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How Stress Causes Sickness

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Stress causes sickness in womenMany people think that illnesses are the result of bacteria or viruses but new medical research has shown that stress can also affect the body. Stress causes sickness in women especially if they are between 40 and 60 years of age. A new population study done at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden has found a clear link between perceived stress and the prevalence of physical complaints.

In the study, around 1,500 middle-aged women who were representative of the female population of Gothenburg in Sweden, underwent a medical examination and were asked questions about factors such as their health. These women have been followed up on a regular basis from 1968/69 until the most recent follow-up in 2009/10. The new study analyzed physical and mental diseases as well as health, social and psychological circumstances and data regarding food and dental health.

The study researchers found that among those women who reported stress, 40 percent of them had psychosomatic symptoms in the form of aches and pains in their muscles and joints, 28 percent suffered from headaches or migraines and the same proportion reported gastrointestinal complaints.

The new study also found that 1 in 5 middle-aged women study subjects had experienced constant and frequent stress during the last 5 years. The experience of stress is highest within the 40 to 60 age range and those women who were stressed were often single and/or smokers.

Cecilia Bjørkelund, a general practitioner and professor in the Department of Primary Health Care, Institute of Medicine, at the University of Gothenburg and one of the principal investigators of the new study, thinks that the increase in stress among middle-aged women may result when today’s women simultaneously prioritize both outside jobs and family.

Long-Term Stress Causes Sickness

Interestingly, the new study has found that stress does not lead to an increased risk of an early death. In other words, the new study has found NO evidence that stress increases the risk of premature death over the 37 years of follow up.

According to Dominique Hange, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg and one of the authors of the study, the most important conclusion of the new study is that single women, women who do not work outside the home and women who smoke are particularly vulnerable to stress.

How Stress Affects Women

There is a natural anti-stress hormone known as oxytocin. It is produced by women during breastfeeding, childbirth and is greatly enhanced by estrogen. This is helpful for women because it is boosted when women engage in nurturing activities. However, women need more oxytocin than men do to ensure proper emotional health. Because of this, women have an enhanced negative effect when they’re not touched.

One of the pathways through which oxytocin has an active role is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress ResponseSM. When our bodies go through stressful situations, there are a vast array of chemical and physical responses that take place. The NEM Stress Response is representative of the entire circuitry of our body’s defense system. Now, it’s a good thing when the body reacts to dangerous external factors and its response keeps us safe. However, prolonged exposure to the hormones that are released during the NEM Stress Response can cause long term problems.

NEM and Adrenal Fatigue

Stress causes sickness if left uncheckedAdrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) can occur in anyone who experiences stress over long periods of time. When someone is experiencing AFS, it is common that their bodies can no longer produce enough hormones to combat stress because of what is called adrenal exhaustion. This is one of the ways that stress causes sickness.

Because hormones are the catalysts which our bodies use to control everything from nutrient uptake to inflammatory response and stress disrupts the normal production and excretion of hormones, stress causes sickness. This is important when relating to the issue of AFS because, when we are continually stressed, inflammation can run rampant throughout the body.

Inflammation is one of the single greatest causes of chronic pain, tiredness, and can lead to maldigestion. A vicious cycle takes place when our bodies have high levels of inflammation, caused by stress.

When the NEM Stress Response system is overworked, damaging hormones like cortisol are released in excess and our immune systems are compromised. Using techniques to reduce stress levels can have a large impact when attempting to recover from AFS. There is a multifaceted effect when balancing the body’s adrenal health. Not only can you experience higher levels of energy and help to limit chronic sickness, but, in the same cyclical method that the body degenerates from AFS and high stress, the body can progress into recovery. It’s never too late to begin to make choices to put yourself on the road to recovery, it’s just something that has to be done one step at a time.

© Copyright 2014-2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Stress causes sickness in women

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