, Gloucester, MA

October 5, 2012

Tired, gaining weight? It could be stress

On the Mend Joe DiVincenzo
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — It’s a well documented and widely accepted fact — stress is not good for your body.

Stress has been around since the beginning of human existence, and although you may not frequently find yourself being chased by hungry prehistoric animals, stressful situations cause the same physiologic responses they did thousands of years ago.

Our bodies and minds are wired for stress in the same way they were during the times of our ancestors. The “stress reflex” is an innately primitive response to a dangerous mental or physical situation and is the primary mechanism by which our autonomic nervous system functions to deal with threatening or harmful situations.

You often hear people say, “He or she is under a lot of stress,” and understand the implied negative connotation associated with it. But do you really know what stress does to the body?

If your nervous system is compelling you to read on, do so at your own risk — it could be stressful.

Stress can cause loose stools. The hormone cortisol is released during stressful periods and can wreak havoc on your digestive tract. It’s the reason why you may have had the sudden urge to run to the bathroom before a big event, meeting or test. Be careful though, too much cortisol can give you irritable bowel syndrome which tends to hang around for a while.

Stress can cause impotence in men and a loss of libido in women. A hard day at the office, family problems and mounting bills are all enough to gravely affect performance in the bedroom. And ironically, poor sexual performance leads to more stress; it’s unfortunate but very true.

Stress can make you fat. Weight gain during periods of stress without any change in diet (in fact, you could be eating less than normal) is a commonly recorded phenomenon. Your digestive system slows tremendously, which makes processing what you eat much more difficult. As a result, sugar levels spike and our bodies increase fat storage to accommodate the unused products. Furthermore, cortisol is directly related to belly fat which in turn leads to heart disease.

High blood pressure is inevitable if you’re constantly under stress. A steady elevation in blood pressure can cause a myriad of health problems, the worst of which is a stroke. Don’t let its commonplace in our society fool you into thinking it’s not a problem — see your doctor and do what you can to lower your stress levels before there’s a serious event.

Chronic fatigue and exhaustion are among a number of problems related to low energy and are a common side effect of long periods of elevated stress. Prolonged exposure to cortisol and adrenalin makes it difficult to participate in normal activities, essentially leaving you without the drive to do anything but sit on the couch at the end of the day, which of course, worsens the problem.

Many doctors think that adrenal exhaustion is the driving force behind scores of chronic medical problems. The adrenal glands produce hormones such as adrenaline that are meant to act in short bursts for seconds at a time. Having a constant, low level of adrenaline in the blood stream causes damage to various organ systems and could be the reason behind a number of difficult-to-diagnose cases of organ dysfunction.

Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes “On the Mend” weekly. Questions may be submitted by email to