Guest Post: Stress: The Microbiome Nemesis, This. One. Life.

What first struck us about Sarah was the name of her health coaching practice: this. one. life. Further explaining, “because we only have this one life.” It’s messages like these that help inspire us to keep improving every day – especially because we know what it feels like to get your life back. She says, “we don’t have enough time on this earth to feel like crap.” And we couldn’t agree more!!

We’re so thrilled that she is joining us today to talk about stress and how it affects our intestinal health. This is such an important topic! And Sarah’s work as a Registered Nurse, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and through her own personal experience working on her son’s health to improve his intestinal microflora, makes her a great voice on this subject. Take it away, Sarah!


Paleo Parents Guest Post: Stress: The Microbiome Nemesis, This. One. Life.

Stress is your microbiome’s biggest enemy. And many health and wellness experts are uncovering the extent to which our microbiome impacts our health. Micro-what, you say? I’m talking about the balance of beneficial versus harmful microbes in our body. Did you know that 90% of our body’s cells are bacteria, protozoa, yeast, and even viruses? That’s right 90%—according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).1 These critters live on our skin, in our mouth, throughout our body, and especially in our intestinal tract. Turns out we may be more host than human! You grossed out? No need to be, because these critters are around to protect us. The types and proportions of our microbes are being studied intently and scientists are realizing more and more how critical the health of our micro-flora is to every aspect of our wellness. Due to the significance of these findings I dedicate a significant portion of my book, “Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World,” to this subject.

The following are the most commonly recognized offenders that negatively impact our microbial balance by either feeding harmful bacteria or destroying beneficial bacteria:

  • Foods with refined sugar, chemicals and preservatives, pesticides, and unhealthy fats—unfortunately some of the most common elements of the standard American diet.
  • Exposure to antibiotics.
  • Cesarean birth.
  • Lack of breast feeding.
  • Overly clean living environments—our tendency to be germaphobes has its downsides!2

Paleo Parents Guest Post: Stress: The Microbiome Nemesis, This. One. Life.

However, what we don’t hear a lot about is how STRESS wreaks havoc on our microbial colonies.

We have learned that stress is bad for so many aspects of our health, yet we clearly underestimate its power since many of us allow chronic stress to be our norm. Being able to function with chronic stress does not mean it is ok, or healthy. We tend to focus on exercise and diet to improve wellness—while ignoring the fact that our life and work stressors are wrecking our health. In addition to the more commonly recognized effects of stress, the fact that it destroys the health of our micro-flora should be the final motivator to make us take action.

Many experts emphasize that stress management is as important a factor in bacterial balance and immune health as food.³ We can eat a clean and healthy diet that is optimal for intestinal health, but if we live with chronic stress we are most likely negating all the benefits of the food.

  • According to scientists from The Ohio State University, exposure to stress leads to changes in the composition, diversity, and number of gut microorganisms, reducing our microbiome’s ability to protect us.
  • Research in mice has found that an increase in stress results in increases of harmful bacteria and in a reduction of microbial diversity—bad news!
  • Experimental studies have shown that mental stress slows down movement in the small intestine, which encourages the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and compromises the intestinal lining.4

Stress’ negative effect on our microbes directly impacts our immune system and contributes to systemic inflammation—it ends up affecting every aspect of our wellness. The effects of microbial imbalances can be as simple as short-lived symptoms like diarrhea or constipation, or as serious as chronic issues like, Tourette’s, ADHD, autism, MS, obesity/overweight, Alzheimer’s, migraines, insomnia, mood swings, depression, anxiety, cancer—I could go on.5 It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of good stress management in the support of our micro-flora, and therefore overall health.

Paleo Parents Guest Post: Stress: The Microbiome Nemesis, This. One. Life.

Controlling stress and anxiety has been a challenge for me personally. I can’t lie—I have a handful of life stressors—with three young kids, a traveling husband and a business and household that demand perpetual TLC. I’m on the move and juggling a lot. I often fall into the trap of convincing myself that stress is harmless as long as I can simply maintain my responsibilities in life and keep it together. The truth is that this mindset underestimates the power and impact of stress on the body. Knowing how harmful stress is to my microbial friends helps motivate me to keep my stress in check.

So, in addition to chugging Kombucha, eating yogurt, popping probiotics, and getting a fermented food fix, add some relaxation, meditation, gratitude, yoga, slowing down, or JUST BREATHING to the mix! The benefits are countless and priceless. If stress is a major obstacle, it’s worth your money and time to consult a therapist who specializes in stress management.

Since our gut microbes are the frontline of our immune system and responsible for keeping all of our systems in check, it is vitally important to nurture them. Good stress management is one of the best ways to do so. If we take good care of our one hundred trillion little companions, they will return the favor!


  1. Peter Turnbaugh, et al., “The Human Microbiome Project: Exploring the Microbial Part of Ourselves in a Changing World,” Nature 449 (2007): 804-10.
  2. Andrew Weil, “Anti-Inflammatory Health with Andrew Weil, MD,” lecture, Institute for Integrative Nutrition, New York, 5 January 2015. Reference used for 5 most common offenders.
  3. Chris Kresser, “How Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Gut—And What to Do About It,”, accessed 29 January 2015.
  4. Elsevier, “Stress Affects the Balance of Bacteria in the Gut and Immune Response, “Science Daily, 22 March 2011. Reference for all three bullet points.
  5. David Perlmutter and Kristin Loberg, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015).

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN is the mom of three young boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master’s degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World. Learn more at Connect with Sarah on Facebook![/author_info] [/author]

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