s very effective for that purpose. However, the way this is accomplished is by maintaining a greater state of relaxation and ease throughout the day, which will improve not only sleep but other physiological processes like gut function. As I’ve shown in this article, operating in a state of constant hyper-arousal (which many of us do) is a sure-fire path to digestive problems. The Rest Assured program contains simple exercises that coordinate breath and movement. Many of the exercises can be performed in as little as 3-4 minute throughout the day, while some take 20-30 minutes and can be done when you have a little more time – or while you’re laying in bed before sleep. I’ve found these to be incredibly helpful myself, and my patients have as well.

You can read more about my tips for stress reduction, as well as other components of an optimally healthy life, by signing up for my Beyond Paleo email series.


Join the conversation

  1. Chronic stress completely ruined my digestive health causing leaky gut, gut flora imbalances, low stomach acid and other issues.

    Fermented foods and probiotics were a big help. As were prebiotic fibers. Ginger and licorice root are good to reduce the inflammation also.

  2. Cooked rice mixed with plain yogurt (& a pinch of salt, for taste) for a few days, did wonders to my stomach problem. Also drinking plain butter milk helped. ( to make butter milk, I wisk yogurt & water in the blender & a pinch of salt for taste).

  3. Try Amazing Grass Green Superfood Alkalize and Detox Drink Powder ? No I’m not a sales rep for them, I started drinking one cup a day to get re-alkalized to help rid my tinea versicolor symptoms, and it’s helping for sure ?

  4. Hi, I was about 11 years old, started having pain in my stomach went to see doctors I think the 5th specialist put me on a diet for a month of only RICE & PLAIN WHITE YOUGURT! It worked wonders and everytime I have digestive problems I have RICE with YOUGURT!

    • I’m 15 and recently I’ve been experiencing some serious stress/anxiety and related stomach issues. After I got sick a few months ago, every day (so far) has been a constant battle between mental health and stomach issues. I wake up feeling normal, eat and then my stomach gets upset and constantly growls. I can’t be with my friends because I’m always feeling naseuous and like there’s a ball or substance in my throat. I have trouble breathing and swallowing sometimes and I feel something come up my throat every once in a while. I also have the inability to burp. My dad has been stressing me out over summer school this summer and yesterday/today I studied for my final which was today and I got a 93%, but the test anxiety has tolled me up to the writing of this comment. My gastro put me on Prevacid a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn’t seem to help. I take normal poops and haven’t vomited (yet), but I always have cramps and upset stomach and it’s become a daily vicious cycle. I really hope I get better soon, but I’ve had this problem for more than half of my summer and I really want to go outside and have fun again without constantly undergoing stomach problems and anxiety.

      • Josh, I went through the same thing when I was your age. I’m 20 now, and I’m still dealing with it. Find someone you can trust and talk to about the issues. Try eating better, exercising a little, sleeping well, and relaxation. Baths always helped me

      • Josh, this is going to sound really strange – as it did to me when I first learned about it – but if your family has a history of migraines, you may be having “abdominal migraines”. They are the adolescent precursor to migraines, and some individuals have both at the same time. If your family has a history of migraines, it would be worth your while to see a neurologist to find out if that’s what is causing your stomach issues. Good luck!

      • This is called LPR, a special kind of acid reflux that is not cured by prevacid or any PPI’s. It is caused when the sphincter that opens to allow food into your stomach stays open. Stress can induce this disease and it is tough to manage as most doctors ignore its existence. I’ve had it for a year. One day I just got sick and that was it. Since then I have changed my diet drastically and am finishing a masters in nutrition to help others with the same issue. The underlying cause is that malfunctioning sphincter and bacterial overgrowth of the wrong strains in the gut due to high stress.

        • Thanks Karl. I’ve been fighting this for over a year. Mostly just managing. They say stress does not cause this but three weeks after may sister’s breast cancer came back in a very aggressive form, bam! I had a nasty attack of LPR. I went to a low-fat diet, lost 18 lbs., and try to get in 10 miles a week of walking/running. It waxes and wanes for me. Doctors just want to hand out PPI’s. At 47 I’m not ready to take them forever. Could you expand on your regime a little more?

          • Stress absolutely affects LPR. The LES (lower esophageal sphincter) is controlled by your enteric nervous system; it’s like a second brain for your body. In fact, they are finding that the vagus nerve, which controls most of your gut responds to stressors in an emotional way. It’s been about 14 months for me and I have gotten better and better as time goes. I kept a food journal for about 3 months, documenting what I ate, when, and when symptoms emerged. What is troubling is my LPR is instant- I got reflux within five minutes of eating a food so I assumed that food was the culprit but as it turns out, this can be from the sphincter opening to any food and the reflux comes up, caused by a food you ate hours before. For example, I could eat chocolate and be fine, then later, eat rice and would get reflux and there’s no way to know which one caused it. So through trial and error I pinpointed that alcohol, caffeine, oranges, and anything with processed sugar (sucrose) were the worst. These are in fact, things to avoid with all reflux but other standards like spicy foods, spices, citrus, mint, and fried food did not affect me. Over time I simply removed as much sugar as I could. I stopped drinking alcohol. And I began just adding more fruits and vegetables with every meal. Being a grad student I have access to all kinds of labs and reesearch and I began looking into reflux and have found it can be caused by many diseases. The main culprits are: Celiacs, SIBO, leaky gut, colitis, and hypochlorhydria (high stomach pH/low stomach acid). In fact, it’s not too much acid that causes reflux, it’s too little acid. Proteins and fat require high acidic states and when you don’t produce acid they just sit and ferment in your gut, causing distension and reflux. Older people suffer from this a lot since you produce less acid as you age. Then you add a PPI and it gets even worse. My cousin was on Prevacid for 26 years and was sick the entire time. I convinced her to stop and she got better in 2 years.
            Now for my regiment. I rarely eat any processed food at all. I still can’t tolerate coffee but I can drink tea. I drink one sparingly (twice a week) but the rest is all water. I eat any and all fruits, any and all vegetables, rice, quinoa, teff and other “ancient grains”. I avoid pasta and breads (they’re heavily processed these days) and eat any meat/eggs except deli/sandwich meats (also heavily processed). I struggle with my weight- underweight. Reflux naturally causes you to lose weight and as you cut starches and grains, you lose even more. I have only met two other clients who had reflux and were thin. So it is difficult for me to gain weight when I eat 70% plant based. I don’t condone veganism, especially for reflux. Trying to eat a natural, non processed vegan diet is almost impossible and is not a viable diet in my opinion. I exercise every other day and practice stress relief (meditation and tai chi). If you are interested there are basically 3 accepted beliefs about what causes reflux you can research:
            1. SIBO- where the bacteria that lives in your large intestine get into your small intestine and produce methane and hydrogen, which pushes up into your stomach and throat- causing reflux.
            2. Food allergy- some food inflames your small intestine and undigested food ferments and produces gas.
            3. Low stomach acid- a high pH in the stomach causes fermentation and… produces gases.
            The idea is that reflux has NOTHING to do with too much acid in your stomach. It’s a joke that doctors believe this. They’ll prescribe a med that makes this worse and leads to all kinds of deficiencies since you now have less acid in your stomach. Calcium, b12, b6, iron, vit d, vit e, vit a… all need acidic states to be broken down and a PPI will block those acid producers. I know this is a lot to take in but shift your thinking into the idea that your gut is in bad health. Something is causing it. It’s not acid. If you can find the culprit, you can correct it. Mine turned out to be a parasite and celiacs (my mother has it). So now I eat gluten free and try to eat as naturally as possible. I am not a doctor, and I will not be licensed in nutrition until May but I believe this is the real science behind it all. If you are willing, I’d like to hear about what your diet is like or what other symptoms you have.

      • Josh get some help from a functional medicine practitioner. 93% means nothing if you are unwell. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Follow your heart. Parents mean well but only you can make the right decisions for your life. It is your journey. Xxx

  5. I’ve expierenced all the types of symptoms described in here and there is only one true fix that I found. It’s a relationship with God through Jesus. I know people can get very worried about this and have anxiety over it, but know that getting worried only makes these symptoms worse. Peace that God can give and already gave to humans, he’s just waiting for anyone to believe him and receive peace will fix everyone of these symptoms. Try his way you won’t be disappointed.

    • Jared, You are so right. I have had anxiety for years. Jesus helps me cope with it everyday. I think my anxiety is like Paul’s thorn in the flesh. I am going to always have it, but Jesus gets me through each day.


    • I Pray every single day I’ll never stop or give up I have horrible stress & anxiety that controls my life & keeps me from anything normal I try & stay positive it’s just so hard when I feel the way I do. I truly believe I’m going crazy or insane at times and I thank you for your comments about God being there it gives me hope that my prayers will be answered with God all things are possible! Bless you both

    • Yes I to have recently been under a lot of stress at work I started having intestinal issues. .. I got stool samples and sona gram on stomach all normal … I think it’s just stress feel shaking inside and bowel trouble and sense of fear … If I didn’t have a personal relation ship with Jesus Christ I would be so much worse

  6. Hi all. I started going through menopause and have gone through many terrible health issues. Right now it is severe anxiety that has affected my digestive system. I am on an anti depressant but it hasn’t been long enough to help yet. I have issues having a bowel movement the more I think about it the more I cannot go. And going through menopause also slows the digestive system. I have been out of work 2 weeks so far and in fear I will lose my job. I am trying activia which seems to help sometimes but not always. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Would hypnotherapy help? Or acupuncture? ?

    • Hypnotherapy as a way of finding deep relaxation does work . If that deep relaxation helps than I would strongly recommend it .Also if anyone in your area is running a mindfulness course I would suggest that . The effects are quite extraordinary . It is quite spiritual actually and gives a sense of belonging as well as a profound sense of peace .

    • Try Kelly Brogan’s book “A Mind of Your Own” in terms of options other than antidepressants. You can also contact her on Facebook. Xxx

  7. hey there,
    i am super sorry for all of those who are anxious or hurting or in pain. i wish there was some immediate way to fix it all! i have been having some serious stomach issues for years now too. it’s as if it is always bloated and as if i always have gas. my stomach makes noises everyday and so often that while i am in class i have to focus on suppressing the noise and just hope the room makes some noise and that i’m not picked on to talk! it sounds funny but it is actually to the point where i am wondering if i can even attend full class sessions. i am uncomfortable hourly and i do not know what to do because it’s as if my body is shutting down and i want to be an actress but auditioning is almost impossible. my body will not allow it. i can barely sit in an hour class and when i do i have to try to not move because if i do i know my stomach will react horribly. i’m in a theatre class now and we have to move a lot and i think i might faint thinking about how that is going to turn out!
    good luck to everyone! i hope we all get well seriously soon!

    • Omg this is exactly how I feel, doctors put it down to ibs but I’m not so sure. At weekends or holidays my stomach is absolutely fine but week days I’m in a constant battle with myself both physically and mentally. I honestly don’t know when things are going to get better

      • My girlfriend had “ibs” for years growing up. It turns out that she is allergic to egg yolks and has an intolerance for gluten. Based on her experience I would experiment with your diet. Eating grain free for a while seems to reset my girlfriend’s stomach then she eats less gluten and feels way better!

  8. my husband woke up with a severe stomach ache. he has a genetic blood disorder where he makes too many red blood cells. he has to drain his blood because it’s get real thick. I was wondering if his stomach pain is related to this. He never complains so I know he was hurting.

  9. Interesting post… I’m a 17 year old girl and about 19 days ago I went to bed with a nauseous feeling in my stomach. I ignored it, thinking it’d go away in the morning. Little did I know it was only going to get worse. I have panic attacks, shaking fits, diarrhoea at 4:50 every night, stomach cramps and aches, and I’m just exhausted…. I’m wondering if it is stress (and maybe a hormone imbalance because I’m also having ghost cramps and signs that my period is going to start, but is way too early) and what I can do about it because I’m suffering a lot and I just want to feel better. :,( Sometimes I think I’m going to die. Any suggestions or thoughts?

    • Stress and anxiety are absolutely affecting your physical health. You should look into cognitive behavioral therapy or hypnotherapy to help with stress reduction. There are hypnotherapy programs out there that are directed at GI symptoms (look up Olafur Palsson). See if there is someone in your area who uses his protocol. I’m a GI nurse practitioner and use his hypnotherapy protocol as a treatment modality for a lot of my patients with a lot of success. Good luck!

      • Thanks guys! It turns out it was a severe case of hormone inbalance, (estrogen dominance) and I’ve gone to a natural doctor about it. I’ve been taking homeopathic and have been getting better. before I went to the doctor, it got a lot worse, but now I’m finally able to get out of bed again. I had been bed ridden since January, and sick my whole life (I had unexplainable stomach aches since I can remember. Every. Day. And. Every. Night.) and I’m over the roof about finally getting better.

  10. Hello, thanks for the article. The “stress to gut” phenomenon has always been in the middle or back of my mind regarding my gut issues. I’ve always thought its been stress related but have never really come to any rhyme or reason for my issues. in one year I was in the ER 12 times for what was diagnosed as Gastroantoritious (99% sure I spelled that wrong), which is just another word for stomach irritation. I’ve been to specialists, been probed and prodded with no results or finding that lead to my side-effects. I went off gluten and dairy with no changes. So, my last effort is looking at my stress. I don’t seem to have any parent stress that I’m aware of but we as humans can handle a lot without even knowing of it. my question is where do I start without even knowing where to begin?

  11. Hi Chris l’ve been reading your articles on the gut-brain-skin axis and starting to adopt some of your suggestions. The first being with cod liver oil. The brand l bought is Arctic cod liver oil by Nordic Naturals. Secondly and more recently introduced a probiotic L. Plantarum which lve only just started to take daily. I suffer from SIBO am gluten (wheat), dairy and fructose intolerant. This has played havoc on my skin. I am 54yo and still suffering skin conditions.

    My question is about phytoceramides. I live in Melbourne Australia and we haven’t yet been exposed to this product here as l have made some initial enquiries. I am skeptical about some of the things lve been reading on line particularly from the US. I don’t always find them reliable or trust worthy. I have come across a product from Aveya Beauty that sells a phytocetamide product from sweet potatoes which is gluten free.

    I would like to get your thoughts on this area and if there are products that you would recommend and are phytoceramides worth pursuing.

    Thank you very much for your attention and l look forward with eagerness to your response.

    Kind regards,

  12. Hey I’m having problems with farting. It’s been years now, I’m always farting whenever I sit down with a group of friends ,family members or beside strangers on the bus or in the cinema. It just wierd I would just feel the urge to fart. Is something wrong with me? I can’t seem to control it. I also know it caused by stress and some rare situation. I am so embarrassed ! I consume a suitable amount of vege and meat. I took lacto supplements too. But nothing works! Anyone has this same situation like me? Or any advices? Thank you!

      • Red Apple, I imagine you may also have excessive burping too when this happens. My 10-year-old son has this issue along with terrible stomach pains. The symptoms come on simultaneously and quickly. I think it’s got to do with the effect stress is having on his gut. We’re just starting to incorporate mindfulness into his routine to help him relax and I’m really hoping he can stick with it.
        He also suffers from fatigue, inability to concentrate for any length of time, food sensitivities, anxiety and depression and I think that somehow these ones may be related to diet but still searching for answers. All the best to you!

    • Try a Wee bit less veg for a while especially pulses . It might help a bit .
      I am wondering very seriously if all the information with which we are bombarded on a daily basis , about wars , refugees , terrorist threats , etc mean that we all feel as if we live in a war zone and we are reacting to that .

  13. I have a now 16 year old athlete/high achiever daughter that is suffering daily with chronic high stomach pain. She has been tested inside and out including surgery too rule out small and large intestine. Very shortly (school and sports take up so much time) she will be seeing a child physiologist. In the mean time I have been researching online and stumbled on this blog. I have heard about the Paleo diet and am considering it but don’t esnt to add any mire stress on my daughter, she loves her chick fil A like any other kid and hates veggies except for plain salads, so this will be difficult. Any other suggestions for us?

    • Try to get rid of anything from a cow. Milk, cheese, butter. Replace your butter and all cooking oils with coconut oil. No processed foods at all. Lots of salads, pasta. Don’t use bleached white sugar. Replace it with raw sugar or honey. Take daily probiotics

    • Sorry to hear. My sister has been suffering from stomach pains for several years as well. She has gotten several tests done and nothing shows up. The only thing is she was told she has inflammation. She is also going to start the paleo diet to see if she feels a difference. She is going to see a different doctor and she is going to ask for a stool test. Also possibly a biopsy to see if there is any bacteria. Hope your daughter and my sister find some answers.

    • Theresa- I have a 15 yo son with the same issues. This has been going on for a long time. Like you we’ve gone the MD route, nothing head helped. I’m Thinking about GF too. Has anything helped your daughter? I’m so desperate to help him. Thanks.

    • I have the same problems, and I’ve tried pretty much everything out there. The one thing that saved my life was the low FODMAP diet. If you want more info on this you can email me at [email protected]. Hope this helps!

  14. Gut disorders relating to emotional stress are highly aggravated by living in stressful environment and situations and are eliminated by avoiding the cited factors anxiety also contributes to play an important role in inducing the cortisole hormones in the body .The patient himself should select the pleasurable activities to get rid of or to minimize the symptoms, however moderate physical exercise may have positive impact.If adequte result is not obtained after elapsing the sufficient period of time then administration of SSRI is esential.

  15. Chris-
    Its a constant struggle to manage stress as a college student. I find insomnia is the hardest to tackle, bc one night of bad sleep sets up a perpetual cycle of fatigue, sleep deprivation, and chronic stress. 2 questions- what do you reccomend for insomnia?(ive tried a lot of things) also, what should we take for probiotics that are low in histamine (sauerkraut is high, and no dairy for me right now) since i have allergy/migraine problems? Thanks!

    • SCRIPT-ASSIST probiotics is the only one that worked for me. It has no Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium and is comrised of natural soil-borne bacteria. Over our evolution as homo-sapiens and before we were immersed in (soil based) dirt. Our hunter-gatherer forebearers didn’t wash their nuts, berries and seeds and for 10,000 years our agricultural “parents” worked the soil and ate off the vine. Hyper-cleanliness has removed this vital part of our G.I. bacteria which helps to digest food. Tons of research into this area (animals rub in dirt to acquire bacteria which keeps their skin and coats clean by digesting the dirt!
      It is believed that symptoms of chronic fatigue can be caused by D-lactic acidosis, which is caused by excessive amounts of Enterococcus and Streptococcus. Lactobacillus is another lactic acid producing bacteria so avoid any probiotics containing it, as well as yogurt, etc. and use the PRESCRIPT-ASSIST brand (I’ve only found it on-line). Promise I am not affiliated with the company.

      • Hi Brom,
        Thanks for post
        I’m interested to hear more since I have tired many things and still am reacting to all except a handful of food. Did you have to change you diet to aid in your healing? I rotate my food every four days and eat only chicken, turkey, beef pork, winter squash (not all of them – can’t do spaghetti squash or delacatta), sweet potatoes and yams. I tried duck last night along wih my usual beef and kabotcha that I eat on that day and had a bad reaction. Now in questioning if it was the duck or whether I’m no longer tolerating the kabotcha since I can’t do FODMAPS.
        Any input is greatly appreciated.
        Thank you

  16. I recently experienced physical abuse from a boyfriend…. Emotionally I am drained… Running on little sleep and this pain that sits high in my stomach, almost a feeling of pressure under my ribs….stress or????

  17. I am the Guardian for my mother which I obtained through a highly litigated hearing. My father interfered with her care in their home and it landed her in the ER. I could write volumes but suffice to say it has taken its toll. I am greatful to hear about this practice and anticipate its benefits. Recently I have developed upper stomach pain when discussing, especially preparing for a follow up hearing. Another aid I found was Tulsi Holy Basil tea. It helps to calm the stomach. Last but not least is Psalm 34

  18. OMG…this is amazing. I am caregiver for parents. They are 93 and 87. Have been for almost three years now. That’s when all my gut problems started. I have a very controlling and by the book mother. On one hand sweet but always very critical and negative. I’m 90 % vegetarian and ride my bike and sleep ok. But in the last year I have been to many Doctors looking for reasons for my nausea and noisey stomach. Cry alot, constipated even went to the ER thinking I was having heart attack. I am now on Zoloft…not what I want but it’s helping. P.S. Prayer and God’s love is very important.

  19. i believe stress has contributed to my leaky gut symptoms and high inflammations.

    i have read how to fix it, I’m only young and not had it that long. my only real question is, can it be reversed, or once stress has damaged the body is that then permanently damaged, and you can only manage symptoms, or can it all be reversed

    i posted again because i forgot to tick the notify me when i get a reply box

    • Josh, yes you can. The word disease is actually a dis-easement of the body. Learn to decide to change and correct the diseasement. Nothing is permentaly damaged until its no longer there

  20. i believe stress has contributed to my leaky gut symptoms and high inflammations.

    i have read how to fix it, I’m only young and not had it that long. my only real question is, can it be reversed, or once stress has damaged the body is that then permanently damaged, and you can only manage symptoms, or can it all be reversed

    • I have come to realise that my bloated and painfull tummy is especially bad when I have had a stressful day. It feels like there is a rock in my belly. After reading your article on the Gut and Brain axis I realise that it is indeed IBS as I suspected and that my skin problem is directly linked to this. I am depressed and fatigued. I need some advice on how to manage my stress and generally become unblocked physically, mentally and spiritually. I am a mom of 3 and self employed so I don’t have a lot of time to relax. I feel weighed down. I would really appreciate your input. Thank you.

  21. I have had this belly button: intestinal, sleep issue (s), depression, for years. It is worse with stress, sugar(s). I want to eliminate it. Is there
    a place to live where I could learn how to heal myself?

  22. Thank you, Chris, for this very well written and informative article on gut health and Body Scan. Feeling into our gut responses to explore the record of the impact of life upon us has also been my own life work. Please do read about a stress reduction mind-body technique, the Somatic Reflection Process, my colleague and I first developed in the 70s that we have found extremely successful in uniting the gut-brain axis, see our post ‘Improving Gut Health Using the Somatic Reflection Process to Influence Both Physical and Mental Health ‘
    at . Also, be sure and read through all our posts on this blog as we explore the intelligence of gut feelings and instincts for health and well-being.

    We also invite you to read about our work over 40+ years as counselors exploring gut feelings with hundreds of people in our book “What’s Behind Your Belly Button? A Psychological Perspective of the Intelligence of Human Nature and Gut Instinct”, available on Amazon USA and UK.

    Thank you again for your article and link to more information on your technique.

  23. My husband died a few months ago. Since then I have lost all
    appetite, Experience nausea most of the time, and my bowels are hopeless. Cant concentrate and terrible sleeper. Can you suggest any help for this.
    I assume it is all stress related.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. From a lay-person’s opinion, it sounds like you are suffering from the natural symptoms from bereavement. If they continue for more than six months, perhaps see a physician.

  24. Was in a high stress job. Exec chef in large kitchen. Diagnosed with late stage stomach cancer in 09. IMO stress kills..

  25. Hi, good stuff thank you.

    I have had digestive and skin issues for years now, i always feel are connected [gut feeling – can’t resist] but i can never make the actual connection. I have also had anxiety type issues my whole life although not serious and never needed to be treated, just getting stressed easily, sweating when i’m tense etc, getting angry very easily, having trouble turning off etc.

    Nice to see a connection being made.

    Anyway, i usually take cod liver oil on and off [poor quality but can’t really afford the good stuff atm] and vit d3 when its colder. But i have always had bad experiences with probiotics, as in they make my skin worse ie make my acne worse not better.

    |I have tried all types, ie shop bought yoghurt, home-made yoghurt, sauerkraut [home-made], supplements. My skin seems to be a good indicator to the quality of the probiotics, ie supplement sod the least damage, followed by shop bought yogurt, with home-made sauerkraut being the worse giving me large nasty spots i don’t even normally get.

    Also i have a lot of problems with gas, being caused by what i thought were healthy foods, i think mainly from the fibre. I thought fibre was prebiotic so maybe that is the connection.
    The worst offenders for gas [farting/trumping ] are:
    Raw carrots.
    Broccoli [all brassicas i think]
    Potato and sweet potato/yam skins
    Rye crispbreads
    |I think fruit although i haven’t eaten it for a long time out of some kind of fructose phobia [mental illness probably – although does give me bloating]

    I realise not all of the above are “healthy” but when i try to eat “healthy” i tend to eat a lot of brassicas and potatoes, carrots and yams as my carb source for exercise. In the end i usually just give up because of the farting/trumping.

    I have also noticed that tomatoes and large amounts of starch, starch+tomatoes, gives me GERD. Seems i can only digest so much starch. Worst offender being normal potatoes. Not really relevant to my post anyway.

    What’s weird is the foods i can seem to digest the best also seem to be the most “unhealthy” – ie: sugar, all dairy. reasonable sized portions of processed white wheat products [ bread, pasta etc ], white rice. I digest not to large amounts of meat and eggs fine i think

    The longest i have stuck with probiotics is a month but i had to stop them because my acne got too severe to live with. What you say makes sense but what with my troubles with fibre and probiotics i’m at a loss of what to do about it.

    I’m considering a zero residue diet out of desperation although i realise conventional wisdom says this can’t be very good for me

    I’m grateful for any help and suggestions. Cheers.

    • Eliminate these following ingredients from your diet: carrageenan, cellulose gum, gellan gum, xanthan gum, guar gum, and locust bean gum aka carob bean gum!

      The carrageenan and gums side effects are that they slow down/block digestion of nutrients eg you’re not digesting properly the majority of your nutrients that you’re eating.
      Which will definitely aggravate your tinea versicolor :-O

      Don’t worry, there’s plenty of foods, drinks, desserts, snacks that don’t have above ingredients in them!

  26. Hi Chris,

    What are your thoughts on DVT, and its relationship to inflammation, a primal diet, and the use of Warfirin? Do you know ,how this might relate to a high CK reading, low zinc, and maybe thyroid and Cholesterol. Hope this question isn’t too broad. Do you know of anyone who has done some valuable research in this area?

    Thanks Dan M.

  27. Thanks Chris, of course I realize you are not able to make any kind of diagnosis, but just for the sake of discussion, and without knowing all of the required information, what are some of the things you would be looking for with regards to raised prolactin? Is it something that can have any connection to gut health generally? Also, is it still possible to have problems with your thyroid if your TSH seems to be optimum? Can eosinophils be raised simply because of a bacterial infection or is it generally more specific to parasites? Thanks Dan M

  28. Thanks for the post. It really helps to understand the complex interactions and some of the whys of stress. I’ve definitely been trying to reduce my stress and I have a few friends that are really going through trying times. Thanks to you I am able to offer more than just supportive words.

  29. This is a really great article! I eat 90% Paleo currently but found out this week that I have intestinal metaplasia and am not sure what adjustments I should make to my diet to reduce my risk of gastic cancer. My gastro says diet doesn’t matter that much, that my genetic predisposition to this type of cancer is a larger factor — I’m not buying it!

    Do you have any resources for nutrition when you have precancerous cells? I’m lost!

    • Hi Ashley,

      I realize this posts very old but I thought I would try anyways… Were you able to reverse your IM? Did you find a diet that worked for you?


  30. Hi Chris, I’m writing to get some help with regards to my girlfriend Sasha who has been suffering from symptoms such as stomach cramps and pain and nausea, generally exacerbated by eating, as well as general tiredness and feeling weak and faint, for about the last year. (prior to that she had never had much in the way of stomach problems and it seemed to begin with what appeared to be a stomach bug which lasted for a couple of weeks and then settled but never fully went away and then recurred another couple times over the next few months) She was a vegetarian for about the last half of her life and she is 20 now. I helped her change to a reasonably strict high fat low carb diet of meat and seafood and vegetables and cheese and butter and eggs and raw milk prohibiting all grains except for some white rice and including some starchy veggies. That has appeared to help a lot however she still feels some tiredness and weakness and some less serious stomach issues. She has gotten some blood tests. The results showed high prolactin of 1031 mIU/L, high Eosinophils of 0.8 risen from 0.2 x10^9/L the year before, crp seemed ok at <1 mg/l, and TSH seemed ok at 2.12. everything else appeared to be within the generally accepted healthy range, for wherever that's worth. I feel as though it may be a gut issue, possibly even an infection of some sort, however I'm a little confused about the relevance of the high prolactin. Do you think you could explain this situation to me further please. Thanks in advance, Dan m.

    • Dan: it’s impossible (and irresponsible) to diagnose someone over the internet. I’d advise your girlfriend to seek help from a qualified practitioner. With high eosinophils, parasites should be ruled out via a DNA/PCR stol analysis from a lab like Metametrix.

      • Thanks Chris for the information. But the article helped a lot. I have similar problem like Dan’s gf. However I am a guy. I somehow feel this all started after, there is a lot of physiological stress. I have been diagnosed with Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis. I hope as I get back pleasure, I might recover? 🙂

  31. This is so true in my experience, although I wonder what you think about the theory that worrying overly about what you are eating causes such stress much food ends up virtually indigestible – I personally have no major health problems but a history of eating disorders and a tendency to neuroses over food, yet the stricter I become with my diet the more stressed I am and the more stomach distress I experience. I have decided that (within reason) relaxing my rigid dietary rules, allowing the odd slice of sourdough, cup of coffee, glass of wine, square of dark chocolate etc allows everything to digest fine. Of course this is all within the parameters (mine!) of WAPF at the more relaxed end, strict paleo at the rigid end, not exactly SAD anyway you look at it!
    Also, do you know much about the Alexander technique? I had lessons between the births of my two children and now am considering taking it up again as I have a weak lower back but it also helped tremendously with stress management, relaxation, breathing and I’m sure digestion.
    An excellent article and nice to see someone thinking further than just dietary tweaks.

  32. Hello and thank you for addressing this topic. I deeply appreciate your inclusion of links to the Body Scan method of stress reduction, but I wonder. When I clicked on the link embedded in the word “here,” I was taken to the BuddhaNet site and a long list of sound files. I would love to know which file you were referencing by “here.”
    Reading your site has been very edifying and I am so glad you take the time to really explain things to your readers. I hope you will continue and thrive.

  33. I have long time struggled with gut issues and been aware of the relationship of stress. Rest Assured is part of the Sounder Sleep System created by Micheal Krugman. I attended a 3 day workshop of his system a few years ago and fixed my chronic sleep issues in just a couple months. Of course, the rub is that you MUST do some daily practice in order to get results and change your stress and arousal levels. As Chris said the practice can be effective in very small doses but often if you are hyper aroused it is a real challenge to be patient and quiet the mind when you are new to it. Frustration sometimes creates a negative association with relaxation. Finding someone who can help create that relaxed environment and use breath or movement to become mindful is a huge help to quiet the ever busy monkey mind. There are Sounder Sleep teachers all over the US (and world). Feldenkrais classes also focus on awareness and help reduce stress. It helps so much to get support when you are serious about changing a habit. And stress, while is an aspect of part of the modern world, is just another thing that we can make choices about just like diet. P.S. Krugman would be a great podcast guest!

    • I’ve trained with Michael as well, and he is a friend. My wife Elanne is a Feldenkrais practitioner, so I have great respect for that work!

  34. As a person who was continually abused as a child I can tell you that the gut sure does get stuffed around when stressed! I was taken to hospital many a time for suppositories to clear me out from severe constipation. I ate a ton of healthy foods back then, ran around like any child did but the fear of being hit etc made me feel my gut clamp up. As an adult and now a parent my teen goes through some horrible anger management issues and when he flares up (usually due to too much gluten and sugar funny enough!) my stress levels rise again. I am hypothyroid and gluten intolerant (both proven) and my thyroid tests always show a bad result when I have been overly stressed. Interesting, hey! I do wonder if the continual stress hormones from a very young age created the gluten intolerance. Then again, I wonder if it is hereditary as my son has obvious tummy issues and tells me he feels ‘crap in the brain’ eating it too. Trying to eliminate gluten from his diet is almost impossible. He is now nearly 19 and buys rubbish food himself. So I DO see the connection of tummy gut pains and other issues with stress. When I am not stressed my tummy looks flat (and I don’t break wind as often, lol!), when I am stressed I look huge! Great article, Chris!

  35. I know this is true. I have struggle with anxiety/depression for 10+ years and started having all kinds of digestive issues about 8 years ago. After trying several relaxation techniques and some supplements I finally gave in and went on Paxil. Within 1 month all my digestive symtoms were gone so I know stress/anxiety is the source of my digestive problems. After about 1 year I got went off Paxil and all the digestive troubles (along w/ anxiety) came back. I am still in search of a natural cure for this. I have been strict Paleo for several months but I don’t feel much different. I will look into the techniques mentioned in this article. Thanks

  36. I am confused about the” cod liver oil” mentioned above. A prior article of yours recommended “fermented cod liver oil”. Is this the same thing, and is one better than the other?

    Also, if you take cod liver oil, fermented or not, is that a replacement for “fish oil” or “salmon oil”? I know you don’t recommend “fish oil” is that true also of “salmon oil”?

    Additionally, in one of the comments you mentioned that one fighting an autoimmune disease may want to take “fish oil”. Would “salmon oil” be preferred in that case? If it is for anti-inflammation, would curcumin be preferred instead of the fish or salmon oil?

    Yep, thoroughly confused on all this fish/salmon/cod liver-fermented or not, oil!!! Help!!!

    • Fermented cod liver oil is recommended because it’s cold-processed, which won’t destroy the fragile fatty acids. Salmon oil is an acceptable choice if you’re not able to eat salmon or other cold water, fatty fish – but eating whole fish is preferred (along with reducing intake of omega-6 fats). Improving the omega-3:6 ratio will reduce inflammation.

  37. A relaxation method I would like to mention is autogenic training as it is not that well known outside of Germany. In the beginning it may take half an hour lying down in a quiet room to get into a relaxed state, but with practice you can relax in just a few minutes almost anywhere. Just say to yourself a few times while breathing out: “relax”, “heavy”, and “warm” and you are relaxed.

  38. As always, a very interesting and important topic! I have a somewhat related (but somewhat different) question about gut health, specifically about FODMAPs and the GAPS diet, which I know you’ve talked about several times. From what you’ve said before, it sounds like going on the GAPS diet could be an effective way of healing the gut from the underlying issues that cause FODMAPs intolerance. I went on the GAPS diet about 2 months ago because I’ve had lots of gas and gut pain issues for the past couple of years. I wasn’t experiencing any relief in the symptoms, so I tried cutting out FODMAPs and finally did experience a major improvement (though I still have minor pain every now and then, and small amounts of gas). I’m sticking with GAPS for now in the hope that I can heal my gut and eventually tolerate FODMAPs a little more. My question is this: would it have been possible to heal my gut without cutting out the FODMAPs and just staying with GAPS? Or does it delay my healing every time I eat a FODMAP food that my body can’t digest? I’m trying to figure out how aggressive I should be in trying FODMAPs foods, and also whether it’s okay to eat a little (say avocado or something) if I think I can handle the symptoms. But if that will interfere with healing every time, then I’d like to stay away and speed the healing process!

    • Ceejay, check out for some good information and potential help with your issue. SCD is very similar to GAPS (GAPS is actually just a more focused version of SCD), and Jordan and Steve are very helpful in explaining individual differences and how to tailor the diet.

      Chris, thanks for the great article. Hopefully my fiancee reads it and cuts me some slack in our stressful wedding planning!

  39. Very interesting article Chris. Yes, stress has the effect to either create or make any illness worse! One of the most effective stress relief methods is the use of HeartMath®’s freeze frame and other techniques. I guide people to use a biofeedback type of device that shows them how they can actually change their heart rate variability (which is a marker of stress). Instead of using eating “comfort food” for stress relief (that doesn’t work, and adds pounds), it’s best to go to the source and resolve the stress! It helps people feel calm, improves their health, and can even help them lower their weight – all without dieting!

  40. Thanks for this great article – as a busy grad student at the end of the semester, I can definitely attest to this relationship! Just one question – I take acidophilus, which seems to help, but I’m wondering if there is a best time to take it (i.e., time of day and time before a meal)? Thanks again, very informative!

    • I would like to improve my husband’s and my stress from our daily life.
      We both are engaged in running his business.My husband had heart transplant three years ago and since we have gained lot of stress in our life.
      Can you please help and guide us?

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