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Stressed Out?

Are you chronically stressed?

Many of us in North America are overly stressed, we know it isn’t a good thing, but what effects does it have on our bodies?

During times of stress we have 2 major hormones that come into play, Cortisol and epinephrine (aka adrenaline). Epinephrine is responsible for the immediate responses to stress while cortisol will often take a minute or so to start influencing the body. These hormones play a major role in the “fight or flight” response and in a short-term situation can be lifesaving. The problems arise when we are in a chronic state of stress and the continual effect that these hormones have on our bodies can be detrimental to our bodies.

The following are a few of these negative effects


1. Increased blood sugar

· Cortisol initiates gluconeogenesis in the liver to provide glucose to feed working skeletal muscles during the “fight or flight” response. Long-term this increase in blood sugar can result in negative effects such as increasing the insulin demand, therefore causing more work for our pancreas (the organ that produces insulin, which is the hormone that helps to decrease blood sugar). Eventually the pancreas will not be able to keep up with the demand, ultimately leading to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

2. Headaches

· Typically, these are caused when the muscles in our necks and upper backs tense up. Muscle tension can also lead to jaw pain or even damage to our teeth from grinding and clenching. Cortisol can also lead to an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines that result in inflammation, which leads to pain.

3. Mood

· Constantly being in a state of stress can lead to feelings of hopelessness, irritability and anger.

4. Weight gain

· Often stress will have us reaching for comfort foods, which are generally high in calories and sugar. This results in a blood sugar spike that will ultimately lead to cravings for more high calorie/high sugar foods. Cortisol will also contribute by moving triglycerides to be stored as visceral fat.

5. Increased Blood Pressure

· When our blood vessels constrict, and our heart starts to beat faster we will see a rise in blood pressure in order to meet the demands of a body that should be actively “fighting” or “fleeing” according to the fight or flight response. Typically, this increase is situational and temporary, but when we are constantly in a state of high stress there could be more lasting negative effects on blood pressure. Overtime this can even lead to vessel damage resulting in atherosclerotic plaque buildup.

6. Decreased Immunity

· Constantly being in a state of stress can result in a weakened immune system by suppressing the response of white blood cells. High stress can prevent your body from fighting off even the smallest infection.

7. Digestive Changes

· In the “fight or flight” mode, blood is sent to where your body thinks you need it most. Your digestive system is not one of these places! This means that in a constant state of stress you may be decreasing the efficacy of your digestion.

8. Insomnia

· Stress can make it hard to turn our brains off at night, leading to sleepless nights ruminating over our thoughts. Cortisol will also impact sleep when it is too high by interfering with the production of melatonin, the hormone that our body produces to help us sleep.

9. Decreased Libido and Altered Menstrual Cycles

· This happens because our body is preferentially making cortisol instead of sex hormones. It is often referred to as the “cortisol steal” and is a reason why some women may experience a missed menstrual period or spotting when they shouldn’t be.

Interested in ways to combat stress and prevent the negative effects that stress hormones such as cortisol have on your body? Check back for next week"s post!

More Information and References:


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