We all know that stress can lead to sleepless nights. But experts now believe it could be accountable for much more serious things. Find out how stress is affecting your body with our brief guide below.
Recent studies by Finnish researchers have found that the long-term effects of stress may be the biggest cause of Alzheimer’s Disease. When we are stressed, our blood pressure rises as a result of our heart beating faster, and the levels of cortisol in our blood stream also increase. Researchers found that patients with both high blood pressure and high cortisol levels were more than three times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease than patients without these symptoms.
In patients with either high blood pressure or high cortisol levels, the risk was more than twice as likely. Experts believe that once cortisol enters the brain it starts to kill off brain cells, leading to Alzheimer’s. This suggests that stress is one of the largest causes of the condition. In fact, cases of Alzheimer’s in the United States are now starting to appear in people in their forties and fifties – much younger than the expected age group to be affected by Alzheimer’s.
High blood pressure and heart disease
It is already proved that prolonged exposure to stress can lead to high blood pressure. But high blood pressure increases the risk of having a heart attack as the heart has to work harder to pump more blood around the body. Apart from raising your blood pressure, stress can also increase your risk of developing heart disease – clogged arteries and other conditions leading to a heart attack.
‘It is a little-known fact that 75 per cent of the ‘bad’ cholesterol in our bloodstream does not come from fatty or rich food but from cortisol. ‘Cholesterol is a by-product of cortisol, which is the extra glucose our body produces during times of stress.’ Extra cholesterol in our blood stream means the arteries are at a greater risk of becoming clogged up, raising your chances of developing heart disease and leading to a heart attack.
A new study has discovered that women actually respond to stress differently to men. The male reaction to stress is the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, but scientists from the University of California have found that women tend to respond by a ‘tend-and-befriend’ reaction instead. This means instead of gearing up to fight or run away from our enemies, women under stress nurture themselves and their young (‘tending’) and form alliances with others (‘befriending’). This means you are more likely to call friends and family for support during times of stress rather than trying to deal with it alone.
The researchers found that females under stress released more of the chemical oxytocin into their bloodstream. Oxytocin is a bonding chemical released during orgasm and childbirth, but conversely, it can also inhibit your fertility. Researchers believe that too much oxytocin in your blood stream can interrupt your menstrual cycle, reducing your chances of conceiving naturally, and may even be linked to miscarriage. So although you may be dealing with stress more effectively than a man, you could be storing up problems for your health in the future. ‘If you find out you are pregnant, give up work three months before your due date to cut the levels of these stress hormones in your bloodstream,’ advises John Clark. Studies from America have found that infertile women with raised stress hormones were 40 per cent more likely to conceive once they had given up, or scaled down, their work responsibilities.
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