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Understanding the Destructive Impact of Stress on your Body

Ever notice how you feel after a stressful day? For some lucky people, they are able to bounce right back to feeling great. But many others experience fatigue, brain fog, and GI issues. If you fall into the second category, it’s clear to see how ongoing and chronic stress can negatively impact your mental and physical well-being.

The question on many people’s minds is exactly how stress affects your overall health. In this blog, we’ll break down how and why stress impacts the body and what you can do to prevent it.

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Effects of stress on the body:

Stress has a global effect on the body, and longer periods of stress contribute to nearly every chronic disease. This is why the onset or exacerbation of health issues tends to arise during a stressful period like a divorce, financial struggles, death or illness in the family, work stress, or even the isolation and uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

The main reason stress is able to have such a global effect on the body is because of the main stress hormone- cortisol. Consistently high levels of cortisol have been linked to:

  • Blood sugar imbalances

  • Decreased bone density

  • Impaired cognitive performance

  • Lower immunity

  • Slowed wound healing

  • Suppressed thyroid function

Cortisol also plays a vital role in other functions like glucose metabolism, blood pressure regulation, and insulin resistance. However, the most important pathways that cortisol affects are the methylation and detoxification pathways.

Detox pathways:

Stress impacts the glutathione detoxification pathway. As we know, glutathione is our body’s most powerful antioxidant and detoxifier. Many have gone so far as to say glutathione is the most important compound in our body for health.

This is because glutathione is essential for nearly every bodily function, including:

  • Improving immune function

  • Detoxifying and fighting oxidative stress

  • Preventing the side-effects of aging

  • Promoting mental clarity

  • Helping to fight off disease

  • Brightening and lightening skin

  • Promoting energy

  • Inhibiting melanin production in cells (erasing hyperpigmentation)

  • Helping your body to break down and purge fat

As you can see from the list above, having a sufficient supply of glutathione in your body is essential for optimal health, even beyond having a good immune system. However, after the age of 45, the amount of glutathione in your body can be decreased by about 50% due to aging. This makes it all the more essential to make sure you’re supporting glutathione production in your body.


Methylation is our body’s second most important global pathway. Methylation is a biochemical process- the transfer of atoms- from one substance to another. When optimal methylation occurs, it has a positive impact on many biochemical reactions in the body that regulate the activity of the reproductive, detoxification, neurological, and cardiovascular systems.

Other processes related to methylation include:

  • DNA production

  • Neurotransmitter production

  • Detoxification

  • Histamine metabolism

  • Estrogen metabolism

  • Eye health

  • Fat metabolism

  • Cellular energy

  • Liver health

Stress, Methylation, and Glutathione:

The body has to decide every second of every day whether it is going to prioritize methylation or make more glutathione. It is absolutely imperative that you are able to do both when needed.

When you’re stressed, your body is using abundant energy to make more cortisol. When activated, cortisol will bypass the usual way of making ATP energy via the mitochondria and use the Cori Cycle. The Cori Cycle is a manner of energy production that uses amino acids instead of glucose or fats. The amino acids used in the Cori Cycle are taken from muscles and the intestinal lining (which is made of amino acids). Ultimately, using the Cori Cycle to create energy for cortisol begins the physiological path to destruction.

Breaking down the intestinal lining to make energy, causes the GI tract to be vulnerable to permeability and leaky gut. This causes inflammation and activation of free radicals and oxidative stress. The increase in free radicals signals the body to increase glutathione, due to its powerful antioxidant properties.

Moreover, the longer the stress response, the more glutathione is needed. While some people are able to recycle glutathione, around 42% of the population have genetic variations that hinder this pathway. If the body can’t recycle glutathione, then it must make more glutathione. And, unfortunately, the same three amino acids used to make glutathione are also used for cortisol. When your body is under stress, these amino acids are all being used by cortisol and your glutathione pathway is further stunted.

Without glutathione, free radicals build up inside cells, which ultimately causes cellular death. And obviously, your body doesn’t want this to happen. So, while trying to support glutathione, the body will put the methylation pathway on hold. When the methylation pathway is hindered, a shortage of necessary hormones and neurotransmitter occurs. This leads to depression, anxiety, weight gain, insomnia and other sleep issues, and many other symptoms.

Basically, when you’re stressed, the methylation and glutathione pathways in your body are hindered and unable to function properly. And, when these two vital functions aren’t working optimally, free radicals and toxins cause damage and inflammation throughout the body.

Supporting glutathione and methylation:


One of the most interesting things about glutathione is that our main source of the molecule is what we produce within our bodies. This is because, as a protein, glutathione is very hard to absorb efficiently from the foods you eat. The digestive system will break glutathione into its amino acid base, where it cannot be used as an antioxidant or detoxification aid.

Luckily, there are also several supplements that have proven to assist in boosting glutathione production:

  • N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) - This nutrient contains cysteine, which is one of the key building blocks of glutathione. Taking NAC has been demonstrated to boost glutathione production and reserves in the body. NAC is so effective in boosting glutathione production (and thus boosting the detoxification process) that it is used in emergency rooms for medical detoxification emergencies. Several animal studies have also demonstrated that taking NAC helps to offset the cell death of “aged” cells.

  • Alpha Lipoic Acid- This antioxidant is able to assist in the recycling process of glutathione. Alpha-lipoic acid regenerates “used” oxidized glutathione back into its usable form. It also provides a further source of cysteine and increases cysteine uptake into cells.

  • Folate, B6, and B12- The active forms of these vitamins are vital in the synthesizing of glutathione. Folate helps in directing cysteine to glutathione production and away from other purposes.

  • Other nutrients that assist in promoting healthy glutathione levels include:

    • Magnesium

    • Selenium

    • Vitamin C

Beyond supplementation, intravenous (IV) infusions of glutathione are one of the best ways to boost your levels of glutathione. An IV treatment of the antioxidant will bypass the digestive tract altogether and deposit glutathione directly into your bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, glutathione can be transported throughout your entire body, from the brain to the heart to the lungs and muscle tissue. This helps every cell in the body benefit from glutathione’s detoxifying and protective properties.


There are several all-natural ways to improve your methylation pathways. This includes:

  • Eating lots of greens → Dark, leafy greens provide you with natural folate, which is one key ingratiation in methylation. Make sure to get a minimum of two cups of leafy greens per day.

  • Take B vitamins and folate → B vitamins, especially folate, B6, B12, and riboflavin, are integral for methylation. Sources of B vitamins include eggs, dark leafy greens, almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, fish, and asparagus.

  • Take proper supplements → Supplements like magnesium and zinc help to support the methylation pathways.

  • Take probiotics → A healthy microbiome will help to produce and absorb B vitamins and folate.

  • Reduce alcohol and smoking → Drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking will burden your liver and hinder the methylation process.

Final thoughts:

The biochemical pathways involved in the stress response are obviously very complex. But it is also very individualized- your unique genetic strengths and weaknesses, nutritional status, and overall health impact how your body responds to stress.

Moreover, it is vital to measure your methylation and glutathione levels to determine the status of these pathways in your body. This can be done through functional testing offered at the Johnson Center.

To learn more about your stress response and how to optimize your methylation and glutathione pathways, click here to contact us! Or, call 276-235-3205 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute discovery call.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!

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