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The Effects of Stress

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Our bodies are designed to handle variations from diet, exercise, stress and weight. It regularly produces assorted hormones for a period of time to take care of these situations. All this is a normal cycle for the body.


The challenge is when that stressor continues for a prolonged period of time. This causes the body to overproduce hormones, thus stressing the entire system, breaking down cells, tissues, and organs.

When our body undergoes a stress, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline aka epinephrine. This hormone stimulates the heart muscle, alters the rate of blood flow, and raises basal metabolic rate. This is known as the fight or flight syndrome. Epinephrine also prompts the secretion of glucagon by the pancreas, causing the release of nutrients from storage. The steroid hormone cortisol is also produced. It enhances protein degradation, which raises amino acid levels in the blood so that they become available for conversion of glucose. The two other hormones induced by stress, aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone both help to maintain blood volume.[1]

Epinephrine does not stick around very long in the body however, when stress is prolonged, cortisol does. This hormone will affect the body in many detrimental ways. [2]Excess cortisol will:

• Decrease metabolism by inhibiting thyroid function
• Depletes protein in the muscles, bones, connective tissue and skin which can cause fatigue, weakness, thinning of the bones, and bruising
• Decreases the production of androgens and growth hormones which build muscles
• Can cause insulin resistance[3]
• Increase fat accumulation, especially in the belly
• Increase appetite and carbohydrate cravings
• Will cause depression, anxiety, and mood swings

Is cortisol related to abdominal obesity?

“Yes. There is a link between high cortisol levels and storage of body fat, particularly “visceral” abdominal body fat (also known as intra-abdominal fat). Visceral fat is stored deeper in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs, whereas “regular” fat is stored below the skin (known as subcutaneous fat).

Add a Comment5 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

If you're interested in a new approach to reducing stress, you might want to check out Deepak Chopra's new stress reducing program; it’s a first of its kind iPhone application implementing a comprehensive program to remove stress from daily life.

December 24, 2009 - 11:13am
EmpowHER Guest

I just found your site and it is great. Our thoughts and our nutrition can be our best healers. Thanks so much for the great writing and insights. Courtney_182 http://www.shiftshappen-site.com

October 7, 2009 - 4:56pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Hi Courtney- Thanks for the comment. Just had a look at your site... great name by the way... you are doing some great work! Julie

October 8, 2009 - 9:25am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Julie - Thank you so much for this thorough, comprehensive look at the effects of stress, and what we can do to deal with it. I know a lot of people have experienced high stress levels from the economy in the past couple of years, and when health problems have followed, the stress levels sometimes have been extreme. I especially appreciated the information on maintaining a healthy diet to combat stressful situations - it truly does make a difference. Again, thank you! Pat

October 6, 2009 - 6:24pm
(reply to Pat Elliott)

Pat- Thank you for your feedback! I just had a look at your background and I commend you on all you have professionally accomplished and your courage with personal challenges. I do feel eating is such a big piece of the health puzzle and am working on ways to get this out there more. Given your background, any thoughts would be most appreciated! All the best, Julie

October 8, 2009 - 9:23am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.