NEBRASKA, United States, Wednesday April 8, 2015 – Most people are familiar with the role of stress in elevating blood pressure and raising the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Less well known is the fact that prolonged periods of stress – due to difficulties associated with work, finances, or relationships, for instance – can inhibit the immune system, lowering resistance to infection and retarding recovery; weaken bones, and even encourage unhealthy diet choices.
Ironically, limited periods of stress are beneficial, as they release the hormone cortisol which is useful in assisting recovery from very tense situations. Too much stress is nevertheless harmful in a variety of ways.
The science of stress was explained in a video by Dr Raychelle Burks from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for the American Chemical Society.
While stress isn’t the only reason that cortisol is secreted into the bloodstream, it is known as the “stress hormone” as it is released when the body is in “fight or flight” mode.
As Dr Burks explains, when you encounter a stressful situation “your body will start releasing [the hormones] adrenaline and norophonefrin within seconds to prepare you to fight – or more likely, take flight.”
After a minute or two your body is flooded with cortisol, which is vital in keeping you healthy in tense situations. It puts more glucose into your bloodstream so that when the adrenaline is gone you don’t crash.
“It also kicks your liver into gear, pumping out the extra glucose that’s now sloshing around inside of you,” added Dr Burks.
While cortisol is present in the body at higher levels in the morning, and at its lowest at night, it can have negative effects whatever the time of day if stress persists over a prolonged period, however.
“Cortisol inhibits some of your immune responses, meaning you’re more likely to get sick and it takes longer for wounds to heal,” Dr Burks revealed.
“Cortisol also slows bone growth, meaning sustained levels can lead to weaker, more fragile bones.
“And because cortisol acts on a part of your brain that controls appetite, it also increases your desire for fatty and sugary foods,” she continued.
Dr Burks recommends eating healthy food, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising to help beat stress.