Stress is powerful! Acute stress leads to increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, lost appetite, and on a more primitive note: increased sight and boosted energy, via release of the hormone cortisol. This hormone is released in the presence of stressful stimuli as the classic ‘fight or flee’ response. While acute stress and increased cortisol secretion is a necessary and useful hormone function, do you ever wonder what exactly is going on when your body reacts to stress?
Check out a brief synopsis of how cortisol impacts each of the following organs.
- Brain: Cortisol impairs serotonin transmission (one of our ‘feel good’ brain hormones) in the brain, and can lead to depression.
- Heart: Cortisol increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate, acutely, and chronic exposure can increase heart disease risk.
- Pancreas: Stress increases food cravings, and we’re more likely to make poor food choices. Also, cortisol increases insulin resistance (making our insulin less effective at binding and managing our blood sugar), which can increase risk for diabetes.
- Immune System: Cortisol decreases the immune response - this is actually a protective mechanism, but chronic stress suppresses immune response and makes us more susceptible to infections.
- Thyroid: Stress leads to an inflammatory response that suppresses communication of the brain and thyroid gland, and decreases conversion to the active thyroid hormones.
- Stomach: Cortisol suppresses our ‘rest and digest’ function, leading to difficulty digesting food. Stress is also a factor in conditions of the gut, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
- Reproductive System: High cortisol can block progesterone from binding and can contribute to PMS or infertility.
Stay tuned as our next article will include information on the most supportive supplements and lifestyle modifications for curbing your stress response!
Sarah Silverman, ND