How can stress damage your health?

Stress is a big factor in many lives. More than ever we find ourselves faced with stressful situations. But how you handle that stress can have a huge impact on your weight and your overall health. If you’re trying to change your health or lose weight and you’re finding something’s getting in  your way. Then take a look at how stress can affect your health.


The brain’s reaction to stress is to stimulate the adrenal glands to release Adrenaline and Cortisol. These hormones have a useful purpose in a stressful situation:

  • Adrenaline makes the body alert and focused.
  • Cortisol increases fat and glucose in the blood stream ready to fuel muscles for action.

A physical response is rarely required in modern lifestyles so fat and sugar is stored as fat. After a stressful situation Cortisol may stay raised for a day or more and will disrupt the normal insulin response. This gives rise to increase appetite and craving for high sugar or starchy carbohydrate foods.

At times of stress the body will store fat in the tummy area where it is close to the liver and ready for fast conversion back to energy if you need it. The problem with modern day stress is that very often it’s ongoing. We are juggling work, family life and household chores. Maybe even caring for elderly relatives. There’s no relief from the raised levels of cortisol and insulin so waistlines expand and quality of life deteriorates.

Tummy fat is toxic and will have an impact on hormones and health in general which leads to even more problems. Women are more at risk of the negative effects of stress because statistically they are more likely to take on a higher percentage of house and family chores. Also because they have a different body composition (less muscle more fat) than men. Therefore women are less able to deal with the excess cortisol. People are affected in different ways by stress. What is hugely stressful for one person may be widely exciting for another, but if you are affected badly by stress it can be a huge barrier to achieving optimum health and fitness.


This is obviously good but if this isn’t possible the next best thing is to support the body so that it deals with stress better. Keeping blood sugar stable is crucial. High blood sugar triggers an insulin response causing the body to store fat. Low blood sugar is perceived by the body as stressful and will trigger release of cortisol and adrenaline also causing fat storage. Steady blood sugar can be maintained by eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates, eating protein at each meal, including essential fats in the diet and avoiding alcohol, caffeine, dieting and skipped meals. Rule out any food intolerances too as these will also place a stress burden on your body.

Exercising regularly and building muscle will help to use up excess sugars in the blood and lower cortisol levels too. Relaxation exercises will obviously also help by lowering the amount of cortisol that the body produces.

There are many supplements which will support blood sugar levels and decrease the stress response. B vitamins, Chromium, Magnesium, and the herbs Siberian Gingseng, Rhodiola, Valerian will all have a very therapeutic effect.


Getting enough sleep is vital too. High cortisol can disrupt sleep but the recommendations above, especially balancing blood sugar levels, will lead to improvements. Sleep will also help with weight loss. Studies show that when dieters received adequate sleep they lost more weight and importantly more fat than when sleep deprived. Lack of sleep also leads to greater hunger and less satisfaction after meals and less energy to exercise. Also take time to eat, breathe properly (many stressed people breathe inefficiently and this in itself causes health problems) and treat yourself to a regular massage or facial without feeling guilty.

If you don’t make time to look after yourself and be healthy now you will be forced to take the time to be ill at a later date and that will be far more time consuming and far less pleasant.

About Linda Perkins
Linda is a Nutritional Therapist and has been qualified since 1999. She is passionate about healthy cooking, eating and exercise. People who have followed her recommendations have transformed their lives even after living with major health problems for many years (


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