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Stress Part 2

In part 1 of this series I described the physiological changes within the body that are triggered in response to stress. In an acute situation, this short-term response can not only be beneficial, but also life-saving. Stress becomes negative when it turns from acute to chronic, i.e. when we face it repeatedly or continuously.

So, let’s first recap on what those main physiological changes were:

  • Adrenaline (or epinephrine) and cortisol rise
  • Your blood pressure rises, as do your heart and respiratory rates
  • Glucose is released into your bloodstream
  • And all the following are reduced: your immunity, appetite, digestion, growth, repair, reproduction and colonic motility.

Now, let’s look at these more closely and consider the impact of their chronic activation: 

High blood pressure leads to heart and cardiovascular disease, like heart attacks and strokes.

High blood sugar leads to diabetes.

Low immunity will cause you to pick up colds and infections more easily and make it harder to recover from them. Also, through lower immunity, reduced DNA repair and apoptosis, stress can cause cancer. 

Stress reduces your stomach acid production, which impairs your food digestion and hence absorption, and ultimately leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It can also cause peptic ulcers and ‘leaky gut’, and thereby allergies and autoimmune disease. Reduced colonic motility will cause constipation. Stress and IBS are highly correlated. 

Stress is a significant factor in infertility (for both men and women).

Chronically elevated cortisol damages an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is an important part of the limbic system. This regulates emotions. The hippocampus is also associated with memory, particularly long-term memory, and spatial navigation. When damaged, this may cause depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s. Stress literally shrinks your brain!

It can also cause an underactive (hypo) thyroid by reducing the hormone that stimulates your thyroid hormone production and also indirectly via elevated cortisol, which reduces the body’s conversion of T4 to the active T3 thyroid hormone.

Stress can trigger asthma, epilepsy and also skin conditions like psoriasis and dandruff.

And lastly, it contributes to advanced ageing and it affects our weight. Whilst in some people it may initially cause weight loss, in others and over time it often results in weight gain, via poor food choices and its impact on hormones, especially cortisol.  

When you add all of these up, you can see why GPs say that over 80% of what they see in clinic is either caused or mediated by stress! [In the US, some doctors have put that figure at over 95%].

Olivia Smart


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