The key to understanding the relationship between stress and disease lies in understanding how the body defends itself against the threat posed by stress. One of the main functions of the stress hormones is to increase the level of energy substrates in circulation – to provide cells with enough fuel to meet the increased demands. Understanding this effect and its effect on health requires a certain elementary appreciation of metabolism and during stressful times, one way the body adapts is by increasing the rate of metabolism.
Basically the body knows two metabolic states: anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism refers to the process whereby large molecules (e.g., glycoproteins, lipoproteins, etc.) are constructed from smaller molecules (amino acids, fats, sugars, etc.). These larger molecules are then used for cellular functions, growth, or as stored energy. Catabolism is exactly opposite. Catabolism refers to the process whereby larger molecules are broken down into smaller ones. This process is usually associated with the creation of energy sources.
Periods of anabolism are like economic “good times.” We invest in the house, perhaps expanding the living room, re-doing the bathroom, trading up to a larger and more expensive model of car, investing on stocks, purchasing bonds – basically building up our net worth. Stress represents a period of “economic hardship” (not unlike the present era). We cash in bonds, sell stocks, get rid of the second car, etc. All in the interest of maintaining financial balance – or equilibrium (paying bills). In terms of biology, stress is usually associated with catabolic processes, triggered by the stress hormones – breaking down larger molecules in order to create the energy resources necessary to meet the increased demands posed by the stressful event.
The adrenal glands adapt in a multiple of areas during acute and chronic stress including physical, environmental, emotional, physiological and spiritual stress. And the adrenals require greater amounts of key nutrients in response to an elevated production of corticosteroids. The nutrients identified that are needed for adrenal function during stress are: protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and E, B complex, cholesterol, as well as essential minerals.
The adrenal medulla’s functions activate epinephrine and norepinephrine during acute stress. The most common responses under medullary hormonal control includes: increased heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting, sweating, lung capacity, and the pupils dilate. Heightened physiological changes occur including excitability, anxiousness, or what we all know as “fight or flight”. There is also an increase in glucose and fat utilization.
Some hormonal influences will excite, while others will suppress for example, metabolism speeds up dramatically while the digestive system suppresses.
Chronic stress puts on-going demands the adrenals, specifically the adrenal cortex. The constant overload of hormones within the adrenal cortex are steroids. There are three regions in the cortex and each produces a different hormone. The outermost region of the adrenal cortex secretes the hormone mineralocorticoid aldosteorne. This hormone directly effects sodium ions and water in the body. Their function is conservation. In the middle cortex region, the hormone gonadocorticoids influences reproduction in both men and women.
During chronic stress, the reproduction hormones allow the adrenals to function efficiently assisting in the adaptation process of stress. This is why chronic stress impacts infertility. The hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal axis demonstrates the inter-relationship between chronic stress and female infertility. The pre-ovulatory follicular fluid elevates oxytocin to prepare the egg for implantation. Chronic stress releases cortisol and cortisol inhibits oxytocin levels as well as prolactin. Prolactin is a major hormone essential for childbirth and breast-feeding.
In males, elevated stress hormones inhibit luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) followed by luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which are collectively responsible for the release of testosterone and the sex drive. Stress has an equally detrimental effect on both men and women in regards to sex drive and fertility.
When our bodies move into a chronic state of stress, not only will there be physiological results as seen in acute stress, but behavioral function changes will also take place. Symptoms of chronic stress includes a decrease in appetite, insomnia, headaches, ulcers, hormonal imbalances as well as a decrease in the level of being able to handle stress including irritability, impatience, anger, and always feeling fatigued.
Because our bodies are not designed to handle on-going stress, the body will eventually decline in resistance to stress once it goes from acute to chronic stress into a state of exhaustion. If stress does not get controlled, the adrenals will become so exhausted, they will cease to adapt.
The goal to adrenal health is homeostasis - Moving out of the stress and into the recovery phase. This occurs when the demand on the adrenal glands decrease and allow the glands to return to homeostasis. During both acute and chronic stress, recovery happens quicker than when the body was adapting to chronic stress. The major functions effected by acute stress that return to normal are the functions of the: cardiovascular, digestive, immune, and reproductive systems. Glucose levels return to normal increasing energy and vitality. If stress was only short term, recovery happens quickly. If stress was prolonged, recover will be dependent on the length and duration of stress as well as the general health status of the individual. With chronic stress, the recovery time can be equal to the time the person was in stress.
How we respond to stress varies and the factors involved include: genetic, inherited defects, organ vulnerability, psychological, situational, current and past events. Psychological stress is related to stressful situations and events as well as our
Serious illness, diseases, and even death can result from chronic stress
Diseases of the soul are more dangerous and more numerous than those of the body.