Each of us knows the feeling of being stressed. But stress is not just a feeling, it has very specific effects on the body.


In stressful situations, the body releases more stress hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol is formed in the adrenal cortex and plays an essential role in various metabolic processes in the body. Through its increased release in stress situations, it provides energy to deal with the stress cause by reducing our sugar, fat and protein storage. It does not matter if the stress is physical (an accident, surgery or illness) or psychological (such as work or relationship issues). Even positive stress, such as the excitement at your own wedding, cause our cortisol levels to skyrocket. Stress, and the increase in cortisol levels, is therefore something completely natural.

Permanent stress

When being under stress permanently however, we keep flooding our body and especially our brain with cortisol. In the long-term, this can lead to a variety of symptoms, such as immune deficiencies, depression, physical exhaustion, metabolic disorders, diabetes, obesity or sleep disorders. If the stress phase continues, for example due to a generally stressful day-to-day work, then at some point the opposite problem will arise:

The chronic stress causes the adrenal cortex ‘burn out’, to the point where it produces less cortisol – a cortisol deficiency sets in. Since cortisol plays an essential role in our body, a deficiency can have catastrophic consequences. In addition to providing energy reserves, cortisol plays a role in cardiovascular health, gastrointestinal health, the immune system and brain functions. All these areas are damaged in case of cortisol deficiency.

Effects on the intestine

The high cortisol levels in stressful situations put all areas of the body on alert. For this alertness, the heart, lungs and muscles need energy reserves, which are extracted from among other things, for example from the gastrointestinal tract. Our body can’t distinguish between work stress and the attack of a predator. In any case, he assumes a life-threatening situation and stops all activities that are not necessarily relevant in order to use the energy to survive the stressful situation.

The digestive organs therefore also stop their regular activity and no longer transport the food. Everyone knows the “stomach grunts” when being excited or nervous, for example, before holding a speech. This is no imagination, but an actual physical response to the anxiety we are experiencing at this moment. If we are under stress for a longer period, then our digestive system is brought out of sync again and again, which can lead to chronic gastrointestinal complaints.

Therefore, a stressful life is a factor that cannot be underestimated. In any case it should be taken into account when going through the medical history of a patient. If the typical symptoms occur, therapy should always involve a change in life circumstances.