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The Close Correlation Between Stress And Inflammation

An image of a stressed out woman holding her head in her handsStress, which causes a rise in your cortisol levels, is one of the main causes of adrenal fatigue. This condition may cause a set of diverse symptoms that often seem diverse, having nothing to do with stress or overworked adrenal glands. But the impact of stress goes much further, as research shows a marked association between stress and inflammation. Interestingly, inflammation is one of the markers that show you may suffer from a compromised adrenal response.

The Association Between Stress and Inflammation

We usually associate inflammation with the swelling, heat, pain, and redness experienced in an area of our body subjected to injury. A good example is when you cut yourself or have a splinter in your finger. Inflammation sets in to protect your body against the splinter or any germs found in the area.

In both the above-mentioned scenarios, we find an element of stress. This is because any action your body needs to take to take care of a new situation dealing with it having to activate its NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response which is governed by the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis results from stress.

Now, while we usually associate stress with a psychological reaction to circumstances, environmental factors, diet, and even your lifestyle could all cause your body to experience a state of stress. In so doing, a common stress response is triggered accompanied with higher cortisol production and the activation of your immune response and consequent inflammation.

Although a normal biological response, inflammation, when left unchecked, may lead to chronic inflammation with a whole set of possible health issues as a consequence.

Interestingly, a recent study shows how this association between stress and inflammation works.

A Study on Stress and Inflammation

The results of a Yale study published in June 2020 show how stress and inflammation are inexorably linked.

The common view has it that increased stress resulting in higher stress hormone production works at suppressing your immune system and thus inflammation. And this is quite correct. But you still find many instances whereby inflammation sets in even when cortisol, i.e. stress hormone, is high. This is something one usually sees in many inflammatory health issues. So, even while stress hormones tend to suppress your inflammatory response, stress could still result in an inflammatory response.

A new study, considering this seeming discrepancy, looked at blood samples taken from mice. What they noticed was that these mice, submitted to constant stress, had an increase in their interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels. Interestingly, IL-6 is both a pro-inflammatory cytokine and anti-inflammatory myokine. High levels of this protein are also associated with autoimmune conditions. But nobody had previously determined just how your body’s IL-6 levels increase.

A point of clarity before continuing, however: cytokines and myokines are small proteins that play a role in modulating your immune response.

Important Revelation About Stress and Inflammation

The new research shows that IL-6, during times of acute stress, is secreted by your brown fat cells. In doing so, this immune response may increase inflammation during stressful situations. Furthermore, when the scientists blocked the signaling process between the brain and brown fat cells of the mice in the study, the mice stopped showing an inflammatory response when submitted to stress.

But this was not all.

The study also found that IL-6 plays a function with regards to blood sugar mediation. In other words, higher blood sugar levels.

You see, as part of our body’s NEM response function, you see a rise in blood sugar levels. This provides the fuel your body needs for its fight or flight response. But while this increase in blood sugar levels is good as a short-term response to stress, prolonged stress results in consistently elevated blood sugar levels that could impact pancreas function and result in such health issues as diabetes.

What the Results Mean for Us

The research results give us a better insight into the strong link between stress and inflammation. It also gives rise to new possible research pathways for a multitude of autoimmune and mental health issues.

By blocking the production of IL-6 in mice submitted to stress, they tended to show a reduction in normal stress responses including the normal immune response. It also, of course, means that by inhibiting IL-6 release you could also potentially reduce the incidence of anxiety or depression.

Why We Should Try Limiting Stress and Inflammation

The higher your stress levels, the higher your cytokine, and thus IL-6 levels. This, in turn, results in increased inflammation. The increased inflammation, in turn, puts even more stress on your body. So, you could end up with a cyclical reaction that does not end.

It may also result in numerous health issues with an element of inflammation that includes, amongst others:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Lupus
  • Osteoporosis
  • Premature aging

But this leads us to the question: just what, besides injury, leads to the stress and inflammation that could potentially cause these various health issues? Well, the various factors vary considerably and include, amongst others:

    An image of a woman's abdomen showing inflamed intestines underneath the skin

  • Continued mental or physical stress
  • Allergies or food sensitivities
  • Toxins from the environment, including chemicals and food preservatives
  • Your diet
  • Certain medications
  • Gut bacteria imbalance
  • Either not getting enough, or too much exercise
  • Not getting enough sleep

Adrenal Fatigue, Stress, and Inflammation

Adrenal fatigue, a situation resulting from stress, has a strong inflammatory component. Not only could adrenal fatigue potentially cause or exacerbate inflammation, but so too could a prolonged inflammatory response worsen the condition.

But stress has a larger impact on your body than just contributing towards adrenal health. It could potentially affect all aspects of health, including your heart and brain health, both of which have elements of inflammation involved. Ultimately, however, you could potentially reduce your inflammation by solving the issues causing stress.

Addressing Stress and Inflammation

Conventional medicine may look at drugs to inhibit IL-6 release. Coincidentally, the first IL-6 inhibitor is already under trial to determine its suitability in addressing depression. But a more holistic approach may do more to reduce the incidence and results of stress without exposing yourself to any potentially harmful side-effects.


A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat organic protein, and devoid of additives or processed foods may reduce your body’s stress load. It would also provide it with the minerals, vitamins, and nutrients it needs to fight stress and its related negative actions on your body at a cellular level.


Many herbal supplements on the market could help your body deal with stress and its effects. Many also have strong antioxidant properties, thereby helping your body rid itself of harmful toxins.

A word of warning when considering supplements, however. Please first consult your healthcare practitioner before considering purchasing because they could have contraindications when it comes to certain medications. Certain supplements may also cause more harm than good, depending on your level of adrenal fatigue. Often, people with adrenal fatigue find that they are having paradoxical reactions to supplements. This is why it is so important to find someone who is experienced to help guide you through the journey of recovery.


Exercise is not only good for you in general, but also releases endorphins in the brain. This helps with weight loss, depression, and various health issues. But this does not mean you should start lifting weights or train for a marathon.

Rather concentrate on low-impact exercise geared towards strengthening your core and getting your heart pumping at a slightly elevated rate. Pilates or a brisk walk are good examples. Too much exercise however could also cause too much adrenaline put out and could crash the body, depending on what stage of adrenal fatigue you are in. Be careful with the amount of exercise you perform and double-check with an experienced provider to see what exercise regimen is best for you.

Lose Weight

More and more people are becoming obese. Obesity leads to health issues, including heart attack and diabetes. The best way to lose weight is by counting your calories, following a healthy diet, and making lifestyle changes that include exercise.

Managing Your Time

We tend to increasingly focus on our work, leaving little time for friends, family, or even ourselves. In doing so, we tend to reduce our avenues of getting rid of steam. And let us face it, most of us experience a lot of stress during a normal workday.

By spending time with family and friends we get the chance to blow off some steam while socially interacting with others. This time gives our brain a chance to relax and recuperate from the effects of stress.

Do not forget about alone time!

We sometimes need to be alone just to reflect, get a better take on whatever bothers us, and find ways to deal with situations. And remember, alone time does not mean loneliness.

Lastly, consider making time to help others. This may mean volunteering at your church’s soup kitchen or helping out at an old age home. Whatever you do, remember that there is nothing as satisfying and stress-relieving than doing something for others without expecting anything back in return.


If you suffer from stress and inflammation, here are a few things you can do to help alleviate the situation.

    An image of a woman holding up a picture of the intestines with healthy food all around her on a table

  1. Read up about the concepts on the Dr. Lam website where we discuss the issues and how to deal with them.
  2. Consider making lifestyle changes, changing your diet, and getting some exercise.
  3. Explore the use of different supplements targeted at stress and inflammation.

If you decide to make the changes you feel you need to address these issues, please do so with the guidance of your healthcare practitioner who will assess your current condition and advise you on the pros and cons of the changes you want to make.

If you would like to know more about or need assistance with stress and inflammation, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1-626-571-1234 where we will privately discuss your issues and symptoms. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

Prolonged stress and inflammation could potentially worsen the various aspects of adrenal fatigue. By dealing with stress, no matter its nature, you could drastically cut down on your inflammatory response and thus inflammation. Contact us via the Ask The Doctor system to learn how to do so.

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