What is stress?
Well essentially stress is nothing until it results in the up regulation of certain hormones that we know only react, or are produced in response to stress. That means that there has to be a physiological reaction to some sort of stimulus (an initiating factor, either from outside the body, or from inside the body).
It’s a bit like the pitcher pitching the ball. If the batter doesn’t strike the ball it’s nothing until the umpire decides if the pitch was a strike or a ball.
While this is not the topic of this post, it does bear mentioning that one of our individual challenges is to always see the glass as half full, rather than half empty. Those famous words, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, are so relevant in this day and age.
In clinical practice I so often see my patients allowing such trivial matters to dramatically up regulate their stress hormones. Perhaps this is because they don’t fully appreciate just how dangerous this continual bombardment with stress hormones is to their health.
Which, then, are the specific hormones that I’m talking about. Adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol are perhaps the three more important ones that play such a major role in so much more than ‘just stress’.
The ripple effects of adrenalin production (and probably it’s close cousin noradrenalin) reach far and wide across many other systems of the body. Adrenalin increases anxiety, increases temperature and can cause the down regulation of thyroid hormone receptors.
In simple terms, this means that when you are chronically under the effects of stress hormones you can experience the constant sensation of anxiety and a warm flushed feeling. Imagine being menopausal, or even peri-menopausal, and the resultant effect being stressed will have on the symptoms related to this time of life.
Makes me wonder how many women are placed on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for the symptoms of menopause, when the underlying problem may be chronic stress?
If the thyroid hormone receptor sites on the cell wall are not ‘open’ to accepting the attachment of the thyroid hormone this means that there will be more ‘free’ circulating thyroid hormone in the blood, which will result in symptoms of thyroid deficiency, however, blood tests for thyroid function will be negative.
I often see patients complaining of fatigue, temperature dys-regulation (hot when others are cool or visa versa), dry skin, hair failing out, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, yet the tests that one would expect to show positive, are negative. If you perhaps fall into this category, time to examine your stress profile carefully.
As if this isn’t enough, our old friend estrogen also becomes involved. Elevated levels of adrenalin may be balanced by depressed levels of estradiol production within the ovary. This may lead to infertility, even in the presence of normal levels of estrogen in the blood.
Lowered levels of estrogen are also directly linked to osteopaenia, and eventually osteoporosis. This scenario that I am presenting is not something that happens in short bursts. More often than not it’s a chronic problem with the on going bombardment of these chemicals taking place over years. So estrogen levels may be chronically affected resulting in altered bone metabolism occurring over extended periods of time. Finally, at the time of true menopause, estrogen drops to clinically low levels and the resultant effects, not only on the skeleton, but on the cardiovascular system and the brain as well, occur rapidly, and with significant intensity, so that one almost becomes desperate for symptom relief, willingly accepting anything the doctor offers.
Cortisol, also produced by the adrenal glands in response to an excessively pressurized and fast paced type of lifestyle so prevalent in today’s times, is strongly associated with many types of depression. (1)
These patients have usually have a tendency to anxiety of varying intensity which can often lead to depression.
Cortisol over-production is also associated with raised blood sugar levels, resulting in the over production of insulin, which will eventually lead to increasing abdominal obesity, sleep disturbances, and again, depression. Eventually the diagnosis of IR (insulin resistance) is made. (2)
IR is closely linked to many of the other chronic degenerative diseases, including heart disease, vascular disease, diabetes, strokes, and so on. PCOS (poly cystic ovary disease), associated with many of the premenstrual symptoms and infertility, is also closely related to IR.
The effects of living the high life therefore, may actually be killing you. Stress is something that many of us tend to ‘just expect, and accept’ these days. While not wanting to sound over dramatic, watch out! The human body has amazing compensatory mechanism, but only to a point. Push it too far and it WILL decompensate.
Stress is something that can be largely eliminated from your life. Yes, it may take a ‘mind state re-calibration’, but the possible side effects of not taking charge of your life could be potentially devastating.
For more information or advice please feel free to contact me.
1. Tafet GE, Smolovich J, Psychoneuroendocrinology studies on chronic stressand depression. Ann NY Acad. Sci. 2004; 1032: 276 – 278 Lindmark S, Lonn
2. L, Wiklund U, et al. Dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system can be a link to visceral adiposity and insulin resistance. Obes Res. 2005; 13: 717 – 28