It’s true that just about everyone is stressed these days. Our lives are packed with things to do, places to be, and then more things to do. We are constantly on the move with little down time to help us recuperate. And sleep? It’s usually cut short to make time for something else seemingly “more important.”

This current pattern of go-go-go seems to work alright for a period of time. We feel efficient, productive, capable—all qualities our current society applauds. Until one day the quality of our health slaps us in the face with symptoms we never saw coming—digestive disruptions, fatigue, aches and pains, depression, or worse. We then treat these symptoms with medications and maybe even a better diet, but we rarely address the underlying factor to most, if not all, health conditions—stress.

You may have heard me refer to inflammation as the underlying factor of most, if not all, chronic diseases. It’s true. And the gut is a major source of this inflammation. But do you know what causes both inflammation and gut imbalance (among a host of other things)? Stress!

That’s right. If you’re under stress, your gut bacteria become imbalanced. Beneficial Bifidobacteria levels decrease. And if you’re under stress, inflammation increases. When you’re under stress, your body responds in a way that decreases your health.

Heart disease is one major condition that is triggered by stress. For many years, scientists have known that people with heart disease also commonly experience stress. But now they know that stress actually leads to heart disease. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers found that people under high stress had an increased risk of heart disease equal to that seen in people with increased LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, or in people who smoke five cigarettes daily.

“These findings are significant because they are applicable to nearly everyone. The key takeaway is that how people feel is important for their heart health, so anything they can do to reduce stress may improve their heart health in the future.” Interestingly, the researchers found that the risk of heart disease in people under high stress increased with age. Next the researchers plan to assess whether broad population-based measures to reduce stress are cost-effective. I don’t see how they wouldn’t be.

On your journey toward better health, don’t forget this integral piece of the puzzle—stress management. Take note of the activities that reduce stress for you and work them into your regular schedule. Stress reducing activities such as massage, relaxation, meditation, or certain exercises are strongly recommended.