The Physical Causes of Stress
Stress and Hormones
|Stress – it’s not just a state of mind, and there is a very physical aspect to stress that has been overlooked for far too long. Most of us believe that our feelings of being 'stressed out' have to do with our jobs, our hectic schedules, and our relationships with other people. What we are ignoring is the chemical state our bodies are in when we feel stressed out. Any woman who has experienced PMS, when monthly hormonal imbalances can cause a striking difference in mood and personality, knows what I am talking about.
The physical side of stress has to do with cortisol (a hormone produced by our adrenal glands) and inflammation. Cortisol is the hormone that orchestrates our fight-or-flight response, but it is also the chemical agent our bodies use to fight inflammation. Anytime there is inflammation in your body, your cortisol levels will rise and you will feel more stressed out. You may not think you have inflammation inside your body, but the statistics that link stress and inflammation to nearly every human ailment say you probably do. Unbalanced cortisol levels have been scientifically linked to heart disease, diabetes, immune disorders, other hormonal problems (e.g., thyroid disorders), insomnia, depression, weight gain, and anxiety.
The pregnenalone steal: adrenal gland function and production of cortisol for stress and inflammation is such a high priority for the body that the adrenal glands will hog as much pregnenalone (the chemical building block of all hormones) as necessary, and this can cause a deficiency of other hormones.
The cause of this inflammation can be either systemic, which means that there are inflammatory chemicals circulating throughout your body, or specific to the lining of your intestinal tract. The primary cause of these types of inflammation is the Standard American Diet (SAD), and the overuse of anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics.
The Standard American Diet consists of 90% processed foods that are loaded with trans-fats and omega 6 oils. These substances cause the body to produce inflammatory chemicals which disrupt the body’s ability to function normally. These inflammatory chemicals can cause pain, trigger the production of cortisol, and even diminish the sensitivity of our cells to function normally. Thus, adult onset diabetes is the fastest growing disease in the United States.
The human intestinal tract comprises 60% of the body’s immune system. It is where 99% of the neurotransmitters that direct our mental functions are made, and has the total area size of a basketball court. Every other system in the human body has a direct link to the intestinal tract.
The intestinal tract becomes inflamed from taking too many anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin and ibuprofen), antibiotics, caffeine, alcohol, soda, foods containing large amounts of high fructose corn syrup, and processed foods including a lot of grains. All grains, including oatmeal and whole wheat bread, are loaded with inflammatory omega 6 oils.
As the intestinal tract becomes inflamed, the adrenal glands produce cortisol to reduce the inflammation, but the cortisol can never keep up with the dietary and drug abuse. Even worse, elevated levels of cortisol cause further damage to the intestinal tract and a vicious cycle is set in motion. Over time, the elevated levels of cortisol will make you feel stressed out and result in any number of disease processes. To review the effect of cortisol on specific health disorders, click here.