The surprising effects of stress on our health
 23 July 2015

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   A little due to the excess of tension at work or in studies, partly due to economic problems or difficult interpersonal relationships, most people live their lives in a stressed way. Not only that, but we have become so used to stress that it is now an integral part of our lives.

    Furthermore, the fact that we are aware that stress causes difficulty in falling asleep, headaches and possible depression does not surprise us, because it is something we have already accepted. In fact, stress can be even more dangerous than you think.

Stress is not always bad

   We need to know that stress is not always negative: everyone has noticed that, at least once in a lifetime, in a pressured environment, stress has been helpful to achieve better results. This is due to the brain's response to fight or flight when it detects a threat: soon, it releases hormones that allow us to protect ourselves from the perceived danger.

   The problematic aspect of all this is when this fight or flight response is exaggerated or poorly channeled. According to our genetic heritage, we are beings made for action and movement; however, it is clear that we cannot escape as if a lion was chasing us in the savannah when, in reality, we are in the middle of a meeting. The best thing to do, which reveals an adaptive spirit, is to try to stay calm and make the mind work.

   This contradiction between our biological heritage and the behavior demanded by today's society is what turns stress into something really dangerous, because it literally drives our bodies crazy. We spend the day activating it and then braking it suddenly, consuming a lot of energy.

The surprising implications of health stress

   As we have already said, some of the most known consequences of stress are the absence of sleep, headaches, anxiety and depression. However, scholars are increasingly finding negative effects of stress on health.

stress and health 

Stress is harmful to heart health

   Stress can lead to behaviors that have negative consequences on heart health. A recent study has revealed that there is a link between working all day and drinking alcohol: according to experts, this is due to the belief that drinking alcohol is a relief against stress at work.

   Other people, in response to stress, smoke or eat more than they should, which can lead to obesity. All these factors are a threat to heart health: due to the increase in blood pressure, damage can occur to the walls of the arteries.

   Another study shows that stress is also able to reduce blood flow to the heart, especially in women: according to experts, stressed women are three times more likely to see the flow of coronary heart disease reduced blood, compared with stressed men.

   Stress is also connected with a greater risk of suffering from a heart attack. In 2012, a study showed that stress at work can increase the risk of having a heart attack by 23%; another study says that the accumulation of moments of intense anger or anxiety increases the chances of suffering from a heart attack by 9 times.

   Even after a heart attack, stress can continue to cause damage to health: for example, women, after a heart attack, experience higher levels of mental stress and, therefore, recover more slowly.

Stress and diabetes

   Stress increases the risk of suffering from diabetes. A recent study revealed that women with post-traumatic stress symptoms have a greater tendency to develop type 2 diabetes than women who have not experienced this type of symptoms. A possible explanation is the fact that periods of stress increase the production of cortisol, a hormone capable of increasing the amount of glucose in the blood, which implies the risk of suffering from diabetes.

    As for people who are already suffering from diabetes, stress can cause this disease to be handled even more problematically: apart from interfering with stress hormones and increasing blood glucose levels, stressed diabetic patients do not they are able to take care of themselves.

Stress speeds up the development of Alzheimer's disease

   Although the exact causes of Alzheimer's disease are not clear, several studies claim that stress can contribute to the development of this disease.

   A 2013 study shows that, in mice, high levels of stress hormones in the brain lead to greater amounts of beta-amyloid plaques, or proteins that play a decisive role in the growth of Alzheimer's disease.

    Another study dating back to 2010 shows that women with high blood pressure or high cortisol levels have chances to develop Alzheimer's 3 times higher than patients who did not experience those symptoms.

    A more recent study suggests that anxiety could accelerate the progress of Alzheimer's in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment.

Stress causes fertility problems

   A recent study indicates that stress in men can lead to a decrease in sperm quality, which can have a negative impact on fertility. The researchers hypothesized that stress can cause the release of glucocorticoids, that is, steroid hormones that affect the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This could reduce testosterone levels and therefore sperm production in men.

   Regarding fertility problems related to female stress, a 2014 study showed that women with high levels of alpha-amylase, a saliva enzyme associated with stress, have 29% less chance of getting pregnant , compared to women with lower levels of this enzyme. Furthermore, these women are also twice as likely to be infertile.

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