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The Emotional Stress-Inflammation Link

Clinical insights from Metagenics Institute LIVE event


Host: Deanna Minich, PhD

Guest: Jennifer Stagg, ND

In this discussion, Jennifer Stagg, ND and Deanna Minich, PhD examine the relationship and connection between psychological stress and emotions with health and chronic disease states, and the mediating role that inflammation and oxidative stress play.

As a naturopath, Dr. Stagg considers the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. Incorporating her robust science background in biochemistry and nutrigenomics, Dr. Stagg has discovered in clinical practice that, even when critical aspects of wellness and lifestyle are addressed, like nutrition and physical activity, the emotion piece of the puzzle can still wreak havoc in her patients who are otherwise, doing “all the right things.” In other words, life stressors and coping mechanisms should be assessed and when addressed, can have a powerful impact on health outcomes.

A growing body of literature is demonstrating the link between emotional health, inflammation, oxidative stress, and chronic health conditions, like diabetes.1-2 Dr. Stagg explains that traditional assumptions about diabetic etiology do not always hold true in her patients, and that psychological and emotional stressors are definitely contributing to metabolic, and even, cognitive and psychiatric disorders,3 via inflammatory and oxidative stress pathways.

Dr. Stagg explains that, in addition to biomarkers that healthcare practitioners are accustomed to measuring to assess physiologic inflammation and stress (e.g., salivary and serum cortisol, hs-CRP, DHEA, etc.), validated questionnaires that measure perceived stress4-5 and stressful life events6-7 are also useful to assess and quantify the impact of emotional stressors, too. Patients are unique individuals, and Dr. Stagg has found that discussing emotional health on a spectrum is particularly useful. The connection between emotions and eating is also mentioned. In genomic profiling of patients, Dr. Stagg explains that there are genotypes associated with emotional eating (i.e., eating disinhibition) that can be assessed.

Since change and stressors are a part of the human existence, Drs. Minich and Stagg explore practical and fun ways to help attenuate stress, like leisure activities, creative expression,8-9 mindfulness activities, and an intentional mindset of gratitude.10 These outlets can be simple or complex and personalized to the patient’s preferences and lifestyle.

Interfacing physiology with psychology, the discussion wraps by Dr. Stagg taking a deeper dive into the different biomarkers to assess stress (e.g., salivary vs. serum cortisol), the impact of birth control pills on cortisol levels, the sodium-to-potassium ratio for measuring adrenal function, and nutritional approaches like adaptogenic herbs to support adrenal function and an antioxidant-rich diet to combat oxidative processes.

This Metagenics Institute LIVE broadcast took place live April 16, 2019 on the Metagenics Institute Facebook page.


  1. Siddiqui A et al. Association of oxidative stress and inflammatory markers with chronic stress and newly detected type 2 diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2019;e3147.
  2. Madhu SV et al. Chronic stress, sense of coherence and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2019;13(1):18-23.
  3. Bauer ME et al. Inflammation in psychiatric disorders: what comes first? Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2019;1437(1):57-67.
  4. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Perceived Stress. Accessed April 16, 2019.
  5. Perceived Stress Questionnaire (PSQ). Accessed April 16, 2019.
  6. Life Events Checklist (LEC). Accessed April 16, 2019.
  7. Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Questionnaire. Accessed April 16, 2019.
  8. Jensen A et al. The use of arts interventions for mental health and wellbeing in health settings. Perspect Public Health. 2018;138(4):209-214.
  9. Stuckey HL et al. The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. Am J Public Health. 2010;100(2):254-263.
  10. Harvard Health Publishing. In Praise of Gratitude. Accessed April 16, 2019.



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