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The Truth About Stress and Inflammation

Physique Transformation

I hate it when real issues become reduced to industry buzzwords. The real facts get all twisted and taken out of context, then the quacks swoop in with instant magic solutions, just to make a buck. I was using the term “metabolic damage” way back in 2003, and a few years later I was saddened by the monster it created when the term was reduced to an industry buzzword that few people truly understood, and many don’t still to this day.

And now the same thing is going on with  “inflammation.” Don’t get me wrong here. The research on telomeres and other areas shows us that inflammation is an issue worthy of knowing about and understanding on a deeper level.

But once again the fitness and health industries have reduced the term “inflammation” to little more than a buzzword, opening the door for quacks and for charlatans like Dr. Oz to come along and offer solutions that are much ado about nothing. For instance, consider all the talk in the industry about “inflammation” caused from eating junk food, or from wheat, dairy, gluten, and pretty much any other food of food group you can name. Some of it is true for tiny various demographics of people and worthy of conversation.

Most of it is completely over-stated, and applies to very few people, and yet it is presented as if it is a modern epidemic affecting everyone. I discuss the nonsense of “gluten hysteria” in my book Understanding Metabolism. It’s a misrepresentation of facts and of real issues.

It's happening with inflammation as well, so I want to talk about it here.

Keep in mind that stress and inflammation are intricately linked.  Ironically enough, stressing about food and diet “perfection” can lead to the very inflammation you are trying so hard to conquer or avoid.

How? Because worrying and stressing about food and diet produces the kind of stress that CAUSES damaging inflammation. Most gastroenterologists will tell you that things like IBS and other digestive issues stem from “stress” and food only serves as the trigger, not the underlying cause.

The same is going on with this new industry pet buzzword of inflammation, and the accompanying insinuation that you should “be afraid of food.” Such nonsense, I tell you! But then you go out and get blood tests and whatnot to confirm your inflammation, which in turn convinces you it’s food, and you must fear food.  When all along it’s your stressing over food and diet leading to the exact outcome you are trying to avoid.


Self-Notes You Need to Make:

Stress and inflammation fuel each other. Same for obesity and inflammation. Sleep deprivation or disrupted sleep patterns also exacerbate inflammation as does obesity. Even depression and inflammation are co-dependent. Round and round these negative feedback loops go, continually fueling each other. It’s important to note and understand that inflammation is a common denominator for so many problems that plague women in particular (Holland 2015).

Keeping inflammation at bay may be your single best form of staying healthy, and staying metabolically and hormonally balanced. Not surprisingly, diet, sleep, exercise, and even sex are ways for combating inflammation. These things are better than meds and better than supplements when you consider the truth that prevention is superior to intervention.

There is the cortisol connection to consider as well. Cortisol becomes de-regulated with chronic stress. Chronic stress engages immune system “reactivity” and this creates chronic inflammation. Furthermore, if you induce inflammatory reactions via stress, you can also create symptoms of mood disorders. Animal studies show that lab animals that are chronically stressed produce behaviours akin to how depressed people behave as well.

As I said above, inflammation and depression are also linked. If you combine stress with depression or being overweight then you just keep creating more and more damaging inflammation. You will feel the consequences of that in your body, for sure. There is a helluva lot more to this than whether you eat wheat or dairy, or gluten, or some other “inflammation-causing” food.

First and foremost you need to honestly look at the stress levels in your life, because inflammation markers are once again proof positive of one of my “Abelisms” I’ve been saying for a long time: Either you manage and own stress, or stress manages and owns you.

Stress-causing inflammation is logical when you think about it. Inflammation can lead to feeling stressed out, feeling anxious and feeling depressed, because this is the body’s way of communicating. It relays a message by encouraging “sickness behavior” or lack of healthy biochemical balance. Fatigue, irritability, apathy, social withdrawal, reduced appetite, and increased desire to sleep – these can often be the body’s way to try to help you get better. Look at these listed symptoms above. These symptoms match symptoms you feel when you have the flu for example. Therefore, depressed behavior and illness behavior have a lot in common. A stressed out mind will be reflected in a stressed out body. This is the long and the short of it.

Inflammation creates changes in the brain that are bound to make you feel awful. The cytokines produced from inflammatory states sabotage the ways the brain helps prevent depression. This makes you vulnerable to depression and apathy. These make you vulnerable to experiencing even more feelings of stress. Let’s keep this in mind as well when it comes to stress, depression and inflammation. Nearly a third of depressed people typically don’t respond to antidepressant medications. So, then what do you do?

You need to internalize the idea that stress creates inflammation. And the biggest stressors tend to be emotional, not physical. Research shows that in premenopausal women who have heart attacks, the triggers are more often emotional than physical, unlike with men. It seems women have greater coronary artery reactivity to stress than men do (Holland 2015). The connection between stress and illness and ill-health is particularly important for women to grasp. All things being equal, learning to be calm and to live from a foundation of calm peaceful energy — this can save your life!

Trying to medicate yourself into calmness is not the smartest route to go, even though it may seem like the only route if you are “that” stressed and overwhelmed. (New mothers, and/or mothers with more than one child under 5 yrs. old come to mind as I write that last sentence) Remember that suppressing and repressing emotions also leads to unresolved stress. Suppressing intense emotions like anger, frustration or neediness negatively affects hormonal balance, immune status, GI functioning, and skin health… just to name a few.


The Neurotransmitter Effect and Solution Through Vigorous Exercise

People ask what is the answer? But I’ve already told you the answer! Most people want it to be more complicated than this.

The answer is that QUALITY and CONSISTENT diet, QUALITY AND CONSISTENT sleep, QUALITY AND CONSISTENT exercise, and even sex are ways for combating inflammation. Interestingly enough, these are the same “natural” ways for combating depression and mood disorders as well. For now I’ll just explain the exercise side of the equation and how it works.

This is the biochemistry and biology of it, and it also one way the mind/body connection works via exercise. The mind/body connection is something I am always vigorously arguing  about. Let me be straight here. There is NO REAL FITNESS if the mind/body connection is not healthy and balanced and mutually reinforcing each other. But in terms of stress, inflammation and exercise, this is how vigorous exercise serves to combat inflammation via a healthy mind/body connection. I’ll put this in bold to emphasize its importance:

Exercise leads to neurogenesis (brain cell expansion in the hippocampus). But exercise also improves higher-end cognition and executive-brain function by having an inhibition effect of lower-functioning emotionally reactive structures like the amygdala. Therefore, exercise provides two ways that improve your resilience to stress. For instance in one study, mice that were allowed to run zealously on their treadmills showed new brain cell growth in their hippocampus, the area that shuts down overexcitement and overstimulation. The brains of inactive mice overreact to a stressor, while the exercising mice stay calmer!


Exercise also helps to improve overall control from the pre-frontal cortex of the brain to the rest of the brain. Work that enhances motor skills as well as work like vigorous exercise enhances this effect. No question, exercise helps us all to learn better by easing our minds (provided your exercise is not itself a source of stress and worry).


In the end exercise gives you the triple advantage of neurotransmitter enhancement: this boosts your levels of norepinephrine (arousal and attention), and it also positively affects dopamine, which in turn affects reward and motivation. As well, exercise positively affects serotonin, which in turn affects happiness and relaxation. These latter two effects are why so many experts refer to regular and consistent exercise as natural anti-depressant ‘therapy.’  This also explains how the mind and body are never separate, and thinking that they are limits you. (By the way, regular and consistent “good sex” has the exact same positive three neurotransmitter effects of vigorous exercise as well.)

So when you “stress” about exercise and diet in order to change your body you sabotage the very natural positive effects exercise and healthy diet can have if you just did the exercise to like it, and just ate healthy with no fear of food, and you eat well because you just choose to be self-nurturing instead of self-measuring and self-judging.

Stress and inflammation are intimately linked. More so than any particular food could ever be linked with inflammation. There are natural ways to prevent inflammation. They may not be sexy or as easy to practice as is swallowing pills, but they are much more permanent and rewarding.

As usual, some of you will get it

Some of you will not.