It can sometimes be hard to escape the effects of stress in our everyday lives. In fact, constant stress can turn into distress when one or more systems in the body are agitated for prolonged periods of time.
Statistics show that about 43 percent of all adults claim that stress affects certain aspects of their health, and anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of patients visit primary care doctors because of stress-related concerns.
But did you know that stress can also exacerbate pre-existing health conditions? Here is a list of common conditions and how they are affected by stress.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Since chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) seems to have no physical cause, its diagnosis is deemed somewhat controversial. But seeing patients over and over again with the same symptoms typical of CFS has convinced many practitioners that it is a real and debilitating condition. New studies on the origin of CFS conclude that those who suffer from it have an imbalance that affects the cortisol and DHEA hormones in the body; low concentrations of cortisol first thing in the morning may be connected to a higher incidence of fatigue.
Those who experience stressful situations on a regular basis are at greater risk for developing major depression. Science has found that constant exposure to stressful conditions damages nerves cells and inhibits our ability to re-grow them in the hippocampus – the part of the brain thought to be the center of emotion, memory – which is usually needed for a healthy stress response.
High blood pressure
As the body prepares its stress response, it releases adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones responsible for temporarily tightening the vasculature and increasing blood flow to the organs responsible for enforcing the “fight or flight” response. Continuous stress can cause sustained high blood pressure, thereby increasing the chances of heart disease, particularly in those who also have high cholesterol levels.
In addition, those who are experience stress on a regular basis are more likely fall into negative coping behaviours like smoking and overeating, which can also contribute to heart disease.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The intestinal nervous system is sometimes called the body’s second brain. It’s part of the nervous system that has a special connection to the gastrointestinal system, which is sensitive to emotions like anger, anxiety and panic.
These and other strong feelings can trigger pain and cramping symptoms in the gut. It is believed that stress and other emotions can affect the communication signals between the brain and gut and lead to symptoms of IBS.
Chronic stress causes the body’s adrenal glands to continuously secrete high levels of a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol protects the immune system and reduces inflammation by suppressing the release of histamines (a chemical found in the body’s cells that cause many of the symptoms of allergies, such as a runny nose or sneezing). If a chronic stress pattern is allowed to continue, the immune system may become suppressed and increase a patient’s chances of infection and exposure to disease.
Studies show that chronic stress triggers nerve cells to create a pain-producing substance called “substance P”. Substance P is capable of dilating blood vessels and releasing allergic compounds like histamine, which can trigger inflammation, pain and migraine headaches.
When you’re chronically stressed, exposure to high levels of cortisol can interrupt progesterone activity which leads to estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is associated with typical premenstrual syndrome symptoms, like mood swings, breast tenderness, fatigue, irritability and depression.
Estrogen dominance can also affect fertility and reproductive function. We know that chronic stress can impair the release of serotonin, which is thought to be a mood regulator. If serotonin levels fluctuate, PMS symptoms can flare.
When the body’s under stress it releases cortisol, which prompts glucose stores to be released into the blood. This creates energy to fuel the muscles for a “fight or flight” response. Stress also raises blood sugar levels and increases cortisol which causes cells to become insulin resistant. The harmful end result is high blood sugar.
Indirectly, stress also causes us to eat poorly, resulting in increased blood sugar levels and a higher chance of developing diabetes.
The effect of stress on thyroid function is complex; changes induced by stress on the serotonergic system, which is part of brain function, and cortisol levels, may affect thyroid hormone metabolism. Cortisol, the main hormone produced in response to stress, can suppress pituitary function and keep the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from being released, thereby inducing hypothyroidism.
People with hypothyroidism who are also under stress may experience more severe cognitive issues.
When the body’s under stress, its defence mechanisms divert blood away from the digestive system and over to organs like the muscles and the heart, which are involved in deploying “fight or flight” responses. If stress is ongoing, blood flow to the stomach lining can decrease, resulting in damage and weakness when the stomach’s delicate membrane is exposed to the acidic pH of the stomach. A type of erosion occurs and can contribute to stress-induced gastritis.
There’s no doubt that stress brings on many debilitating conditions. You’ll be hard pressed to think of any other disease where stress doesn’t play a role. Reducing stress levels and learning to manage stress effectively is a major part of practicing preventative medicine. It won’t only help manage current health problems, but may also have long reaching benefits.
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Stress is sometimes unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to overwhelm – nor should you ignore it. If left unaddressed, chronic stress can have potentially harmful physical and mental effects. A consultation with your doctor or Naturopath can provide you with the strategies, techniques and treatment protocols you need to feel better and keep stress at bay
Orange Naturals also has a wide range of products that work synergistically to re-build your nutrition, relax your body and mind, and restore your energy. To learn more about our natural stress-busters, click on the image below.
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