Stress...the Silent Killer!

Maintaining your health takes more than eating healthy, whole foods and physical activity. While these two are definitely a great start, they are both only pieces of a bigger journey toward healthy living. One of the leading players in pursuing better health is reducing stress. Stress is a “Power Player” when it comes to the development and persistence of disease and hormone imbalance.

Why is stress so dangerous?

Whether you realize it or not, stress has reached epidemic proportions in our nation. Stress affects people from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. According to the American Medical Association, stress is the basic cause of 60% of all human illness and disease. Some European countries speculate that stress is the cause of 80% of all illness and 80% of all prescriptions are stress related. Stress is literally killing us!

When your body perceives a threat, your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, activates a “fight or flight” mode in your body. While in the “fight or flight” mode your body reacts by alerting the hormonal system, which in turn releases a surge of hormones. Two major stress hormones released during this reaction are cortisol and adrenaline.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is made in the adrenal glands. It is often called the “stress hormone” due to its connection to the stress response.

Cortisol’s role within the body during stress:

  • Increases glucose in the bloodstream to supply more energy. This is great during for “fight or flight”. However, long term elevated cortisol can increase the risk for type 2 Diabetes.
  • Suppresses the immune system. A suppressed immune system can leave you susceptible to the common cold, flu, viruses, and other illnesses.
  • Upsets the digestive system by compromising the digestion process and inhibiting nutrient absorption. It also causes indigestion.
  • Leads to weight gain. Over time, high cortisol levels lead to increased belly fat. This is because there are four times more cortisol receptors in the fat cells of the belly.

Adrenaline is a hormone also released from the adrenal glands. During stress, adrenaline is quickly released into the bloodstream.

Adrenaline’s role within the body during stress:

  • Dilates air passages thereby increasing the body's ability to provide the maximum amount oxygen to the muscles during a fight or flight scenario.
  • Re-directs blood to the heart and lungs
  • Supplies an increase of strength, stamina, and intensified consciousness
  • Acts as a built in pain reducer, allowing the body to “fight or flight” for lengthier periods of time.

When the body is working as it should, hormone levels return to normal once the perceived threat has passed. The problem today is that many people live in a constant state of stress, keeping the body in a continual state of “fight or flight”. Long term exposure to chronic stress along with increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline can lead to multiple health problems.

How does stress affect my body?

Chronic stress can lead to a higher probability rate of developing one or more stress related health conditions. Left unchecked, stress could contribute to and cause high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. In addition, stress can cause existing health problems to become worse and delay recovery.

There is a strong correlation between stress and your digestive health. Stress has a negative impact on the digestive system. Stress can actually inhibit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients throughout your digestive tract. It can slow down the immune response by how it affects the bacteria in the gut. The adverse side effects of stress can also lead to a variety of gastrointestinal diseases such as: GERD, IBD, IBS, and food allergies.

Stress can also cause…

  • insomnia
  • headaches
  • brain fog
  • loss of hair
  • fatigue
  • loss of sex drive
  • weight gain
  • muscle pain and weakness

   ...just to name a few.

Stress can not only affect your physical body, but it can also affect your mood and your behavior.

What is the answer?

Stress may be unavoidable, but it is critical you learn healthy ways to cope with the daily stressors in your life. Understanding stress and learning how to manage it is vital for your health. Below are three simple ways to reduce stress.

  • Get moving. One of the most doctor recommended ways to reduce stress is by exercising. Exercise is the Secret Stress Buster. It releases endorphins, our happy hormones, and counteracts stress hormones.
  • Identify what’s causing the stress. Take a moment, think about what has you stressed out. Can you change it? If so, make the change. If not, think about what you can do to reduce it. Make a plan, write it down, then follow through.
  • Head to the great outdoors - One of the greatest antidepressants and stress relievers is exposure to natural sunlight. Get plenty of Vitamin D.

Stress is a normal part of life. The good news is that there is something you can do to reduce the stress in your life. Slow down, take a deep breath, and “de-stress” today!

Janet Steward