*The FDA has not approved intravenous ketamine or NAD+ for the treatment of any psychiatric or pain condition. These articles reference off-label use. Like all medical treatments, the discussed therapies carry risks and benefits. Speak with a doctor at Clarus Health to learn if these therapies may be right for you.

What Stress Does to the Body: 5 Surprising Physical Effects

Learn the 5 surprising physical effects stress has on the body

What Stress Does to the Body: 5 Surprising Physical Effects

April is National Stress Awareness Month. Not all stress is bad, but when stress becomes chronic, it can negatively affect the body. Learn the top 5 effects of stress on your physical body. Whether from depression, anxiety, or trauma, chronic stress affects the whole body, from head to toe.

#1 Chronic Stress Can Accelerate Aging

In 2004 it was shown that women reporting chronic stress showed signs of accelerated cellular aging. This is through an enzyme named "telomerase." Telomerase is responsible for repairing DNA damage in our cells, and it is impaired by chronic stress. Women with the highest stress levels had cellular aging accelerated 10 years compared to low stress women.

Furthermore, the rate of telomere shortening is also predictive of cardiovascular death. It is also related to pulmonary fibrosis, diabetes, certain cancers, dementia, and other conditions. Past traumas can also shorten our telomeres.


Chronic stress affecting telomeres begins in infancy, and maybe even before children are born:

  • Children exposed to violence or to longer orphanage stays have shorter telomeres
  • Healthy adults born to mothers who experienced severe stress while pregnant have shorter telomeres than people whose mothers had relatively stress-free pregnancies
  • Women with more traumatic experiences (eg physical abuse or parental divorce, unemployment or drug use) have shorter telomeres with the greater number of traumas

#2 Stress Can Increase Viral and Bacterial Infection Risks

Stress has many effects on the immune system. Short-term stress can actually be beneficial to your immune system, such as by improving wound healing. However, chronic stress can take a toll on your immune system. This can result in increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. This appears to be related to increases in the stress hormone cortisol.

#3 Increased Risk of Cancer

Cancer can be caused by many insults to the body, including genetics, environmental toxins, and diet. However, chronic stress appears to facilitate cancer growth once it has started. This has been studied extensively in skin cancer because it is the most common form of cancer. Stress can facilitate cancer growth through several mechanisms:

  • Destruction of anti-cancer proteins like p53 (also called tumor repressors)
  • Inducing DNA damage to form cancerous cells
  • Altering tumor "microenvironments" (especially in the pancreas)
  • Suppressing the immune system's job to find and remove cancerous cells
  • Activate inflammation to support tumor growth
  • Stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) can directly promote tumor proliferation

Unfortunately, cancer can cause neuroinflammation that can affect our mindsets and cognitive processing. Impairing our cognitive processing can in turn worsen  stress levels. This causes a "vicious stress cycle" that can worsen cancer progression.

#4 Impaired Recovery from Surgery

Stress levels can impact how efficiently the human body mobilizes the immune system. The immune system is instrumental to wound healing, especially the wound healing after surgery. How the immune system distributes wound healing cells can be impacted by stress after surgery. Not all stress is bad, and this study showed that an adaptive stress response is ideal for wound healing.

#5 Heart Disease, Including Heart Attacks

Chronic stress activates the fight-flight system in your nervous system. This is called the sympathetic nervous system. Longterm and unnecessary activation of the sympathetic nervous system can raise heart rate and blood pressure. The longer the stress in sustained, the higher the risk of serious problems, like heart attacks. Interestingly, this effect is seen across cultures spanning different countries.

Runner Up: the Digestive System

For centuries humans have observed the effects of stress on the digestive system. Irritable bowel syndrome is but one example of a mind-body connection that is heavily affected by stress.

You Deserve to Find Holistic Stress Healing

Clarus Health offers multiple strategies to reduce stress levels. Using IV Ketamine, the Stellate Ganglion Block, and NAD therapy, Clarus Health provides personalized healing solutions for patients to take back control of their health.

P.S. you can learn more about how stress affects the immune system, cancer, wound healing, and telomeres at these links.

Anthony Kaveh MD

Anthony Kaveh MD

Dr. Kaveh is a Stanford and Harvard-trained anesthesiologist and integrative medicine specialist. He has over 800,000 followers on social media and has guided hundreds of patients throughout transformative healing experiences. He is an authority on Ketamine, NAD, and SGB therapies. He is a registered continuing education lecturer in the Bay Area.