The term stress refers to any reaction to a physical, mental, social or emotional stimulus that requires a response or alteration to the way we perform, think or feel. Change is stressful – whether the change is good or bad. Stress can cause fatigue, chronic headaches, irritability, changes in appetite, memory loss, low self-esteem, gastrointestinal disorders etc. Stress creates an excellent breeding ground for illness. Researchers estimate that stress contributes to many major illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, endocrine and metabolic disease. Stress is often viewed as psychological problem, but it has very real physical effects. The body responds to stress with a series of physiological changes that include increased secretion of adrenaline, elevation of blood pressure, acceleration of the heartbeat, greater tension in the muscles. Digestion slows or stops, fats and sugars are released from stores in the body, cholesterol levels rise.
Stress can lead to nutritional deficiencies due to increased adrenaline production which causes the body to step up its metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to quickly produce energy. This response causes the body to excrete amino acids, potassium and phosphorus, deplete magnesium stored in muscle tissue and to store less calcium. Further, stress increases the level of an immune system protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which has direct effects on most of the cells in the body and is associated with many disorders.
Many people attribute their stress-related symptoms to nerves, and in fact stress usually does affect the parts of the body that are related to the nervous system first, especially through the digestive organs. Symptoms of stress-related digestive disorders may be a flare-up of an ulcer or irritable bowel syndrome.