Chronic Stress Leads to Ill Health

Chronic stress is a widespread problem in the world today leading to chronically elevated cortisol, which is almost always detrimental. The chronic stress hormone cortisol has been called a "psycho" toxin because of it's ability to affect behaviour.

Cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory and insulin resisting hormone which helps to control immune reactivity and increase energy availability by increasing the levels of glucose and fatty acids in the blood. These adaptive changes can be extremely beneficial when we need to temporarily increase our performance to deal with stress. Ideally, once the stressor has passed, cortisol level will drop and our physiology will come back into balance. If the stress is persistent, the level of cortisol remains elevated as a compensatory mechanism, however sustained elevated levels of cortisol has an impact on many tissues ( see below ) and sustained overproduction of cortisol can also lead, over time, to a condition called "corticol burnout". Recent research has shown a significant association between cortisol burnout and breast cancer in women.

Chronic stress can also make you fat! When your body is stressed whether emotionally or physically or both it will hoard calories mainly in the form of fat around the abdomen. Also under the influence of the stress hormone cortisol, our body becomes less sensitive to leptin, the hormone that makes us feel full, so we eat more than we normally would.

Since most people have a sedentary lifestyle they do not burn the extra calories while many live under a state of constant chronic stress, operating under elevated cortisol levels for long periods of time..... It is worse of course if someone has a high carbohydrate diet.

IMMUNE SYSTEM: In short time stress we see a shift towards Helper T Cell 1 (TH1), however continuous secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands will cause a Helper T cell 2 state (TH2) thus eventually increasing the risk of allergies but also of diseases that need the TH1 pathway to be eliminated. These diseases include deep viral infections such as Epstein Barr Virus, Cytomegalovirus, fungal infection and even cancer.

GASTRO-INTESTINAL: The hypothalamic hormone, cortico-releasing hormone, has receptors in the gut lining, thus causing an increase in the permeability of the gut with the resulting vicious cycles of allergy, intoxication, liver overload and even systemic disease which is triggered by antigens leaking through the gut lining.

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE: The role of cortisol in cardio-vascular disease and metabolic syndrome is becoming clearer. Central obesity is one of the metabolic action of cortisol and insulin resistance is a natural sequel. Cortisol, a catabolic hormone, also shares a receptor with, for instance, the anabolic hormone testosterone in the muscles. If cortisol is constantly excreted at high levels over time, we see a displacement of testosterone with resulting muscle atrophy and underperformance.

NERVOUS SYSTEM: If cortisol is secreted in too high and prolonged fashion the brain suffers directly. Cortisol has receptors in the brain which it shares with aldosterone. The balance between the two hormones is needed to lay down long term memory. If cortisol displaces the aldosterone from its receptor, this is not possible. Cortisol also has an effect on the autonomic nervous system and will increase the secretion of noradrenalin which will give rise to palpitations, neurasthenia or , in other patients, to cardio-vascular disease.

DETOXIFICATION: Cortisol plays a role in the natural degradation and repair process of the extra-cellular matrix. The diurnal rhythm of cortisol is especially important here since cortisol production should diminish at night when a slightly inflammatory state will allow the removal of any diseased tissue in the matrix and also the release of toxins in the bloodstream for liver detoxification and excretion. Insomnia and overwork associated with chronic stress will disturb the rhythm and keep cortisol secretion elevated at night. The cleansing action in the extra-cellular matrix cannot then take place properly. If the degradation and repair of the matrix is disturbed, we see a rigid, toxic matrix which will prevent proper cell-to-cell communication and matrix to cell communication. This will result in cellular disease and eventually dedifferentiation since toxins in the extra-cellular matrix can disrupt the intra-cellular matrix and even the intranuclear matrix, so that disease can develop even if the toxin is not directly in that location.

ENERGY PRODUCTION: Cortisol may also have a direct effect on the mitochondria so prolonged secretion can interfere with energy ( ATP ) production at the cell level.

ORAL HEALTH: Chronic stress can have an impact on oral hygiene and diet as the chronically stressed individual may start to neglect his oral hygiene and the quality of his diet. Poor diet and oral hygiene are well known causes of oral diseases. In addition if the body is exposed to various oral toxins from dental and periodontal infections, heavy metals from restorative materials and other chemicals, the impact of cortisol on the extra-cellular matrix, as mentioned above, will allow the gradual accumulation of these toxicants in the body, a process called deposition and impregnation in homotoxicology.

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