When stress takes over our lives, it can be damaging to our health. Stress not only weakens our immune system, but it also affects our skin’s barrier function. The skin’s barrier function is important for regulating the balance of water and temperature of our skin as well as blocking the entry of microorganisms.
Chronic stress activates the so-called HPA axis, which is the connection between the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain and the adrenal glands on the kidneys. Activation of the HPA axis by stress leads to higher levels of the stress hormones corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol, which have a profound effect on our health, skin and brain.
The HPA axis is kept balanced by neurotransmitters such as serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine. However, if the HPA axis gets chronically stimulated by stress, a major imbalance in neurotransmitters can result and may lead to the development of anxiety and depression.
Research suggests that the breakdown of the skin’s barrier function (or matrix degeneration) in combination with excessive exposure to the sun, forms a central part of rosacea development. A breakdown of the collagen fibers is thought to play a major part in the degeneration of the skin’s matrix. Poor connective tissue support for blood vessels just underneath the skin can therefore result in the pooling of serum, metabolic waste and immune mediators, which over time leads to more flushing, edema, chronic erythema and telangiestacias. The involvement of a matrix breakdown in rosacea is likely, because blood vessels in rosacea are still able to respond to vasoactive substances.
An out-of-balance HPA axis (particularly prominent in depression and anxiety), results in high levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH has been shown to increase the permeability of peripheral blood vessels through the stimulation of mast cells, which in turn release immune mediators such as histamine and nitric oxide.
Anti-depressant drugs are thought to “calm” an over-active HPA axis by increasing the availability of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline.
Therefore, the use of antidepressants for a prolonged period of time may reduce the severity of rosacea symptoms. Reducing stress levels in our lives could have a significant impact on the progression and stabilization of rosacea symptoms.
Fimmel S. et al. (2008) New aspects of the pathogenesis of rosacea. Drug Discovery Today: Disease Mechanisms 5: 103-111.
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