Stress: The Modern Disease

Did you know 75%-90% of human diseases are linked to stress? Physiological stress is the body’s response to a challenge or threat whether it be physical or psychological. When the human body responds to stress, it activates the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. These two mechanisms are activated to protect us from the perceived stressor. However, chronic activation of these mechanisms secondary to exposure to stress cause disruption of neurochemical, neurotransmitter, and hormonal homeostasis leading to many diseases.

So why is stress a modern disease? Let's go back to when we lived in a hunter-gatherer society. Imagine you are out hunting bison when all of a sudden a saber tooth tiger appears in your field of vision. You would feel a rush of adrenaline that increases your heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tone, you breathe faster and your pupils dilate making your body ready to fight or flight. This type of response to stress was a survival mechanism when we felt our lives were in danger. Even though it is now year 2018 and we are not being chased by saber tooth tigers, our response to stress still exists in our biology just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Modernization has dramatically increased our lifespan but it has also changed the nature of stress by rapid development of technology and science, and strong social, economic competition. Chronic exposure to stress are linked to cardiovascular diseases (high blood pressure, atherosclerosis), metabolic diseases (diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver), and psychotic/neurodegenerative disorders (depression, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson’s) and cancer. The constant disruption of hormones trying to regain balance from stress response causes these diseases and inflammation.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology, inflammation caused by stress is the pivotal pathophysiology to many stress-related diseases. Studies show stress can activate inflammatory response in the brain. The inflammatory responses release hormones suppress our immune system as well. There is growing evidence suppression of the immune system and inflammation of our tissues is the “common soil” of cardiovascular, metabolic, psychotic neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer.

In the modern life we live, we have an abundance of resources to manage stress in our everyday lives. A healthy balanced diet, exercise/meditation, regular sleep, balance of work and personal life, and a supportive social life all play a role to manage our general wellness that effects our stress levels. Management of stress is crucial for the maintenance of your physical health.

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