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Body on Fire: Why Stress Makes Your Immune System Go Crazy

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Let’s talk about inflammation. It’s a hot topic within the health and wellness community, particularly how it plays a hidden role in everything from cancer to strokes.

But did you know that inflammation, much like stress, can also be good? In fact, we all rely on healthy forms of inflammation to regulate our day-to-day activities and fight disease or infections. But as the saying goes: You can have too much of a good thing.

Like stress, when inflammation becomes chronic or excessive, health concerns start. In fact, stress and inflammation are more linked than you might think. So let’s take a deep dive into inflammation, how it’s connected to stress, and one of the biggest ways to manage it.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a necessary function of the body. It’s part of your immune response, helping you fight foreign invaders (like viruses, bacteria and toxins), and it even has a role in repairing cellular damage when you’re injured. When you get, say, a splinter, your body's immune cells and the things they make go into action, protecting your body. That’s why you may encounter swelling, soreness, warmth and redness around the area.

Although this short-term inflammation response to infection and injury is beneficial, it can be a concern if it becomes chronic. That’s when your body keeps dispatching inflammatory cells even though there’s no threat.

This chronic inflammation puts your body on high alert, an ongoing state of panic that can cause significant damage to your heart, brain and other vital organs. In fact, when white blood cells continue to fight a disease, their presence can trigger a build-up of plaque, the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.

That’s part of why experts believe chronic low-level inflammation may play a role in the development of a number of health conditions and diseases. Think heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, various autoimmune disorders and degenerative conditions. While this is bad enough, chronic inflammation can also be an extremely painful condition to live with, leading to issues like rheumatoid arthritis.

Knowing all this, it’s important to understand the factors closely associated with chronic inflammation.

The Tie Between Stress and Inflammation

Chronic stress is one such factor. Like inflammation, stress is a necessary body function. When you’re in a stressful situation or under some sort of physical stress, cortisol (often referred to as a stress hormone) is released by your adrenal glands.

It’s the key to helping your body manage its fight-or-flight-or-freeze instinct, providing you with the energy and focus you need to face threatening situations.

That’s why cortisol is healthy for a short period. It’s a protective mechanism, allowing your body to respond accurately and efficiently when needed. However, many people’s alarm systems are stuck in “on” mode. Over the long term, that can lead to cortisol imbalances. And since cortisol plays a role in regulating inflammation, that imbalance can cause your inflammatory response to become unmanageable. That can lead to more inflammation, and a number of health conditions.

Chronic Conditions Related to Stress and Inflammation:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

  • Cardiovascular Disease.

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

  • Depression.

Chronic stress and inflammation might seem unmanageable. But there are a number of things you can start doing today to help. And one of the biggest (and simplest) things is adjusting your diet.

A Better Diet Can Help You

You are what you eat, and indulging in sugary snacks and highly processed foods on a regular basis can contribute to cortisol imbalances and the development of chronic inflammation. Foods such as soda, white bread, candy, and chips can increase cortisol and blood sugar levels, which triggers bacterial overgrowth in the gut, ultimately causing excessive inflammation.

In addition, consuming food high in saturated fat can release inflammatory proteins into the bloodstream. Yet, the standard American diet is full of inflammatory, ultra-processed foods, and it’s low in fresh fruit and vegetables. With approximately 42.4% of Americans considered obese, weight-related chronic inflammation is a major concern.

Here are some examples of generally recognized anti-inflammatory foods you may want to consider implementing into your diet...

  • Omega-3-rich foods: Salmon, anchovies, halibut, mackerel, avocado, pumpkin seeds.

  • Vegetables: Especially cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and bok choy.

  • Almonds and walnuts.

  • Green tea.

  • Turmeric.

  • Garlic.

  • Berries.

  • Dark Chocolate.

Get Control Over Your Health

In a nutshell, diet is a great place to start when looking to control inflammation and cortisol levels. Remember: There's a wide array of delicious foods that can help maintain healthy levels of inflammation; while unfortunately the same can be said for foods that cause severe and chronic inflammation. Being able to determine between the two is vital.

P.S. Another tip: You can measure your cortisol to understand your stress levels, and adjust your lifestyle and diet accordingly. Request access to get in line for’s new at-home rapid test.


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