Inflammation and Stress – in sickness and in health

It’s ironic that these two physiologic processes, stress and inflammation have played such a central part of our lives in sickness and in health.


Stress has always been our immediate reaction to danger or threat. The classic ‘fight-or-flight’ response ensure that our reaction to stressful situations results in us having the best chance of survival, channelling our energy, physically and mentally. The response involves; diverting our blood supply form our internal organs and our digestive system to our muscles to prepare for the fight or flight; shutting down our immune system which would deal with microbial challenges while we face the bigger and more immediate challenges; utilising the more reflex part of our brain rather than the more considered forebrain we use for complex reasoning. Stress has served us well throughout our human history.

Listen: Dr. Ron Ehrlich interviews Dr. Jodie Lowinger. Post continues after audio.

The stress response activated the sympathetic nervous system. It was typically of short duration, perhaps minutes or occasionally hours. Following its activation the body returned to its preferred state of rest-and-digest with the parasympathetic nervous system. Here is where we were designed to spend the vast majority of our life.


Inflammation has also been our body’s first response to a physical trauma and injury, or to a microbial attack. The body responds immediately by increasing blood flow and bringing in the white blood cells to deal with invaders, deal with tissue damage and limit blood loss by ensuring clotting and initiating repair.

The problem is that in our modern world stress has become ubiquitous.

It has become a major part of everyone’s day and our sympathetic nervous system is in overload. We are constantly in a fight-or-flight mode instead of the rest-and-digest. And the things that have the potential to stress our bodies have become more complex in our modern world.

It turns out that many of those stresses also promote chronic inflammation which is the common denominator and runs through all chronic degenerative disease, from cancer and health disease, to diabetes, autoimmune disease and even mental health problems. While acute inflammation has been a first line of defence, it turns out that when it becomes chronic, disease follows.

Listen: Dr. Ron Ehrlich interviews Dr. Sarah Woodhouse. Post continues after audio.

In order to solve a problem – living a life less stressed – we need to know what those stresses are. I have redefined those things that can stress your system and have the potential to compromise your health. By focusing on the pillars of health we have some simple strategies that are anti-inflammatory, that build resilience, physically mentally and emotionally. I explore all these things in my new book A Life Less Stressed and in my upcoming podcast, Unstress (to be released January 2018). 

Order your copy of A Life Less Stressed here