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Stress is the #1 Cause of Death in the World: Learn How It Effects Your Body and Leads to Disease

Stress is the number one cause of death

According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. And more than 75 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Below is a list of the major functioning systems of the body and how stress affects them.

The Nervous System

The nervous system is split into two main parts, parasympathetic and sympathetic. When stressed, your physical state shifts from the more relaxed, parasympathetic state to “fight or flight,” the more active, sympathetic state. In fight or flight, the adrenal glands are stimulated to release adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol blocks insulin, narrows arteries to increase heart rate, and reduces inflammation, but over-active nervous systems cause chronically elevated cortisol levels, resulting in high blood sugar levels, increased risk of heart attack, and a suppressed immune system.

The Musculoskeletal System

Tension could be a synonym for stress. Over-extended stress, or tension, in the muscles can cause migraines, soreness, and other various musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain. Back pain is the single leading cause of disability in the U.S., affecting over 25 million people. Tense muscles may press against the vertebrae and supporting structures to cause chronic pain. When muscles remain in a constant state of tension, blood pressure rises, placing additional stress on arteries, blood vessels, and organs, possibly leading to stroke. Muscle tension can also put undue pressure on the intestines and stomach, restricting bowel movements and many people who experience chronic muscle tension also report indigestion and constipation.

The Respiratory System

Stress can trigger heavy, rapid, and shallow breathing, or hyperventilation, causing panic attacks. Breathing at a higher rate reduces carbon dioxide in the blood, leading to mild to severe cases of respiratory alkalosis, or increased blood ph levels. This can manifest as conditions like fainting, mood swings, aches, and pains.

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The Cardiovascular System

Stress causes an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscle with the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol acting as messengers for these effects. Blood vessels then dilate, thereby increasing the amount of blood pumped throughout the body and elevating blood pressure. This is also known as the fight or flight response. An increase in breathing and heart rate can create much tension on the heart, dilated arteries put under pressure from muscular tension increases blood pressure even more, possibly resulting in cardiac arrest.

The Endocrine System

Under stress, the brain sends signals from the hypothalamus, causing the adrenal complex to release cortisol and epinephrine. When released, cortisol and epinephrine trigger the liver to produce more glucose, a blood sugar, to flood the body with as an immediate fuel source. For most, if you don’t use the extra glucose, the body is able to reabsorb it, even if you’re repeatedly stressed. But for some people, those vulnerable to type 2 diabetes, that extra blood sugar can lead to diabetes.

The Gastrointestinal System

The brain and the gut are connected and constantly in communication. Also known as the intrinsic nervous system, more neurons reside in the gut than in the entire spinal cord, according to research published in the book Neuroscience. With over 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus to the rectum, the intrinsic nervous system regulates digestive processes such as swallowing, the release of enzymes to break down food, and the categorization of nutrients or waste products. Chronic stress levels can affect the digestive system by increasing stomach acid levels causing indigestion or may induce diarrhea, constipation, or nausea. In more serious cases, stress may cause a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, which could lead to cramping, inflammation, or an imbalance of gut bacteria. Any of these ailments can magnify gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome(IBS), inflammatory bowel disease(IBD), peptic ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD).

Stress' effects on the reproductive system

The Reproductive System

Stress increases activity levels of a reproductive hormone named gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone(GnIH) in the brain. GnIH inhibits the body’s main sex hormone, gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), and subsequently suppresses sperm count, ovulation and sexual activity. Not only does cortisol suppress GnRH on its own, but also increases GnIH, which also serves to suppress GnRH – a double whammy for the reproductive system

Ways to Cope with Stress

Because stress impacts life to such an extent, stress management should become a daily practice, one as essential as eating. Check out these articles for helpful ways to deal with stress:

5 Science-Backed Herbs for Stress

7 Deep Breathing Exercises for Stress and Anxiety

Each of us has the responsibility to be stewards of our world. Something as simple as sharing knowledge can have a huge impact.

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