Correlation Between Stress & Inflammation


How does the body respond to stress?

The human body is extremely advanced and has powerful mechanisms for responding to stress; whether that stressor is physical, psychological, or emotional. Short-term stress responses from the body are actually meant to protect us and help us cope with stressful situations. For instance, when the body detects a “threat”, whether that be nerves for an upcoming exam or running from a burglar, the body does not really know the difference. The stress response that the body elicits is exactly the same.


So, what happens during that time? Well, the body reacts by initiating a process that you might have heard of, called “fight-or-flight.” The fight-or-flight reaction is the body’s instinctive response to dealing with danger and results in many bodily responses. These include the release of blood sugar, the release of adrenaline, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, and slowed digestion. These reactions are meant to help you flee from a dangerous situation, hence the term “fight-or-flight.” In the short term, these responses are considered protective, but long-term stress and the continuous fight-or-flight responses are what cause issues.


How does stress lead to inflammation?

When the stress response is initiated by the body, there is a release of several pro-inflammatory chemical messengers called cytokines that trigger the reactions that were discussed in the previous question (i.e, adrenaline, released blood sugar, etc.). In order to help eliminate these inflammatory markers, a hormone called cortisol is released into the bloodstream. Cortisol is the hormone that helps to fight the inflammation that the cytokines cause. In the short term, the release of cortisol is helpful in reducing inflammation, but problems occur when stress levels remain constant.


Why is inflammation in the body harmful?

When stress levels remain high, cortisol is continuously released into the bloodstream and the receptors for them become resistant. These high circulating levels of cytokines and cortisol lead to inflammation, which damages organs and tissues. Long-term inflammation leads to conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and metabolic disorders. It can also increase the risk of developing cancer.


How can we reduce stress?

The way that each person reacts to stress will determine how the body responds to it. Individuals with abilities to positively cope with stress will have better mechanisms for how quickly their stress responses are turned on and off. This is why stress management is an important component of a healthy lifestyle! Practicing stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, journaling, breathing exercises, and physical activity are all great ways to help manage stress.

Correlation between stress and inflammation nutritionist
Written By Jordana Tobelem RDL, LDN