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The Pathophysiology of Stress

STRESS is a modern urban epidemic. It starts early in the morning, scrambling to get to work on-time, being prepared for meetings, presentations, deadlines. Stress has a large impact on our endocrine system and hence your body. Your hypothalamus (a tiny control tower in your brain), sends out messengers (both chemical and along the neurons) to your adrenal glands (which sit on top of your kidneys) to send out stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol)!  These stress hormones trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response (which is regulated by your central nervous system). If the stressor doesn’t go away, this response will continue.

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(i) FATIGUE: Chronic stress, can drain the body. Throw in our daily work outs to this mix and we are burning up our ATP stores and other cofactors to a negative supply.  The Sympathetic Nervous System continues to trigger physical reactions, causing a wear-and-tear on the body. To summarize, it's not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic.

(ii) WEIGHT GAIN & ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION: Studies have linked cortisol, to cravings for sugar and fat. Scientists believe the hormone binds to receptors in the brain that control food intake. Hence stress often causes people to overeat or alcohol or drug abuse, and social withdrawal. Cortisol can also increase the amount of fat tissue your body hangs onto and enlarge the size of fat cells. Higher levels of cortisol have been linked to deep abdominal fat. 

(iii) DIGESTION: Stress can affect digestion, and what nutrients your intestines absorb. It can also affect how fast food moves through your body.

(iv) SEXUAL HEALTH:  Stress over an extended period of time, can affect testosterone production, sperm production and maturation, and even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. For women, stress can make premenstrual symptoms worse, these symptoms include cramping, fluid retention and bloating, negative mood (feeling irritable and "blue") and mood swings.

Claude Bernard (1865 - 1961) noted that the maintenance of life is critically dependent on keeping our internal milieu constant in the face of a changing environment.  Cannon (1929) called this “homeostasis.” Selye (1956) used the term “stress” to represent the effects of anything that seriously threatens homeostasis. Although stress responses evolved as adaptive processes, research shows that prolonged stress responses can lead to tissue damage and disease. (

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