Stress is a major cause of disease. As a result of stress, hormones are released into the blood stream that shut down the normal physiological processes of healing and immunity. Cortisol is the main hormone of long-term stress. It is secreted by the adrenal glands in order to provide our body with the energy it needs to fight or flee from a potentially dangerous situation.
When we are under stress, we continue to secrete cortisol until the situation is resolved. When the danger has passed, secretion of cortisol ceases and the various hormones of day-to-day functions come back on line.
Why is this significant? Cortisol has a great effect on the body. Some of the long-term effects of cortisol on the body include: increased blood sugar levels resulting in diabetes and increased blood pressure resulting in cardiovascular disease. Cortisol also decreases immune function resulting in greater susceptibility to contracting severe infections and it decreases the body’s ability to absorb calcium from the diet and influences bone mineralization leading to osteoporosis.
People of all ages are susceptible to the effects of stress. Infants who were exposed to high levels of cortisol while in the womb are less likely to sleep well and will generally be described as “difficult” or “restless”.
Stress influences inflammatory reactions such as eczema, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. It has also been implicated in nerve inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
A very famous Canadian researcher by the name of Hans Selye laid the ground-work for this understanding and could be considered to be the founder of psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI). PNI is the study of stress and it’s relationship to mental/emotional and physical health.
The most effective ways to decrease cortisol secretions within the body are to ensure a good night’s sleep have a regular routine and go for walks at least four times per week. Herbs, and massage can also be of great benefit. Naturopathic Doctors are very skilled at helping you isolate your triggers for and reactions to stress. Once you understand these, you may be better able to reverse the dangerous cycle of stress leading to disease.
Please deal with stressful situations appropriately and allow your body time to heal after any major event. Give yourself permission to take time for you and to say no to situations that you really do not have the energy to deal with at that moment. Worry less and enjoy more and on poor health you will close the door.