By Mr. Maondu
(This article is jumbled with medical jargons)
When the we are under stress, the body functions are altered. Psychological instability, fasting state, extremes of temperatures, sickness, and fright are some of the things that can put the body under stress.
Response to stress involves a constellation of changes in the body functions. ‘Fight or flight’ is an immediate response activated when the body perceives a potential threat. This ‘fight or flight’ response results in production of adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones to prepare the body to face the stressful stimuli.
Adrenaline and noradrenaline surge results in:-
- Increased heart rate.
- Self heart-beat awareness.
- Constriction of blood vessels.
- Increase in blood pressure.
- Rapid respiration with dilation of the bronchioles.
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When the perceived threat is eliminated, adrenaline and noradrenaline go back to normal and heart rate, blood pressure and respiration return to baseline levels. During the immediate response to stressful stimuli, the kidneys also produce hormone called cortisol (stress hormone) which mobilizes energy stores in the body to fuel the bodily functions. Similarly, when the stressful stimulus is eliminated, the cortisol level in the blood goes low and back to normal.
People who are under constant stress have functional deficit in memory marked by faulty decision making strategy. They tend to be more aggressive in habit-forming behavior, less flexible and full of aggression.
If activation of stress response is sustained for longer period, the body is chronically exposed to cortisol hormone which has a detrimental effect to the body functions. It results in stimulation of the adrenal glands on the kidneys to secrete hormones. These hormones are as follows:-
CORTISOL (stress hormone- a glucocorticoid)
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal cortex of adrenal gland. It is the main glucocorticoid and has been commonly referred as a stress hormone because it is produced is high amounts during a disturbing emotional state. Production of this stress hormone is also governed by diurnal pattern being high in blood between 4 a.m and 8 a.m. Cortisol affects the body functions as follows:-
- Increase in blood sugar.
- Breakdown of energy substrates like fats and proteins.
- Depressed immune status.
- Cortisol has some effect in absorption of water and sodium back to the blood in urine. It also causes loss of potassium from the blood through the urine.
Extrapolating from this, the effects of chronically elevated blood cortisol level includes:-
Elevated blood sugar levels- leading due to formation of new sugars from energy substrates like fats and proteins. Cortisol counteracts effects of insulin in the tissues worsening the glycemic state.
Insulin resistance- elevated cortisol level may worsen diabetes in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus. It inhibits use of glucose in the peripheral tissues.
Lowered body immune response- leads to high susceptibility to infections. Cortisol inhibits proliferation of immune cells (T-cells)
Impaired working and spatial memory- ‘fight or flight’ response results in adrenaline and cortisol surge which creates a short-lived protective experience and this memory may serve only to know what to do to avoid such an exposure or what to do in case it happens. (flash bulb memories) Cortisol impairs retrieval of stored memory, impairs learning and the resultant effect is diminished memory function.
Bone problems- high level of cortisol in the blood causes reduced absorption of calcium from the intestinal tract. This may result in reduced level of calcium in blood and the body compensates by trying to source for calcium from its stores in the bones. This leads to weak bony structure prone to fractures and osteoporosis.
Stretch marks- high cortisol levels propagates prevalence of stretch marks. High cortisol level in the blood reduces production of collagen under the skin. Collagen plays a vital role in maintenance of skin integrity and elasticity. When collagen function is reduced, skin integrity and elasticity is compromised and skin tears are common when the skin is overstretched
Formation of gastric ulcers- increased cortisol level leads to increased production of gastric acid which is a risk factor for formation of gastric or peptic ulcer.
During pregnancy- During the last trimester, high cortisol level are advantageous in that they help in maturation of the fetal lungs. Most of this cortisol is fetal in origin. High levels of cortisol early in pregnancy may yield no benefits at all. Infants borne of mothers with high levels of ;cortisol early in pregnancy may have low rates of BMI as compared to those infants born of mothers with normal cortisol levels early in the pregnancy.
Other effects of chronically elevated cortisol levels:-
- High blood pressure resulting from water and sodium retention.
- Prolonged wound healing period.
- Suppression of the growth hormone production which may lead to stunted growth in children.
- Muscle wasting, weight loss and thin skin due to high breakdown of fats and proteins in the body.
Treatment of chronic stress:-
- Body relation methods
- Eating balanced diet.
- Adequate rest
- Use of prescribed drugs.
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Chronic stress- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Address: http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/chronic_stress.
Endocrine diseases-textbook of Medicine by J. Axford and C.O’Callaghan. Page 818
Endocrine system- Ross and Wilson textbook of Anatomy and physiology. 10th edition. Page 211
Cortisol- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Address: http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/cortisol