5 invisible ways stress can impact your health

Nov 15, 2019

Having reflected on my now 9 years of experience working with clients in The Online Nutrition Clinic, there is a notable spike in clients suffering from digestive complaints, hormonal irregularities, weight loss struggles and many other health complaints. 

When we delve into the route cause behind these symptoms, stress plays a significant factor in almost all clients.

Whether it’s due to longer demanding work hours this time of year, weeks of eating and drinking festive offerings, hosting family get-togethers with people that wouldn’t normally spend so much concentrated time together, the dark mornings and nights, the cooler weather, or a mix of all these components, stress can manifest in the body in many different ways.



      Stress can be a major contributing factor when it comes to poor digestion, a bloated tummy or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which is typically diagnosed once sinister bowel diseases have been ruled out and if specific criteria are met.To your body, stress, whether perceived (i.e. based on your thoughts) or real (i.e. based on actual physical danger), means that your life is under threat.Your body’s priority is always your survival. When your body is exposed to a stressful situation (be it work, finances, relationship troubles or because it’s taken so long to get the family out the door, and now you’re late to your meeting), it hijacks your biochemistry and sends messages to prioritise the production of stress hormones and vital processes over everything else. Your adrenal glands will make the stress hormone adrenaline, which drives your sympathetic nervous system to trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response. Your body’s priority is not to process the food you have just eaten or be focused on food, but to instead support your body in tackling this imminent perceived ‘danger’.

      The blood flow that would usually surround your digestive system to support efficient digestion is diverted towards your arms and legs so that the muscles in these areas have an ample supply of energy to power your fight or your flee from danger.

      When food arrives into your digestive system, and your body is in a state of ‘stress’ (be it consciously or subconsciously), your digestive system is under-resourced and therefore can’t digest the food properly, which can commonly lead to symptoms of digestive distress.

      If you have tried every dietary change under the sun to no avail, and you still haven’t noticed relief in your symptoms, despite ruling out parasite/gut bacteria issues under the guidance of a qualified and experienced healthcare practitioner, then I encourage you to explore beyond what you’re putting into your body, and focus on whether stress could be the silent contributor.



      When our body churns out stress hormones, our blood glucose levels elevate as the body thinks it needs an ample supply of a fast-burning fuel to allow us to fight or flee the danger it perceives we are in. A hormone called ‘insulin’ is then trigger whose role is to help glucose move from the blood into our cells so that our blood sugar is kept within a normal, healthy range; however, insulin also promotes fat storage. Hello, weight gain and/or future diabetes.



      Our thyroid gland produces a metabolism-driving hormone called T3, which every cell in the body relies on to regulate our body’s metabolism, temperature and heart rate. Stress promotes the formation of a thyroid hormone called reverse T3, which is the inactive form of a hormone called T3, but unfortunately for us (and our waistlines), reverse T3 doesn’t have the same metabolism-driving effects of T3, which can cause weight gain. It’s not the reverse T3 that is the issue; it’s the reason behind the elevated reverse T3 that needs to be addressed.



      Our adrenal glands not only produce our body’s stress hormones, but they are also partly involved in producing some of our body’s fertility hormone ‘progesterone’. If our body perceives that there is persistent danger in our lives, it upregulates the most critical survival systems in our body and downregulates reproductive system functions. It makes no sense to bring a baby into a perceived danger zone! Irregular ovulation can occur with chronic stress, and ovulation is what stimulates the progesterone surge in the second half of the menstrual cycle.



    Chronic stress causes prolactin levels in our body to rise, which interferes with other hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, potentially leading to irregular periods or the cessation of periods altogether for a period of time.

So, perhaps it’s time to explore your perception of pressure and urgency in everyday life and to treat your body differently?

A 2020 full of self-care, addressing the source of any concerns or worries that might be niggling away in the background causing the body to experience stress (even when we’re not in physical danger). This will help the body to hold back our stress response for the times when we really need it, which can truly have an incredibly far-reaching effect on our body’s health.

Looking at food/drink choices is a great first step, but for a truly lasting change in your health, your energy, your weight, your menstrual cycle, and the overall functioning of your body, exploring our body’s day-to-day emotions and our learnt coping mechanisms can be a really worthwhile exercise.

Breathing, walking, meditation, yoga, carving out time for ‘self-care’ are all great physical ways to combat stress-related health challenges.

If you’re looking to focus on your health in 2020, sign up to our J+T newsletter over here http://www.jessntom.com/newsletter as we’ll be opening up a group health programme with recipes, exercises etc. that you can do from the comfort of your own home.

Let us know which impact resonated with you the most out of the 5 above in the comment section below.

All our healthy best,

Jess and Tom

We’re Jess & Tom! A husband and wife team, sharing workouts & nutrition made simple from our island home in Menorca. Our mission? To help people get and stay in shape, and enjoy the journey along the way. We love to travel, hike & bring together inspiring people.