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Dr. Wendie Trubow

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Why Stress Matters

Posted: 02/25/2013 2:03 pm

We recently talked about breathing and the effect it can have on revving you up or calming you down. But does breathing in a way that decreases stress really matter? Yeah, actually it does. Because, you see, our bodies are designed to react to everything that is going on around us, in order to keep us from being eaten by that lion that is chasing us.

Except that, in today's world, there are very few lions to worry about! But instead, there are financial, family, job, friend, health, political, and life stressors that act just like that lion in terms of the stress they cause us. And unfortunately, our bodies have very little ability to distinguish the difference between the danger of an oncoming bus and the stress caused by a toxic family member.

So in this portion of the lifestyle change series, we're going to explore stress, the different organs it affects, how those organs are affected and what you can actually do about it. Most of it is really cool, some of it is downright creepy and much of it is fixable -- meaning, you have the ability to turn on or off these innate reactions based on a number of factors, which we'll explore.

Now, in small doses, or limited time frames, stress is amazing! You'll think more clearly, your reaction times will decrease and you'll have more blood flow going to your legs so that you can run faster. In the long term, however, those same responses can cause you to gain excess weight in your midsection (think apple-shaped body), impair your digestion, increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes, mess with fertility and inhibit your ability sleep. There are tons more of stress-related problems, but I don't want to scare you off! (Don't forget, it's fixable...)

OK, a little background. Stress hormones are released from two tiny little organs called the adrenals. They "live" on top of your kidneys, located on either side of your body in your mid/upper back area. The adrenals are responsible for hormones that modulate: stress, salt and sex.

When you have a stressful thought, your adrenals react, sending out hormones and signals to your body to act/react in a certain way. Having a particularly tough week, and feel a complete lack of sex drive? Yup, those are the adrenals working.

Most of the time, we don't even think about these little glands, but they play a critical role in health, digestion, weight management, sleep, libido and immune function. In the coming weeks, we'll explore the damage that stress can do to your body and ways you can repair it and avoid it altogether.

My husband's favorite thing to say to his patients is that he wants them to be "healthy, vital and able to have sex 'til they are 100 years old." It's possible, really it is! But it's going to take valuing your body and lifestyle in the same way you value your car. In order to work properly, your car needs to be re-fueled and serviced regularly. And so do you!

References:

1. Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion (Plattsburgh, N.Y.: F.P. Allen, 1833)

2. "Mechanisms of cortisol-induced hypertension in humans", Steroids 60 (1995): 76

3. "Atherosclerosis" Nature 407 (2000): 233

4. "Alterations in carbohydrate metabolism during stress: a review of the literature," American Journal of Medicine 98 (1995): 75

5. "Cortisol-induced insulin resistance in man: impaired suppression of glucose production and stimulation of glucose utilization due to a postreceptor defect of insulin action," Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 54 (1982): 131

6. "Insulin resistance of stress: sites and mechanisms," Clinical Science 85 (1993): 525

7. "Luteinizing-hormone-releasing hormone, gonadotropins, and gonadal steroids in stress," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 771 (1995): 187

8. "Stress and other environmental factors affecting fertility in men and women: overview," Environmental Health Perspectives 101 (1993): S2, 59

For more by Wendie Trubow, click here.

For more on stress, click here.

 
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