Wellness Articles

Your Body’s Response to Stress

We are all aware that stress is not healthy but do you know exactly how it affects your body? Development of conditions such as thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, infertility, menstrual irregularities, insomnia, depression, immune suppression, and osteoporosis have direct correlations to an increased stress response in the body.

The Stress Response:

What is stress: any challenge to the body that has the potential to adversely affect balance and health in the body.

How does the body respond: adaptation to stress either as a direct result of stressful environmental events, or the effect of detrimental internal psychological states.

What parts of the body respond to stress: the endocrine system responds to stress by secreting a variety of hormones to restore balance.

What is a maladaptive response: when the response to stress becomes more harmful than helpful. This is caused by chronic stress leading to endocrine dysfunction and disease.

Fast facts:
 An estimated 40% of adult Canadians suffer physical consequences from the adverse effects of stress.
  Studies have found that 75 – 90% patient visits to primary care physicians are related to adverse events associated with psychological stress.

The Adrenal Gland Response to Stress:

What are the adrenal glands: sitting above the kidneys, the adrenal glands are the primary organs that respond to stress.  
Cortisol and adrenalin are the primary hormones that mediate stress; however, the stress response can cause a variety of complex events in the endocrine system that affects systems throughout the body.

High Cortisol (hypercortisolism) is implicated in the following conditions:
  functional hypothyroidism, 
function hypogonadism (leading to infertility), 
loss of menstrual cycle, 
metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, abnormal lipid (fat) metabolism, and high blood pressure

Growth hormone suppression (leading to memory deficit, fatigue, low libido, insomnia, abdominal fat deposition, and osteoporosis)




Immune system suppression

Low Cortisol: in some people, the stress response is opposite and a drop is Cortisol results.

Manifestations of hypercortisolism include:
, post traumatic stress disorder
, chronic fatigue syndrome, 
orthostatic (lying to standing) hypotension

The Maladaptive Stress Syndrome:

 A healthy, well adapted state alternating between hypervigilance and hypovigilance of the adrenal glands. The level of vigilance is mediated by the amount of circulating epinephrine (adrenalin)
. Stimulants increase vigilance while relaxants decrease it.

 Alarm phase: acute release of cortisol and epinephrine which activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response).

 Suppression phase: associated with chronic increase in cortisol production, activation of anti inflammatory hormones and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). This is a sustained fight or flight response that has become maladaptive.
  Results: increase susceptibility to infection, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia nervosa, panic disorder, gastritis, high blood lipids, atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, development of diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, and other chronic diseases.

Exhaustion phase: the production of adrenal hormones diminishes as the gland “burns out” commonly described as adrenal exhaustion.
   Results: low blood pressure, low blood sugar, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, environmental sensitivities, depression, poor stress resistance.

A more in depth look at the relationship between the adrenal response to stress and each particular system affected will be covered in subsequent articles; however, it is important to realize that stress intervention is a priority goal of preventative medicine.

Enjoy your day,

The Vitality Team

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