Weekly Health Tip: Stress and the Brain

Posted on August 12, 2011


Weekly Health Tip: Stress and the Brain – Health Blog.  In a time and place where stress is perceived as the norm (i mean hey, if you’re not stressed out you’re probably a lazy socialist or something, amirite?) I thought it would be important to share why touchyfeely things like, meditation and relaxation are actually healthy and probably necessary (sorry, patriarchy):

The human body responds to stress with a powerful fight-or-flight reaction.Hormonessurge through the body, causing the heart to pump faster and sending extra supplies of energy into the bloodstream. For much of human history, this emergency response system was useful: It enabled people to survive immediate physical threats like an attack from a wild animal. But today, the stress in most people’s lives comes from the more psychological and seemingly endless pressures of modern life. Daily challenges like a long commute or a difficult boss can turn on the stress hormones—and because these conditions don’t go away, the hormones don’t shut off.  Instead of helping you survive, this kind of stress response can actually make you sick.

Chronic stress can harm the body in several ways. The stress hormone cortisol, for instance, has been linked to anincrease in fat around organs, known as visceral fat. The accumulation of visceral fat is dangerous since these fat cellsactively secrete hormonesthat can disrupt the functioning of the liver, pancreas and brain, causing problems such asinsulin resistance,inflammation, andmetabolic syndrome. Chronic exposure to other stress hormones can alsoweaken the immune systemand even change thestructure of chromosomes.

How Stress Affects the Brain Recent research suggests that chronic stress takes a toll on the brain, too. Studies on mice show that stress-related hormones alter physical structures in the brain in ways that could affect memory, learning, and mood. Some of these changes involve dendrites, tiny branch-like structures on nerve cells that send and receive signals. Several studies have shown that stress hormones canshrink dendrites and as a result, information doesn’t get relayed across nerve cells. When the cell damage occurs in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, it can impact memory and learning.