How Stress Affects Your Health

We all experience periods of stress when life becomes a little “too much.” Whether we’re facing a major life transition or an unexpected challenge, or simply burning the candle at both ends, it’s easy for those normal life stresses to tip us into overwhelm. We become tense, anxious, and hypersensitive; even the little things bother us more than they should.

We often think of stress as psychological, but it’s physical, too. Stress triggers chemical reactions that affect nearly every system of the body, preparing it for “fight or flight.” This natural survival mechanism is very good at protecting you from an immediate threat, such as a tiger. But it’s not so great at helping you cope with long-term psychological stress, or the ongoing, everyday stresses of modern life. 

The body’s stress response is meant to be a short-term solution. Staying in survival mode continuously can quickly wear the body down. The problem is that, when the stress response is triggered often, those chemical reactions start to become automatic. When the body enters a state of chronic stress, it can have serious consequences for your health. Here are some of the long-term effects of stress on the body:

Stress Weakens the Immune System

Stress hormones like cortisol are meant to help regulate your immune function and inflammatory response. But when these stress hormones are released constantly, your immune cells become desensitized to them, and the immune response is suppressed.1 Studies show that people under stress have fewer natural killer cells, are more likely to get colds and flus, and take longer to recover from illness.2,3

Stress Can Threaten Heart Health

The stress response increases your heart rate, raising your blood pressure, and triggers the release of glucose into the bloodstream to fuel the body with energy. If the stress is short-term, the body returns to normal. But when stress becomes the norm, it can lead to chronically elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, increasing your heart health risks.4,5 

Stress Affects Reproductive Health

Stress hormones inhibit important sex hormones that govern reproductive cycles, sex drive, and fertility. In women, stress can disrupt menstrual cycles, increase premenstrual symptoms, reduce libido, and impact ability to conceive.6 In men, chronic stress can negatively impact testosterone production and sperm production, affecting sexual desire, performance, and fertility.2,7

Stress Can Impair Brain Function

The stress response activates the parts of your brain that respond to the fight-or-flight signal, and diverts energy from the parts of your brain involved in more long-term, complex tasks, interfering with cognitive function and memory.8 Chronic stress can kill brain cells and even shrink the parts of the brain involved in memory and learning, while increasing the size of the brain’s fight-or-flight center, making the brain even more susceptible to stress.9

Stress Can Affect Mental Health

Chronic stress is also linked with the development of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.10 The constant release of stress hormones like cortisol can overstimulate the brain in damaging ways and impact the activity of other hormones involved in mood regulation, such as dopamine and serotonin, making it harder for the brain to manage and shift moods.11,12 

Natural Remedies for Stress

One of the best natural stress remedies is ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is an “adaptogen”, an herb that helps regulate the body’s stress response. Unlike a sedative, which is taken to calm the nervous system during acute stress, adaptogens help with long-term stress conditioning by training the body to be more resilient to stress over time. Their effects are gradual and cumulative, making them safe for regular, ongoing use. 

Ashwagandha is well supported by clinical research, and has been shown to reduce cortisol levels by as much as 30%, with improvements in blood pressure and mental well-being.13,14,15 Our NATURELO Ashwagandha supplement is made with organic ashwagandha root and BioPerine, a black pepper extract that’s clinically shown to increase the bioavailability of herbs like ashwagandha.

B vitamins are also important for a healthy mood and stress response, playing many important roles to support healthy brain and nervous system functioning. Studies have shown that taking a B complex vitamin supplement can help reduce symptoms of stress13,14 Our NATURELO B Complex supplement is made with organic whole foods and includes all the B vitamins in their most bioactive forms.

References:

1. Kress, Robert. “Stress, Inflammation, Immunity.” RN.com.

2. Pietrangelo, Ann and Watson, Stephanie. “The Effects of Stress on Your Body.” Healthline, March 2020.

3. What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out?” Cleveland Clinic, March 2013.

4. Schocker, Laura. “This is Your Body on Stress.” Huffpost, Dec. 2017.

5. “How Does Stress Affect the Heart?” Cardiovascular Institute of the South. Mar 2019.

6. Stress Effects on the Body: Female Reproductive System.” American Psychological Association.

7.  “Stress Effects on the Body: Male Reproductive System.” American Psychological Association.

8. Protect Your Brain from Stress.” Harvard Health Publishing, Aug 2018.

9. Bernstein, Rebecca. “The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain.” Touro University Worldwide, Jul 2016.

10. “Stress Symptoms.” WebMD, 2019.

11. Burnett, Dean. “The link between stress and depression...and the 10 simple words that could help.” The Guardian, Oct 2019.

12. Bruno, Karen. “Stress and Depression.” WebMD, 2009.

13. Auddy, Biswajit & Hazra, Jayaram & Mitra, Achintya & Abedon, Bruce & Ghosal, Shibnath. (2008). "A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. "Journal of American Nutraceutical Association. 11. 50-56.

14. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. 2012;34(3):255-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022

15. Pingali U, et al. 2013. Effect of Withania somnifera extract on mental stress induced changes in hemodynamic properties and arterial wave reflections in healthy subjects. Curr TopNutraceutical Res 11(4):151-158

16. Stough, C., Scholey, A., Lloyd, J., Spong, J., Myers, S. and Downey, L.A. (2011), “The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B‐complex on work stress.” Hum. Psychopharmacol Clin Exp, 26: 470-476. doi:10.1002/hup.1229

17. Kennedy, D.O. B “Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review.Nutrients 2016, 8, 68.