How does our Body's Stress Response Affect our Gut Health?


I have been very blessed in my life to be constantly surrounded by brilliant minds in Eastern medicine. In my About page I have introduced you to Dr. John Klimediotis, my first introduction to the magical world of alternative and holistic health. From that point on I was hooked. I continuously seek out like-minded holistic health professionals that are as passionate about healing the body naturally, as I am.

As you know, I write a lot about Digestive/Gut Health, both here on the blog and on social media. The quote "everything starts in the gut," has come out of my mouth so many times that I am starting to say it in my sleep. I know from much research and experience that this topic stems a lot deeper than just, your health issues starting in your gut. So I turned to the ‘Gut-Guru himself, Wesley Burwell, and asked him a few questions about all-things gut related. We’re diving in deep to talk about why we get digestive issues, how they start, and what we can do to correct them. But first, before we begin, let me give you a brief introduction:


I met Wes at a LED Light Therapy convention about four years ago. His knowledge and approach towards healing the body were like nothing I had heard before. He has mastered all types of energy medicine including Biofeedback, LED Light Therapy, EAV, Ionic Detoxification, Homeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine, Crystal Therapy, Reiki, Reflexology, Emotional Freedom Technique, Samadhi Meditation, and more. I know, right? How does one accomplish all that?!?

I am very grateful to have befriended Wes and have the opportunity to work with him on a regular basis. I have learned so much over the years regarding how the body works, and how stress can deregulate our entire system affecting how we function. Let’s get started.  

Stress. We all feel it. We all experience it on some levels. I feel in this day and age it’s pretty unavoidable. So many studies show that stress & anxiety are linked to Gut issues. Can you explain how stress impacts digestive health?

The health of the digestive system is essential to the health of the individual, so when its function is disturbed, the effects are immediate. If prolonged, it can become quite devastating.  If your gut is not healthy, you are not healthy, period.

Let’s first define stress, and how ‘stressors’ can impact the human body. As I explain the stress response, you will have a better understanding of what is taking place systemically and locally, focusing in on the effects it has on the digestive system.

In 1936, Hans Selye (the father of stress) was the first to coin the term “stress” as we know it today. He defined it as: “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”.

The two primary categories that stress is derived from:      

  • External (physical stressors)

  • Internal (psychological stressors)

External or physical stressors include but are not limited to:

  • overexertion

  • lack of sleep

  • repetitive strain

  • physical trauma

  • toxicities

  • environmental chemicals (inhaled or skin exposure)

  • excess cold/heat

  • excessive noise

  • infectious pathogens (micro-organisms)

  • radioactive materials(Ionizing radiation exposure)

  • EMF’s(non-ionizing radiation)

  • dietary lifestyle choices

Internal or psychological stressors are what most people are familiar with. These are so multifaceted due to the ability of each individual to custom create what they stress over and hold themselves accountable for. This allows them to keep the stressor alive and thriving, possibly, their whole life!  These stressors can stem from their formative years, their upbringing, belief systems, life events, etc, the list is practically endless. Most of these psychological stressors have evolved from experiences which involved anger, fear, or anxiety, but at the very core of all these psychological stressors is the feeling of “not being in control”.

Regardless of whether the stressor is external or internal, the physiological response is relatively the same. The physiological effects of the stress response activate the sympathetic nervous system, which then turns on a hormonal response from the adrenals. The adrenal response up-regulates the body systemically to take action and to be able to sustain itself so it can deal with the stressor until the stressor is overcome. This creates a ‘temporary’ rerouting of the bodies’ resources. As a result, the sympathetic nervous system goes into full action along with complete hormonal support to “fight, flight or freeze”.  The results are widespread throughout the body including but not limited to:

  • pupils of the eyes dilate for better focus for the task at hand

  • blood vessels constrict making the heart beat faster

  • blood pressure increases to supply the larger muscles to fight or run

  • muscles begin to contract and are ready for action

  • blood flow to the skin is decreased to feed the larger muscles and to protect in the case of injury

  • lungs begin to breath deeper and quicker

  • platelet count in the blood increases in case of injury to close a wound quickly

  • reduced saliva output (1)

  • reduced stomach enzyme output (2)

  • reduction in bowel movements (3)

The most influential to the digestive system is the decrease of the saliva output, the reduction in the stomach enzyme output, and reduction of bowel movements. Essentially what’s happening is that your digestion shuts down until the stressor is neutralized. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we go from one stressor to the next, leaving our digestive systems in a constant handicapped state. This makes it that much harder for our digestive system to perform its normal functions.

1.) Reduced saliva output: means that a third of your digestion is not working properly. Saliva is full of enzymes that begin breaking down your food while you are chewing, so it can be swallowed. Amylase, protease, and lipase are the 3 primary enzymes in the saliva that begin breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats respectively. On top of the reduced enzymes available from low saliva output, stressed individuals usually don’t chew their food enough to break it down or prefer to “drink” their food in a form of a pre-made shake. This bypasses the first step in digestion.

2.) Reduced stomach enzyme output: this affects digestion in the main area where the majority of food breakdown should be accomplished. The stomach is a big muscle and it is continuously contracting to churn the food, while the stomach lining releases enzymes to assist in liquefying the food before it leaves. It also is in constant communication with the brain, keeping tabs on the acidity of the stomach, regulating it and asking for help from the pancreas to alkalize when the acidity reaches a certain level. The stress response can cause the stomach to prematurely empty all on its own. If this communication is even slightly hindered by the stress response, then the stomach can produce too much acid and damage itself (example: stomach ulcers).  Heartburn can also be a result of the stress response interfering with the neurological communication between the upper and lower esophageal valves, the brain, and the deregulation of the stomach pH. Have you ever had that lump in your throat feeling when you are stressed? This is a clear indication of how it can affect the upper esophageal valve.

If food repeatedly leaves the stomach prematurely, while it's too acidic, it can cause damage to the small intestine and dramatically increase inflammation levels in the gut. Premature emptying of the stomach will force the pancreas to have to produce extra enzymes to help break down the food that the stomach didn’t. Chronic systemic inflammation of the small intestine (example: IBS and many others), and constant overtaxing of the pancreas could lead to possible diabetes. Over acidic food leaving the gut repeatedly, meal after meal, can also directly destroy our bowel flora. It can leave only the acid resistant species to then take over the duties of fermentation and further breakdown. Nutritional deficiencies and digestive allergies can be a direct result of this process. Interestingly enough, food poisoning species are highly acid resistant. They can thrive and live for years in the gut, waiting for the opportunity that the stress response provides to capitalize and wreck havoc. This can be disastrous and lead to a multitude of symptoms and diseases. We need a wide variety of bacterial species present to be able to break down all the different foods that we eat so we can absorb and assimilate them properly.

At this point, improper serotonin production, along with many other neurotransmitters, are no longer being produced in adequate amounts, nor are the building blocks of these neurotransmitters able to be broken down and delivered to the tissues that require them. Over 2/3 of the body’s serotonin receptors are in the gut, with the other third primarily in the brain/nervous system. If the gut is damaged by over acidity, there’s no way it can transmit to the brain that you are “Happy!” On top of that, approximately 90% of serotonin (our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter) and 50% of dopamine (our reward neurotransmitter) is produced by the bacteria in the gut! If our ‘good bacteria’ species is not present, then we are not producing our ‘feel good, happy-go-lucky’ neurotransmitters and so much more!!

I am sure that most people have heard that, our gut is the second brain. Rightly so, as the enteric nervous system, which commands the digestive system, has over 100 million more neurons than our spinal cord. This line of communication between our gut and our nervous system is called the gut-brain axis. Ever have butterflies in your stomach or that gut feeling that something isn’t right? This comes directly from the enteric nervous system when stress hits. This mesh-like nervous system lines your entire digestive tract and communicates with the brain through neural, hormonal and immunological messages. Approx. 90% of these nerve cells communicate to the brain rather than receiving messages from it. The majority of the communication from the enteric nervous system to the brain comes from bacteria and microorganisms, which outnumber the total amount of cells in our body! If the gut bacteria diversity has been destroyed because of the stress response, it will directly affect your moods and mental stability. Hence, this is why the stress response is linked to mood disorders.

The reduced blood flow triggered by this stress response creates further complications. The gut lining relies on proper blood flow to pick the nutrients up from the digestive lining. Lack of blood flow will lead to an increase in inflammation on the gut lining, which then hinders the transfer of nutrients into the bloodstream.

3.) Reduction of bowel movements: Peristalsis, is the wave-like contraction of the digestive lining that moves food through the gut. This is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. This becomes less active during the stress response when the sympathetic is more dominant. When food sits in the digestive system for too long it allows bacteria levels to increase to unsafe levels of colonization. If the acidity is too high it can cause direct damage to the small intestine lining, and wipe out beneficial species giving rise to even more inflammation. Elimination of waste products also becomes hindered and can accumulate in the large intestine, killing off the beneficial bacteria needed to help synthesize certain vitamins, like B12, so they can be reabsorbed. Constipation can occur, and as the waste products begin to break down, they release these toxins into the bloodstream, which then further complicates matters systemically. This is usually when the body will flood the colon to get out the poisonous substances and create diarrhea. If this process occurs too often, and the food moves too quickly through the digestive system, it can leave the person nutritionally deficient. There is not enough time for the food to be properly absorbed through the digestive lining regardless of whether it is inflamed or damaged. The reduction in peristalsis also has a major impact on the immune system as well as the gut metabolism. Over 60-80% of our body’s immune system is in the gut. If our stress response is continuously declining our digestive system function, then sooner or later our immunity to our environment will be sacrificed. This can be demonstrated by a low immune function, like when someone gets sick often, or their system goes into an auto-immune function.

The stress response is driven by the neurology, which affects the circulatory system, the lymphatic system, and the hormonal balance of the whole body.  These three things are the primary systems that physiologically shift the digestive system into dysfunction.

The body does its best to maintain homeostasis (balance), regardless of what it has to deal with. Symptoms will start to arise to let you know that your body is cutting corners because its resources have been depleted. If the real problem is not addressed, then disease becomes the result. Chronic stress (sympathetic dominance) can continually keep the digestive system in this low functioning state. Especially, if we continue eating and going about our daily lives, believing that everything is fine, and that our digestive system will take care of itself. Symptoms of gastric distress show up in the form of bloating, gas, diarrhea, heartburn, and constipation. A lot of times people associate this with age or “something I ate didn’t sit right.” As time goes on, and the stress response continues, the digestive system can no longer bear the overload. Issues that cannot be overcome start to manifest into full-blown symptoms. As you can see with just a few of these examples I’ve stated, how stress hijacks the digestive system and deregulates the whole body.

What other health issues can arise when your digestive system is not working at its maximum potential?

I find that the digestive system always plays a major role in either the symptoms the person is experiencing or the disease they already have. In order for a person to regain their health, the nervous system, that controls the digestive system, needs to be addressed first. Symptoms can include, bloating, diarrhea/constipation or both, abdominal discomfort, pain, and heartburn

Diseases such as:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

    • Crohn’s disease

    • Ulcerative Colitis.

  • Celiac disease

  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

  • Passive Leaky Gut Syndrome

  • Gut Dysbiosis

  • Candida Overgrowth

  • Stomach Ulcers

This is a small list of the most commonly known diseases of the digestive system. What do they all have in common? You guessed it: Inflammation. Again, remember chronic stress is what sets the digestive system up for inflammation. Once a person has a condition, the stress they undergo plays a major role in the intensity of their symptoms that they are experiencing on a day to day basis.

Dispersed, undigested, food can congest the circulatory and lymphatic systems. It can overtax the immune system as bacteria and fungus levels skyrocket, leading to systemic inflammation, which is connected to so many diseases. Excess inflammation can impede the proper function and maintenance of the nervous system/brain, organs, glands, tissues; virtually every cell. In Ayurvedic medicine, they mention that the “root of all disease” relates back to one thing: the “accumulation of Ama” in the body. Translated: “Ama” is “undigested food” that becomes toxic to the body because of faulty digestion. Research is starting to link so many diseases back to gut dysfunction and the stress response being the trigger, including mental conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

We talk a lot about food here and the importance of following an anti-inflammatory diet. I mean half my Instagram is flooded with healthy food photos. Why are food and nutrition not enough to heal your gut?

Don’t get me wrong, proper nutrition is very important, but it is not the primary issue when gut dysfunction is at play.  If we are only focusing on trying to balance the symptoms through food and nutrition, and not addressing the underlying cause of the problem, then we will never truly fix the gut issue. Stress is activating all of the key physiological effects to put the digestive system in an under-functioning state.  If we don’t address the load of stress being carried by the individual, then we have wasted their time, money and probably made them worse off than when we started with them. If we remove the stressors and assist the body to come back to a more relaxed state, it will begin to fix the issues. We are dynamic flowing beings by creation, and you cannot fix a gut that is not moving.

Ok, can you briefly touch on water and what happens to a person's hydration level when a disease is present? This kind of blew my mind because water is never really discussed when talking about gut issues and it plays such a vital role!

In most cases, when a disease is present, a person is usually dehydrated on a cellular level. Pouring more water into their system does little to change things. With food, it must be broken down, absorbed, assimilated and eliminated.  Water only requires absorption, assimilation, and it will support the body in elimination. Trying to flush a toilet without water doesn’t work. Getting the tissues to relax and reducing their inflammation is key. The swelling will not allow water absorption, and in most cases, the water will be eliminated without being taken up.  Water is needed in most of the problem areas, but those areas are the least likely to absorb it. Reducing the stress-induced muscle contraction is the best way to relax the tissues to allow them to take on water.

How about antibiotics and synthetic drugs, how do they play a role in gut flora? This subject hits close to home, because I know from experience, that they can wreak havoc on your digestive system. My daughter Simone suffered from leaky gut and eczema at a very young age. When she was a baby, I had just started on my ‘holistic lifestyle’ journey and was not as educated about Eastern medicine as I am now. There was a point in time that she used to get recurrent urinary tract infections. So, as a first time Mom, I did whatever the Doctors said and put her on antibiotics. Between the ages of 1-3 years old, she was on antibiotics quite a bit. By the time she was 3 1/2, she had already developed leaky gut and terrible eczema to boot. Thank God I had access to LED Light Therapy because it assisted in repairing her gut lining and balancing out her gut flora, which I know we will get into in a minute.

Well, antibiotics are usually indiscriminate when addressing bacteria. Anti-bio means Anti-Life. They are designed to kill biological organisms. While most antibiotics are taken orally, they then can get into the gut and begin to kill all the bacteria that they come in contact with. Some antibiotics are even custom designed to only wipe out specific species. Either way, this can seriously destabilize the whole microflora or gut microbiome. Antibiotics are sometimes necessary, depending on the severity of the condition, to bring things back to order, especially if you are dealing with a deadly infectious pathogen. Unfortunately, there are few Western medicine doctors that understand the importance of replacing the beneficial bacteria to keep the patient healthy going forward. When you remove something, something else will always replace it. This can lead to other problems developing with completely different issues. Synthetic medications are a bit of a crapshoot depending on the nature of the medication. Some may have no effect on the digestive system, whereas others may have dramatic effects.

I know probiotics are all the rage right now in the health and wellness industry. It has even made its way into skin care. What's your take on probiotics and are they helpful in restoring homeostasis in the gut?

Yes, probiotics can help to restore balance in the gut. They help to restore the diversity in the bacterial cultures needed to break down certain foods, and they give the body access to the nutrients that nurture everything.  Eating fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and yogurt can also be very beneficial. Unfortunately though, over acidity in the gut can destroy many of these species before they even get to where they need to reside to give you the benefit. Once again, the stress response needs to be dealt with, and neurological balance needs to be established, to even allow these beneficial foods or probiotics to work.

Wow, so much information! I’m sure my readers are thinking ‘Ok, so what now? If I’m dealing with all these stressors, food and nutrition are not enough, my probiotics may or may not be working, and my cells are dehydrated as all hell. What can I do? Can you tell us what your approach to dealing with digestive issues is?

One of the first questions I ask the client is, “What is going on in your life that you are not willing to digest or you are having a hard time digesting?” I prefer to coach them to find solutions to their problems that they are not willing to confront. I also teach them relaxation, meditation, and breathing techniques, that they can incorporate into their daily routines. This helps slow down the accumulation of future compounding stress. From a therapy perspective, one of the best things that I have used with my clients is LED Light Therapy.  

LED Light therapy dramatically reduces the impact that stress has on the body. It increases blood circulation to areas that are struggling and allows for better oxygen and nutrient delivery. Most importantly, it removes waste products on a cellular level. When oxygen levels are low in the tissues, pain is usually the result. When a person is in pain, it is very difficult to coach them, because their body has more of their attention than I do. Using light therapy to reduce their pain, is my first priority. I have created Pad Placements, to rebalance the nervous system function. The sympathetic contraction in the body is usually the culprit behind their pain. Rebalancing their nervous system reduces this contraction. When that stress is reduced or removed, then the gut begins to regain mobility and can start to repair itself. After we get the gut moving, I then look at the person’s diet and lifestyle and work with them to create a plan that allows them to expedite their results and recovery.

I would say about 75% of my clients use the Light Therapy Systems because they want to heal their gut. How can Led Light Therapy assist in healing digestive issues such as Leaky Gut, IBS, Crohn's, SIBO, Celiac, Colitis, and more?


These issues mentioned can be quite complex because they are end states of which the body can no longer compensate. Each one of these issues has a distinct emotional discord, even though they stem from the same primary issue. All of these issues, from a physical perspective, involve excess inflammation. This inflammation is what has evolved from all of the imbalances that were created by the stress response. Excess inflammation must be dealt with before we can get the body into a proliferation phase, the phase where the body will begin to regenerate from the damage that has been done.

Light therapy creates a host of benefits, which I’m sure you talk about with your clients and readers. One of the primary benefits is an increase in blood circulation, by way of increasing nitric oxide synthase, NOS3.  This creates rapid vasodilatation wherever you put the lights! Blood circulation is then improved, into and out of the area, as well as it increases lymphatic system drainage and movement. Approx. 75% of your lymphatic system is in and around the digestive system. Both of them work hand in hand to regulate immune function. If you have inflammation, it interferes with the balance of these two systems. It can create congestion in the gut and the lymphatic system. If you can rebalance your circulation and lymphatic system, by way of LED Light Therapy, it will have a direct impact on reducing this inflammation. Regardless of the name of the disease, if you resolve the inflammation you then have the opportunity of regeneration.

You mentioned that you have created Pad Placements for the Light Systems. I use these pad placement recommendations with all of my clients, with much success! Especially the ‘Holy Grail’ of Pad Placements- the beloved Balance Pad Placement. Can you give my readers a little inside look as to where these pads go for digestive health?

I approach the body systemically first, by restoring all the systems that have been affected by stress. I start with the Balance Pad Placement, before I address anything else. This Pad Placement addresses the key locations that are highly stressed, which include: the dental area, the lymph nodes in the neck, and the rest of the key lymphatic points down the body. Stress is held in all these spots and directly affects your posture. By opening up these lymph points, it allows for lymphatic drainage and a restoration of blood flow to areas that have been undersupplied, including the brain. This also assists in restoring a neurological balance by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, signaling relaxation to the entire body. Once this is established, I will then work directly on the digestive system. Focusing on the front of the body addressing the liver and spleen. Also, the back of the body, addressing the spinal nerves involved in digestion, kidneys, adrenals, and the tailbone. With the key lymphatic drainage points open, we have the best chance of dramatically reducing the inflammation in the gut, as well as assisting it to recover. This will allow it to work at its maximum potential.

I know so many clients and readers would love to know if they can work with you on a one-on-one basis? ‘Who’s this ‘Magic Man’ Wes, that you speak of?’ I’ve been asked this countless times. So, can they hire you? And, what does a complete session with you look like?

I do work with clients in person or long distance, on a one-on-one basis. Some of your clients have already experienced a consultation with me, which is great! I work with multiple therapies, from the highly scientific to the esoteric, to assist clients in returning to great health. To start with, I offer them a free 15 minute consultation to address what is going on so I can identify where I may be of service. Once that is established, I provide holistic health consultations customized to the needs of the individual which may include: Spiritual or intuitive insights, coaching them personally or giving direction concerning their family members, education on ERT-Emotional Release techniques, provide guidance on the usage of LED light therapy to work with multiple issues, provide long distance energy work such as biofeedback, reiki or crystal therapy, diet modification, detox programs, exercise routines, supplementation, nutrition, lifestyle changes, etc.

I also co-created an online course. If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a Licensed Stress Management Coach, with a certification in Polychromatic Light Technologies and Therapeutics.

For details on course descriptions please check out:

If you would like to get in touch with Wes regarding his one-on-one sessions please email him at wesleyburwell11@gmail.comto set up a 15-minute complimentary phone consultation.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can bring LED Light Therapy into your wellness routine please contact me.