We have all heard that stress is bad for us, this certainly is not new news, but just how bad is it? This article highlights some of the implications stress has on the body and just how far reaching those effects can be.
Our stress response is a self-regulating system, meaning that once we encounter a stressful situation our biological systems are heightened so we can deal with an impending threat, then once this threat has passed, it down-regulates, lying dormant until the next set of stressful stimuli trigger a response.
Unfortunately in today’s world, it is quite common to see this system constantly switched on, and for a variety of reasons. You see stress comes in a multitude of forms from the known mental, emotional and physical to the unknown hidden internal stressors that we aren’t consciously aware of – and they are of course, all cumulative!
When stress continues unabated too much cortisol (commonly known as the “stress hormone”) produces a wide range of negative effects, affecting virtually every aspect of the bodies function. It alters immune system responses, it supresses digestive and reproductive functions, it alters other endocrine signalling molecules causing further imbalances within the hormonal system and has a negative effect on brain function, memory and mood. Stress hormones play a huge role in the genesis of anxiety and thought to be the main culprit in depression.
As a culture we have become quite disconnected to our bodies, consuming an enormous amount of energy in intellectual and mental pursuits – rarely taking the time to tune in and listen to what are bodies are saying. A lot of the time we are not even consciously aware of stress in its more subtle forms. Hunger, dieting and the wrong foods all trigger the stress response, as do feelings, thoughts and beliefs. The stress response is triggered by overwork, over-exercise and lack of sleep or hidden internal stressors such as bacteria, fungi and parasites. As you can see the list goes on and all this is regulated by two tiny glands called the adrenal glands.
Heath seriously becomes compromised when the adrenals glands have to work harder than they would like to or have become so depleted and fatigued that they are unable to keep up the demands placed upon them. In order for the adrenals to keep up the supply and demand of cortisol they neglect the production of other vital hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA.
We all know the importance of sex hormones, for without them we wouldn’t be here! But what about DHEA? Maintaining proper DHEA levels ensures energy and vitality, studies show that DHEA is one of the most important anti-aging hormones. Almost all chronic degenerative diseases are correlated with lower than normal DHEA levels in the body. DHEA’s involvement in breast cancer was documented by a research study conducted on the Isle of Guernsey over a 20 year period (Bulbrook 1971). This study was conducted to evaluate varying factors in women’s health. They found that 100% of the women in the study (5,186 women) who developed breast cancer had a significant drop in DHEA levels up to 9 years earlier. So now we can begin to understand its significance.
Since cortisol and DHEA have opposing effects they must remain in proper balance for optimum health. Prolonged stress is disrupts this vital balance and our ability to modulate bodily functions in the hormone, immune, metabolic, and detoxification systems becomes compromised, setting the stage for numerous malfunctions within these vital systems. As a result health becomes impaired in a multitude of ways.
The best way to evaluate the impact of chronic stress on endocrine function is by measuring bioactive hormones through saliva. Blood levels of steroidal hormones are less accurate because often they are bound to proteins in the blood, preventing their uptake from target cells. Saliva therefore is the preferred method as these hormones have been made ‘bio-available’ to the receptor sites.
The hormonal panel I use to screen the impact of chronic stress on the body’s functions is the Functional Adrenal Stress Profile. This tests the following hormones through 4 simple saliva samples taken throughout the course of one day and is immensely valuable in assessing my client’s health complaints;
Not only do we get an accurate measure of our ability to handle and cope with stress through measuring cortisol and DHEA, we also get an accurate picture of our sex hormones which as essential to health and vitality.
Stress certainly cannot be avoided, in fact stress is important for individual and social health, it is only when stress is prolonged that it turns from being positive, protective and growth enhancing to negative, destructive and debilitating.
Chronic stress related symptoms can be reversed! Don’t just accept stress as being part of your life, contact my clinic to find out how you can reverse the negative impacts stress and start living a happier, healthier life.
Copyright © Kristy Allan Kinesiology 2012