Hi all. I've been posting about the link between chronic stress and high cortisol levels with eventual thyroid, adrenal fatigue, auto immune, blood pressure, gut, cardio-vascular and other chronic illnesses - and on some seemingly promising (but as yet early days) approaches to treating this i've been working with. That's lifestyle changes, using adaptogens like phosphorylated serine and rhodiola etc. (see earlier posts - 'cortisol' is a good search word)
This is to post links to some more interesting material (below), and to keep the topic on the radar. It seems likely that chronic stress underlies many of our modern illnesses - but that given how cranked up most of us are that we don't recognise this. (we basically don't know what it feels like to be properly relaxed)
The essential issue seems to be that far from 'toughening us up' as it suited generations of parents and/or teachers and all sorts of people in authority to think, the effect of chronic stress is to cause a dysfunctional programming of the link from the brain to the pituitary and adrenal glands (the HPA axis) that eventually results in excessive responses to relatively minor stress. i.e. we do develop an enhanced/exaggerated short term response to stress, but at the cost of major issues of longer term health and well being.
This it seems happens as a result of (among other stuff) the adaptive growth/loss of hormone receptors that respond to the chemical triggers involved, and the shutting off of others involved in compensating calming responses.
The good news seems to be that while it can take quite a lot of time (maybe years) and may be limited by our make-up (the genetically and especially the developmentally determined set up of our individual systems) that in quite a few cases it's possible to largely reverese this programming. That's to re-programme the HPA to respond more normally.
There are strictly physical/disease based reasons why we can suffer from chronically raised levels of cortisols too - growths of one sort or another on the pituitary or adrenals for example.
It seems likely that quite a few of us are in the former place though - where after many years of stress we've developed HPA dysfunction, and are by now lumbered with chronically high stress and consequent high cortisol levels. Or with adrenal exhaustion caused by this...
Pre-birth and early life environment play a large part in determining how the various systems involved develop too - many of us seem to have ended up with unfortunately less than optimal wiring of the relevant hardware. With a reduced ability to cope with stress that is...
The first step in treating any of these issues is to avoid the circumstances giving rise to the stress that bothers us - whether emotional, physical exertion, dietary, health or whatever.
I thought i'd point to some additional (but ad-hoc, informal and definitely non medical - so apply your own judgement) communities of people working with these or similar issues:
1. The elite athlete/endurance/heavy duty physical training brigade have found they can run into this same problem (that over training over stresses the body, and can lead to HPA axis dysfunction and chronic stress), and have developed a high level of interest in re-programming to sort these problems: e.g. bengreenfieldfitness.com/20...
Given that the rate of recovery between training sessions is a central issue in athletic performance it seems likely that sports medicine is taking more than a passing interest in the topic. (never mind that the basic message the scenario sends is that it's unwise to stress the body beynd a certain point)
2. No pages linked, because most of the material is ad hoc - but it seems also that similar problems arise as a result of the long term mis-use of benzodiazepines. That's valium and the like - these drugs have potentially very nasty side effects. They can create a similar dysfunction of the HPA axis that can take years to resolve - with levels of cortisol etc so high that the resulting anxiety and depression can be incapacitiating. There's quite sizeable benzo self help groups out there with a strong interest in methods for the re-programming of dysfunctions in the HPA axis. e.g. benzobuddies.com The recovery stories can be scary.....
3. Foetal programming (conditions in the womb) and shortly after birth play a large part in determining the 'set up' of our personal stress handling and endocrine systems. Many of us may well be experincing problems going back this far. This paper summarising research and findings on the topic is pretty sobering: tiny.cc/o77g4w
Here's hoping some of this may help with insight, and that it will inspire some to dig some more.