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Can Stress Lead to SIBO?

Can Stress Cause SIBO?

Regardless of the source, be it career, relationships, family, etc. stress has become a seemingly constant presence of modern living. In fact, studies show that stress is the reason given for nearly 75 percent of all doctor visits. This is concerning as the effects of stress often manifest in the form of physical or mental dysfunction.

One way in which stress may impact wellness is by promoting the development of a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO.

What is SIBO?

In healthy systems, most of the bacteria in the body is found in the large intestine and colon while the small intestine maintains a significantly smaller population. SIBO is an infection of the gut that disrupts the healthy distribution of bacteria. Such an imbalance can result in many different problems including physical discomforts, poor digestion, weakened immunity, neurological issues, and more.

SIBO occurs when bacteria colonize and subsequently overtake the small intestine. Many factors may contribute to the development of SIBO including diet, physical malfunction, and hormonal issues. However, perhaps the most influential factor of SIBO development is chronic stress.

How Stress Can Cause SIBO

Recent research suggests that stress may be a primary contributor to SIBO. Maintaining a high level of stress has been shown to inhibit gastric acid production, promote intestinal dysmotility, disrupt immune function, and aid in the creation of harmful biofilms. Each of these elements play a role in the occurrence of SIBO.

Low Levels of Gastric Acid

Gastric acid is naturally produced in the stomach to protect the small intestine by killing foreign bacteria. Chronic stress impedes gastric acid production by disrupting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When the body becomes excessively stressed, the HPA axis responds by halting acid production. As levels of gastric acid decline, the number of bacteria in the small intestine increases, thereby prompting the development of SIBO.

Intestinal Dysmotility

One of the primary causes of SIBO is poor intestinal motility. When working properly, the muscles in the digestive tract tighten to push food through the small intestine as it is digested. Between meals, these muscles engage in the migrating motor complex (MMC), which sweeps away any lingering bacterial substances. However, when the body is stressed, the MMC is interrupted which allows undigested substances to remain in the small intestine for an extended period. Such stoppages promote bacterial proliferation in the small intestine and often results in SIBO.

Weakened Immunity

The gut contains the majority of the body’s immune system. When stressed, the body diverts energy from the gut meaning that production of essential protective agents is reduced. For example, chronic stress is associated with decreased values of immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is an antibody that protects intestinal wall. Without appropriate IgA activity and prevalence, the risk of intestinal damage and subsequent bacteria growth throughout the intestine increases. The immune-weakening qualities of stress also increase the risk of bacterial infection, which may contribute to conditions such as SIBO.

Increased Biofilm Formation

Biofilms can be described as a tightly bound community of bacteria that are notoriously evasive and difficult to eliminate. Stress hormones and the body’s natural stress response promotes the construction of biofilms by allowing bacteria to access nutrients necessary to their survival. Studies show that biofilms form a protective shell around bacteria, making them particularly resilient to common antibacterial treatments. As biofilms are established, the number of bacteria in the gut may increase to unsafe levels resulting in SIBO and stubborn infections.

Reducing Stress to Combat SIBO

Due to its notable association with SIBO development, reducing the amount of stress in your life may provide notable intestinal support. The following lifestyle changes and activities may help reduce stress and help prevent or alleviate SIBO.

Simplify Your Schedule

An overbooked schedule can quickly become physically and mentally overwhelming, which produces stress. In many cases, people feel obligated to say yes to every event, activity, or gathering to which they are invited. However, it is important to keep in mind that declining an invitation, especially when trying to regulate your stress level, is always a viable and oftentimes healthy option.

Avoid Stressful Relationships

Most people have at least one person in their life who is a consistent source of stress. This may be a longtime acquaintance, coworker, or family member. Regardless of the relationship, it may be beneficial to limit interaction with that individual as much as possible.

Reduce Your Media Intake

It is important to remain up to date on current events and have a healthy political opinion but overexposure to news, political outlets, and social media can cause significant stress. If you find that consumption of media is a source of stress, consider reducing your intake or cutting it off entirely.

Take Stress-Reducing Supplements

Stress-reducing supplements can help alleviate the stress-induced issues especially if you’re unable to avoid or remove stress triggers – we recommend HoltraCeuticals’ Chill Pill.

Adaptogens are a class of herb that have a natural balancing quality on various hormones and bodily functions. Taking the following herbs may help reduce stress, improve digestion, and support gastrointestinal wellness:

  • Ashwagandha: calms the brain, supports immunity, relieves anxiety
  • Maca: improves iron absorption, balances hormones, improves energy level
  • Ginseng: supports weight loss, alleviates stress and anxiety, combats depression
  • Eleuthero: improves energy regulation, stabilizes blood sugar, combats cravings and overeating

For even more tips on reducing stress, read this.

Reduce Stress and SIBO Symptoms

Sadly, maintaining a high stress level has become a socially acceptable cost of living. However, doing so can dramatically impede your wellness. Stress contributes to gastrointestinal disruption and bacterial proliferation, which increases the risk of SIBO. Reducing stress by eliminating common contributors and adopting healthy lifestyle changes may help alleviate SIBO symptoms. Protect your gut and overall wellness by taking action to reduce the amount of stress in your life.


1. Dukowicz, Andrew C et al. “Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a comprehensive review.” Gastroenterology & hepatology vol. 3,2 (2007): 112-22.
2. Konturek PC, Brozozowski T, Konturek SJ. “Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options.” J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011;62:591–9.
3. Rhee SH, Pothoulakis C, Mayer EA. “Principles and clinical implications of the brain-gut-enteric microbiota axis.” Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009;6:306–1.
4. Wang SX, Wu WC. “Effects of psychological stress on small intestinal motility and bacteria and mucosa in mice.” World J Gastroenterol. 2005;11(13):2016-21.
5. Chris Kresser. “How Stress Contributes to SIBO.” Kresser Institute.
6. Amy Myers, MD. “The Stress-SIBO Connection.” Amy Myers, MD.

Can Stress Lead to SIBO? was last modified: March 14th, 2019 by Holtorf Medical Group

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