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Stress is linked to an enormous amount of illnesses from obesity to infertility. To fully understand and treat stress, we need to understand how and why it evolved. What purpose did it serve our ancestors? and is the stress response required today, in our modern human society?
The stress response mechanism evolved on the plains of Africa tens of millions of years ago. Its purpose back then was quite simple, to keep us alive, to protect us from predators whose goal was to kill and eat us.
Due to this most primitive function, self preservation, the way our bodies are effected by the stress response are extreme. When our ancestors on the plains of Africa were in mortal danger, the basics to survival were all that mattered. After an encounter on the plains, there was one of two possible outcomes. Either the encounter was over with, and you survived, or you were over with.
When our ancestors came face to face with death, this automatically triggered the release of massive quantities of two hormones from our adrenal gland. Adrenaline and Glucocorticoid.
When fighting for survival, the basics of life are all that matter. The first thing the body does is to shut off anything thats not essential, such as growth, tissue repair, the immune system, reproduction (if your running for your life, its no time to ovulate), also, the digestive system shuts down and we stop salivating (our mouth dries out). All resources are diverted to the heart, lungs and muscles, which gives us the best chances of escaping.
Adrenaline: This hormone causes the lungs to work overtime, pulling huge quantities of oxygen rich air into the lungs. This provides an increased amount of fuel, which will be required to drive the heart and leg muscles.
Adrenaline also increases the heart rate. This causes the heart to pump faster, which results in pumping more oxygen(fuel) rich blood to the muscles, where it is needed. This increased heart rate provides a ready supply of fuel for our muscles, heart and lungs.
Glucocorticoid: This hormone stimulates fat breakdown in adipose tissue. The fatty acids released are used for production of energy in tissues like the muscles. This release of fatty acids provides a ready supply of energy, which will be required to keep the heart and lungs working at maximum capacity.
The stress response has changed very little over time. The exact same stress response is found when a Zebra is attacked by a Lion. Adrenaline and Glucocorticoid are released in massive quantities, which maximizes the Zebras chance’s of survival.
If a Zebra manages to escape , the Zebra’s body turns off this stress response after five minutes, and gets back to normal daily activities.
The exact same stress response mechanism is triggered in humans, and not for a life or death situation (like the zebra), but for purely psychological reasons. Even thinking about paying your tax’s or worrying about repaying your mortgage can trigger the same life or death flow of hormones as seen when zebra’s stress response is activated. By not turning off the stress response, we wallow in a corrosive bath of hormones. We hyperventilate, our hearts pound and our muscles tense up.
Stress was originally designed to protect us in a life or death situation, but in todays society, ironically, the stress response is more damaging than the stress itself, which is usually caused by some psychological nonsense like worrying about moving house, or being stuck in traffic.
Humans and animals have one fundamental difference, Zebra’s can turn off the stress response after 5 minutes, where as chronic worry in Humans keeps these hormones surging through our system for days on end.
Chronic Stress has been linked to:
+ Heart Disease
+ Immune dysfunction
+ Learning disorders
+ Irritable Bowel Syndrome
+ Stomach Ulcers
Chronic Stress has now been discovered to:
+ Kill brain cells
+ Shrink brains
+ Add fat to our belly’s
+ Unravel our chromosomes
Author: Garvan J. Lynch
M.B.A. D.I.C. B.Sc. (hons) Pharm. M.R.Pharm.S. M.P.S.I. B.Sc. (Hons) M.R.S.C. B.Sc. (Gen) N.U.I.