Impact Of Stress On Metabolic Health
Medically Reviewed iconMedically Reviewedcevron icon

Stress on Metabolic Health

Modern society has brought with it profound changes in lifestyle and an increased incidence of lifestyle diseases. Body weights are on the rise, diets are becoming less healthy, and people are becoming increasingly sedentary, resulting in elevations of blood pressure and metabolic alterations that increase the risk of chronic illnesses. Additionally, there are a lot of other societal pressures and demands that can be difficult to cope and ultimately resulting in “Stress.”

What is Stress?

A physiological reaction to different forms of stressors like physical, environmental, psychological and social is called stress. Stress engages the central nervous system and activates behavioral and physiological response patterns, such as the “defense” and “defeat” reactions. The main aim of the body is to cope with stress and maintain its homeostasis and this reaction is a necessity for the survival of the individual.

Acute Stress

Acute Stress also known as Acute Stress Reaction or more simply Mental Shock is a psychological response to a scary, traumatic or surprising experience. Acute Stress activates the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Cortex system releasing the Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) which plays a key role in regulating the response to stress.

Catecholamines are hormones produced by the brain, nerve tissues, and adrenal glands that are important in stress responses. High levels of Catecholamines cause high blood pressure which can lead to headaches, sweating, pounding of the heart, pain in the chest, and anxiety. Catecholamines are neurotransmitters; examples include dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine (noradrenaline).

CHR also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body to fight or flight when a threat is perceived. As a part of fight and flight, they act as neuroreceptors to the body to mobilize energy. During the fight and flight response, the pumping of blood increases and elevates the blood pressure, which comes back to normal once the stress is abated.

When CRH is released, it directs your directs your pituitary gland to stimulate your adrenal glands which results in the release of Cortisol or Stress Hormone.

Cortisol causes cravings for sugar as sugar gives immediate energy, which is required by the body to fight stress. But after the stress is over, the sugar gets accumulated in the body and is stored in the form of abdominal fat, that’s difficult to shed. The body then falls into a vicious circle where an individual gets stressed and the body releases cortisol, craves sugar and gains weight. 

Cortisol can slow down the metabolic activities of the body, which can make it difficult for individuals to lose weight and disrupts metabolic health. So, only eating foods high in fat and increasing the intake of sugar is not the only way to gain weight.

Too much cortisol may lead to problems like skin bruises, diabetes and weakness in the muscle. Too little release of cortisol can lead to darkening of scars and folds in the skin, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, loss of appetite and weight and low blood pressure.

Chronic Stress

If Acute Stress is left unresolved, over time it may turn into Chronic Stress. This makes our body's normal response to stress become maladaptive and damaging. When an individual experiences chronic or repeated bouts of stress, an orexigenic response is seen. Individuals show acceptance for palatable food as these high fat and high sugar foods help in easing negative emotions caused due to stress. 

Prolonged-release reduces the effects of neurotransmitters affecting mood and creates a negative link between emotions and physiology. It can also lead to organ inflammation and the failure of adaptive systems. It can change the quality of life and cause sleep disturbances, cardiovascular changes and metabolic disturbances.

What is Metabolic Stress?

Metabolic stress can occur due to nutrient depletion or nutrient excess which triggers a number of adaptive responses to restore dynamic homeostasis and maintain cellular function. Recent studies indicate that both chronic and (repeated) acute stress and both oxidative and psychosocial stress are linked to heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

A dysfunction in the HPA axis increases cortisol levels in blood, increasing both glucose and insulin levels, resulting in insulin resistance and further leading to dyslipidemia, high blood pressure,visceral adiposity, cardiovascular diseases, and psychiatric disorders. Stress can also lead to weight gain or impede weight loss efforts. If you find yourself gaining weight despite eating healthy foods and exercising, stress may be the culprit.

How does Stress affect Metabolic Health?

An increase in abdominal obesity along with hypertension and an increase in fasting sugar levels, triglycerides and low levels of HDL cholesterol leads to modification in metabolic health.Constantly high levels of Glucocorticoids show resistance to insulin,leading to a lack of coordination between the immune system and the HPA axis due to chronic stress. Some of the other effects are -

Prolonged stress causing musculoskeletal pain in the lower back region and upper extremities, migraines and other types of headaches.

Respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, airway blockage in the nose and lungs and rapid breathing. People having pre-existing respiratory problems like asthma and COPD can be affected more. Stress can bring change in the gut bacteria and influence mood, which can later cause gut dysfunctioning. In rare cases, stress can cause spasms in the esophagus, which can be mistaken for a heart attack.

Digestive Issues like Gas, burping and bloating, difficulty in swallowing food, Nausea, diarrhea or constipation, vomiting.

Chronic Stress affects the production of testosterone that reduces libido or sex drive, causing impotence or erectile dysfunction in males. It also impacts the production and maturation of sperms causing difficulty for couples to conceive.

Stress reduces sex desire and harms a woman’s ability to conceive. A negative impact on the fetus or the child during its developmental stage is seen if the mother is stressed. 

Stress Management

Traumatic events or stressors can be unpleasant, so individuals need to divert their minds. They can talk to people, take breaks from the activities causing stress and can go for walks.

  • Stress increases muscle tension. People need to take up relaxation techniques and other activities that can release stress.
  • Individuals can practise breathing techniques to allow the flow of air.
  • Engage in proper self-care. Have a proper and balanced diet. Follow regular exercises to ease your muscle tensions. Take adequate sleep.
  • Avoid the use of alcohol and other abusive substances.
  • Maintain a good social support system.
  • See a practitioner or a therapist if the need arises.
  • Use of medicines like benzodiazepines and beta-blockers can be used when prescribed.


When the body is under constant stress, it leads to changes in metabolic health as well as other problems such as depression, anxiety, headaches, problems related to concentration, sleeping related troubles etc. It may cause respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive problems in people.

Book a Free Session




This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.