Stress: Our Bodies’ Enemy
Our lives are filled with stress. Our body’s stress response is what helped our ancestors survive, enabling them to fight or flee from danger. But in today’s world, most stressors are psychological, rather than physical. Stress can have a positive effect on people’s job performance, for example an increase of adrenaline just prior to a presentation will give the speaker focus and energy. But stress more often than not has a negative effect on one’s life.
During “fight-or-flight” situations, the blood flow is directed to areas of the body considered vital for responding to the stress. The problem with the stress response is that the more it is activated, the harder it becomes to shut off. Instead of leveling off once the crisis has passed, our stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure remain elevated.
Extended or repeated activation of the stress response takes a heavy toll on the body. Stress causes damage to the cardiovascular system and suppression of our immune system, which compromises one’s ability to fight off disease and infection.
Effect of Stress on the Skin Barrier
Stress can cause damaging effects to our skin as well. Recent studies in mice shed new light on the effects of psychological stress on skin function. Researchers showed that in response to high levels of stress, an increase of plasma glucucorticoids (steroid hormones secreted by the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys) caused a deterioration of the skin’s barrier function.
Since the skin is extremely important in regulating water retention and temperature, any deterioration of the skin barrier may have devastating consequences to the quality and appearance of the skin. Many skin disorders such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and rosacea have been linked to a compromised skin barrier function. When you add the effects of stress, the barrier is further compromised leading to an increase in visible symptoms such as inflammation.
Stress can also aggravate acne. Acne forms when oily secretions from the sebatious glands beneath the skin plug up the pores. An increase in the stress hormone corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) stimulates the sebatious glands, which can exacerbate oily skin, thus leading to acne.
Here are a few things you can do to limit the effects of stress on your overall health:
- Exercise regularly. Exercise improves blood flow, and muscle tone throughout your body, plus, it helps normalize blood sugar and hormone levels.
- Eat healthy: Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and avoid excessive levels of sugar, caffeine and junk foods. Proper nutrition is extremely important to keep stress hormones in check and to maintain a healthy immune system.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can increase the impact stress has on our health and well being, so be sure to get your seven to eight hours a night.
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Denda, M., Tsuchiya, T., Elias, P.M. and Feingold, K.R. (2000) Stress alters cutaneous permeability barrier homeostasis. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol278: R367-372.
Choi, E.H., Brown, B.E., Crumrine, D. et al. (2005) Mechanisms by which psychologic stress alters cutaneous permeability barrier homeostasis and stratum corneum integrity. J Invest Dermatol124:587-95.
Zouboulis, C.C., Seltmann, H., Hiroi et al. (2002) Corticotropin-releasing hormone: an autocrine hormone that promotes lipogenesis in human sebocytes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA99:7148-53.
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