Why stress is your number one health risk


In 2009 I interviewed the leading nutritional therapist Niki Gratrix and one of the important distinctions Niki shared was the scarily profound effect of stress on our internal biochemistry.

What she had to say on this is required reading for all of us – especially the stress queens (and kings) among us.

Here’s what she told me:

“We now understand better than ever how chronic stress affects the body. At least 60% of illness, and possibly more, comes from the mind-body side of things.

A thought is a real thing that can turn biochemistry on or off. Your thoughts and feelings are translated to the nervous system, the major controller of everything else in the body.

Chronic stress causes a part of the brain called the amygdala to continually over-stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the branch that responds to threats.

When it is triggered, the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for digestion, detoxification and repair, is down-regulated as energy is diverted to the emergency – with obvious negative implications.

When the sympathetic nervous system is consistently up-regulated into a hyper-vigilant state this causes other very damaging effects in the body.

For example, the amygdala over-stimulates the whole brain, keeping many brain circuits in a state of hyper-arousal. This adversely affects the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine.

But remember – the nervous system controls everything in the body, so when the sympathetic nervous system is up-regulated and the parasympathetic down-regulated this will have a cascading effect downwards onto other systems, for example the endocrine, immune and digestive systems.

One of the most devastating effects of chronic stress I’m seeing is the effect on stomach acid and other gastrointestinal secretions, including pancreatic digestive enzymes. It is basic biochemistry that these are down-regulated when the parasympathetic nervous system is down-regulated, with devastating impacts on digestion.

Stomach acid is required for absorption of vitamin B12, minerals and protein. Low stomach acid leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, mitochondrial malfunction, blood sugar imbalances, sub-clinical low thyroid and a number of other effects.

You can’t get rid of chronic candida or blood sugar issues if your stomach acid is low, because of nutrient malabsorption. Incidentally, we’ve found through testing that around 80-90% of patients with ME/CFS [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome] have low stomach acid.

Another thing with stomach acid – and it’s so missed this one – is that it’s one of the first lines of defense for the immune system because it’s a sterilising agent that protects us against bacteria, parasites and other bugs.

When this line of defense is not operating, it is easy for these to get into the system. Also, 80% of the immune system is in the gut, and when stomach acid is inadequate there will be a full-scale war going on in there because the friendly bacteria are tied up fighting these invaders.

When this massive dysbiosis takes over it allows latent viruses to keep reactivating. Good gut bacteria is fantastically important for the immune system.

As well as severely affecting every single organ and system in the body, a continuing state of chronic stress can also cause higher levels of oxidative stress throughout the body. So your thoughts and emotions affect your health in multiple ways.

As already mentioned, stress can cause key systems to be down-regulated. Other systems may simply exhaust due to over-stimulation, as is the case with the adrenal glands.”

But while our thoughts and emotions can make us sick, Niki also spoke of their extraordinary power to make us well. So to end this on a more positive note, this is what she had to say on that:

“What is the healing agent that has been more studied than any other in the history of medicine? The placebo effect! Every well-run study has to take this into account and then factor it out – factor out that maybe half of the subjects are getting better on a sugar pill – just because they believe it will make them better!

How powerful is the human mind? In study after study, a substantial percentage of patients are getting an improvement in the health condition being studied just through belief.

The mainstream view is that this is only important as something that needs to be factored out. Hello? They have it completely back to front and they’re missing a huge part of health and disease. This phenomenon is one of the most important proofs of how profoundly internal subjective feelings and beliefs impact the physical body.”


  • Just discovered your website, and am really enjoying reading it. I struggled with stress, disordered eating and digestive issues, for a few years (it feels longer).

    It took a lot of work, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was working towards, but I’ve had a breakthrough of knowing myself better and liking myself and finally stopping being anxious about future feelings. And I’ve been eating cheese again because I can, and water without lemon in it in amounts I like. Looks like now that my brain’s doing what it does, everything else has just fallen into place.

    It’s also nice not to have to do an elimination diet, because that seems like a struggle.

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