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How stress destroys the body

Stress can affect the brain, heart, respiratory system, immune system and cause underlying medical conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Each person manifests stress differently, some with tremors or heart palpitations, while others experience muscle tension, headaches or stomachaches. The physiological response to stress can have profound and potential consequences for every organ in the body.

When faced with stress, the brain triggers the release of a series of hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine, causing physiological changes. Those changes, known as the defensive or flight response, help people respond to immediate threats or dangers.

However, these reactions occur even when the body is not facing life-threatening situations, such as work pressure, traffic jams, financial burdens, family conflicts. Over time, the defensive response itself takes a toll on the body and mind.

“Everyone is well aware of the major stressors, but often overlooks the small, cumulative, gradually damaging pressures,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, University of Ohio State University, said.

According to experts, first of all, this condition damages the brain. Acute forms of stress, such as work pressure or conflict with a loved one, are beneficial in the short term. They cause the brain to secrete hormones (such as cortisol), create personal motivation, increase focus and work efficiency, said Wendy Suzuki, professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, said.

However, prolonged, high cortisol levels associated with chronic stress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can damage the hippocampus region of the brain, which is important for long-term memory function. . Long-term increases in cortisol can also damage the prefrontal cortex, which is essential for focus and executive function. This is the area that allows people to plan, organize, problem solve, think flexibly, and control impulses.

Stress also affects Heart, causing heart rate and blood pressure to increase. At this point, the body is put into a “fight or flight” state. After the feeling of stress subsides, this function returns to its normal state. However, this is not always the case in practice, especially for people with chronic stress.

“Together, they clog arterial plaques, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke,” said Ahmed Tawakol, director of the Department of Nuclear Cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Over time, stress narrows blood vessels, increasing the risk of blood clots or cardiovascular events. A person experiencing acute stress and chronic stress at the same time could have a heart attack or stroke, says Dr. Tawakol.

Stress affects the brain.  Photo: Freepik

Stress affects the brain. Image: Freepik

For Respiratory system, the sympathetic nervous system is overactive and the hormones are released which can lead to shortness of breath. This affects the transport of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, causing rapid and shallow breathing, explains Neil Schachter, a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

Both acute and chronic stress trigger asthma attacks or worsen chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Research in the 2017 edition of the journal Respiratory Medicine showed that both active stressors (such as work or school) and passive stressors (such as watching a horror movie) can both activate the sympathetic nervous system. Passive stress causes mild bronchospasm in people with asthma.

During times of stress, the hormone cortisol will mess up Immune System. The first is due to inflammation, which is at the root of many different diseases, including heart disease and dementia.

“When stressed, the body releases anti-inflammatory cytokines (proteins that affect the immune system),” says Kiecolt-Glaser.

While short-term inflammation helps the body heal itself, severe or chronic inflammation can kill healthy cells, leaving a person more susceptible to infection, less responsive to vaccines, and slow to heal. love.

Released inflammatory cytokines can travel to the brain and increase the risk of depression.

Stress reduces peristalsis gastrointestinal (slows excretion), causes nausea, bloating, or constipation, says Cindy Yoshida, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia Health System.

Stress also leads to changes in the gut microbiome, affecting microbial diversity as well as gut barrier function. This means that bacterial by-products from food can leak out of the digestive tract and into the circulatory system, which in turn triggers an inflammatory and hormonal response.

These changes exacerbate irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Research in the journal PLOS One in 2020 shows that psychological stress is linked to Crohn’s disease (chronic transmural enteritis) and ulcerative colitis.

Stress can affect skin. In fact, the skin is an active organ, has its own immune system and interacts with the brain from time to time. During times of stress, the skin’s immune system is activated, promoting inflammation, leading to skin diseases such as rosacea, psoriasis, rashes and eczema.

According to Joshua Zeichner, an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, stress can interfere with the skin’s ability to retain water. The flow of stress hormones secreted promotes the sebaceous glands in the skin, causing clogged pores, producing acne.

Regular exercise, deep and sufficient sleep, and good mood management can reduce the brain’s feelings of stress. Professor Tawakol recommends deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga or aerobics. These exercises help calm the body’s response.

Thuc Linh (According to Washington Post)

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