Chronic Stress Should Not Be Here To Stay
Number one complaint across clinics today is the chronic stress. Many doctors do not pull prescription pad out but do advise to lower the stress and to better manage it. We are governed by our emotions, so stress, whether it’s perceived or not perceived, can be physical, mental, emotional and environmental in nature. There are often events and periods of time in life that can be identified as particularly stressful such as a car accident, death of a loved one, divorce, disease or job loss. Stress is not only negative but can be associated with positive circumstances as well, such as a wedding or job promotion. In addition to these major life events, there are many factors that add to an individual’s stress load including: infections, allergies, depression, chronic disease, overworking, guilt, sleep deprivation, toxic exposures, blood sugar fluctuations, medications and more.
What is interesting when taking a medical history and breaking down the timeline of how symptoms progressed, most often we trace it back to an event in our lives that was detrimental on our future health, we were just unaware of the repercussions. Until something eventually, gives out. In women most often we see thyroid malfunction, autoimmune starts to act up, weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue and so forth. What we do in order to go on living under chronic stressors is not so much deal with them but we mask our initial warning signs by grabbing that mid-afternoon chocolate, muffin, coffee break and my favourite a glass of red wine post dinner as a pick me up. We ignore that sleeplessness over time has become the norm. We ignore the mere fact that we gain muffin top around abdomen despite not eating differently or not exercising differently. We dread getting up in morning, if we could only hover under a rock. I know I have been there and continue to struggle with the level of stress accumulated in my life.
Cortisol, the HPA axis
Cortisol as good as it gets, we need it. It can be secreted in opportunistic stress or as defensive stress. What we need to know is that response to stress is not a single event it involved intricate parts of our endocrine system to work in tandem, particularly the Hypothalamus Pituitary Axis (HPA). It is not just adrenals, it is that entire axis that sets fort reaction to stress for us.
The stress system also includes a more delayed response-release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex. This is initiated by neural signals to the hypothalamus which releases CRH, which in turn results in secretion of ACTH from the anterior pituitary gland on the bottom of the brain. The ACTH induces cortisol synthesis and release from the adrenal gland. The whole system is called the HPA system because the signal acts via the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the adrenal glands.
It changes physiology so the liver breaks down glycogen into glucose, and it alters cells so glucose can get in more readily. Corticotrophin releasing hormone not only releases ACTH, it also directly increases anxiety and arousal and activates cells in the locus coeruleus , the brain centre where the cell bodies for most noradrenergic neurons are located. All in all, the system seems admirably designed to get the organism ready for action. All these events trigger us to react. This system alone has helped us during our time of hunting and gathering, when facing ‘fight or flight’ response.
While we rarely find ourselves fighting off a predator in this modern era, the constant barrage of micro-stressful events such as traffic, social stresses, infectious agents, chemical exposures etc. often result in a chronically stimulated adrenal response. While most other animals rest and allow their systems to calm after a stressful encounter, we rarely give our bodies the actual break we need. Over time, with continued stimulation, the stress response becomes less sensitive and the signal to produce cortisol lessens, often to the point of very little cortisol output at all.
Cortisol output should decline over the course of day, highest in morning and be lowest around midnight. In many people the cortisol rhythm is out of balance thus causing an increased cortisol output at night, leading to symptoms such as:
- Tend to be a night person
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Slow starter in morning
- Recurring Infections, Catches cold easily
- Headaches, Migraines
- No sex drive
To be sure, stress is no laughing matter, and it’s buddy, cortisol, doesn’t make things any easier. What can be done if you find yourself headed down the path to high cortisol? Let us help! During your free consultation we’ll examine your concerns together and figure out the best way to address them based on your lifestyle and needs. Get tested and get restored!