How Stress Affects Nutrition and Health

Stress can be both good and bad. It’s part of our sympathetic nervous system—one that ensures survival through a built-in fight-or-flight mechanism. We are hard-wired to respond mentally and physically to the demands of life.

A good kind of stress (or eustress) motivates you to perform well. A slight, occasional push from your hormones can work wonders. But when under constant stress, good stress can turn bad (also known as distress) and it can cause your natural, life-saving system to short circuit.

Prolonged or frequent distress can prevent your body to cope. It wears you down gradually by disrupting essential bodily processes and weakening your immunity—leaving you more likely to get sick or develop serious health problems.


How stress affects health

To focus the mind and body to respond, our body pumps adrenaline and cortisol (considered stress hormones) into the bloodstream during stressful events.

Fighting inflammation is one of cortisol’s most important functions. With sustained stress, the body releases more cortisol that can eventually desensitize cells and lead to chronic inflammation.

Chronic stress can worsen or increase the risk of:

  • Headaches, the common cold, and asthma
  • Insomnia and sleep dysfunction
  • Gastrointestinal problems, eating disorders, weight gain, and obesity
  • Slower healing and systemic/local infections
  • Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
  • Heart disease, diabetes, and various types of cancer
  • Accelerated aging and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, et al.


How stress affects nutrition

Because other organs are being prioritized, your body will either slow down your digestive processes (constipation) or discard any undigested food (diarrhea) during a stressful event. This can affect how you absorb and store certain nutrients, which may lead to several unpleasant symptoms during and after distress.

Extended stress can lead to vitamin insufficiency. Heightened adrenal gland function consumes more magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin C to support the production of added stress hormones. As this happens, gastric secretions weaken and your ability to absorb nutrients is limited.

Stress also triggers poor dietary habits, like binge eating, skipping meals, higher caffeine consumption, and alcoholism. All of these can contribute in depleting your vitamin stores or hinder proper nutrient absorption.


How to reduce the health impact of stress

As balance is the key to strong immunity, take time to regain equilibrium before stress can leave a dent on your health. Adjust your lifestyle, change how you respond to problems, get more sleep, and shape up your diet.

To get enough nourishment that can help counter stress, increase and diversify your dietary intake of these micronutrients, or consider supplementation to help maintain optimum vitamin levels.

  • B vitamins for balanced mood, calm nervous system, and better nutrient absorption.
  • Vitamin C for modulated stress response and fewer stress-related disorders.
  • Zinc to increase the production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone.
  • Magnesium for stronger muscles and joints, and reduced feelings of fear and anxiety.
  • Melatonin for better mood and healthier sleep patterns.

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Article sources/references:

Alban, Patrick. 2021. “Stress Management Techniques That Work (In-Depth Review).” Be Brain Fit. Retrieved March 10, 2021 (

Alexander, Rose. 2017. “Illnesses Caused by Stress | Everyday Health.” Retrieved March 12, 2021 (

American Psychological Association. 2020. “Stress in the Time of COVID-19.” Stress in America 2020. Retrieved (

Anon. 2021. “Stress Management Stress Basics.” Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 12, 2021 (

Anon. 2012. “Stress.” Better Health Channel. Retrieved March 9, 2021 (

Harvard Health Publishing. 2019. “5 Ways to De-Stress and Help Your Heart – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. Retrieved March 10, 2021 (

Healthline. 2013. “What Is Stress-Related Illness?” Healthline. Retrieved March 12, 2021 (

‌Kilburn, Marianna. 2019. “What Nutrients Are Depleted by Stress?” Retrieved March 10, 2021 (

Griffin, Morgan. 2010. “10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix.” WebMD. Retrieved March 12, 2021 (

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 2018. “Autoimmune Diseases.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Retrieved March 12, 2021 (

‌Shmerling, Robert H. 2018. “Autoimmune Disease and Stress: Is There a Link? – Harvard Health Blog.” Harvard Health Blog. Retrieved March 10, 2021 (

Watson, Stephanie. 2015. “Autoimmune Diseases: Types, Symptoms, Causes, and More.” Healthline. Retrieved March 12, 2021 (

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