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The Relationship between Stress and Health
30 September 2010
It is common knowledge that stress has both direct and indirect detrimental effects on the body and its physical wellbeing. However, short, isolated events of stress can also be beneficial to a person’s mood and immune system. Because stress is so prevalent in the world today, it is increasingly necessary to discover its causes and stress reduction strategies in order to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
Effects of Stress on the Body
According to an article published on February 18, 2010 in El Chicano Weekly, prolonged stress is associated with cardiovascular events like the weakening of the heart muscle walls due to increased levels of adrenalin and noradrenalin that cause the heart to pump faster which, in time, can cause heart attacks (Anonymous, 2010). In this article, Dr. Biykem Bozkurt of Baylor College of Medicine notes also that during times of high stress like natural disasters, the rate of heart attacks increases in the affected area, a fact that only supports his conclusions.
This increased blood flow rate leads to another scary effect on the body: the growth of tumors. According to a study done at the University of Iowa at Iowa City in which scientists monitored ovarian cancer patients and their stress levels, when malignant melanoma cells were exposed to noradrenalin, there were spikes in proteins that fuel tumor growth (Howard, 2009). The “constant state of inflammation” of the body due to prolonged stress only increases the noradrenalin that reaches tumors and causes their growth. “Studies on caregivers for the chronically ill show that their white blood cells can't read hormonal signals telling them to shut down inflammation,” says Gregory Miller, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
This resulting inflammatory response can lead to other problems, especially for young pregnant women today. A study of young black professionals showed that black women had a much higher rate of low-birth weight babies and pre-birth problems compared to their white counterparts (Munm, 2010). It was determined that the cause of this trend was “allostatic load”, or the taking over of vital organs by stressors and hormones like noradrenalin.
Howard University Hospital Assistant Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell also cites risky lifestyle behaviors as an indirect response to stress and potentially very dangerous (Munm, 2010). Mitchell explains that drugs, overdosing, and partying excessively are running rampant through young people’s lives today. Multiple sex partners and unhealthy sex choices lead to high rates of HIV, especially among young black men. Similarly, Mitchell notes that eating can help alleviate some stress, but obesity is becoming a huge problem, especially in childhood.
Stress may be responsible for obesity in another way too. A study of 240 16-19 year old girls sought to discover the relationship between the time in hours the girls slept each night and the source of their energy throughout the day (Maler, 2010). The leading scientist of the study, Dr. Susan Redline of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and colleagues discovered a negative correlation between getting a full night’s sleep and higher fat content in food choices. The scientists also discovered that each added hour of sleep each night “lowered the odds of eating a high amount of calories from snacks by an average of 21 percent” (Maler, 2010). Therefore, lack of sleep caused by too busy a schedule and the stress accompanying it leads directly to weight gain in girls. However, the same study done with boys showed no correlation between sleep and eating habits (Maler, 2010). Similarly, a 2006 follow up to a study done by the National Sleep Foundation of almost 5000 participants between the ages of 32 and 86 found that people below the age of 59 who slept less than six hours a night had more than double the risk of developing hypertension, a common side effect of obesity (Rosch, 2009).
Although prolonged stress has very detrimental effects on the body, small stresses may actually improve bodily function. “Acute stress is healthy and helps your immune system fight off infection and disease,” explains Dr. Anil K. Sood of the Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Also, studies done in Pakistan and Germany have discovered that stress in a work-related environment indirectly decreases a person’s nicotine dependence due to both increasingly popular smoking bans and long hours at work (The Pak Banker, 2010, NewsRx Health, 2010).
Benefits of Reducing Stress
Many of the studies cited above also include information about the effects of stress reduction on the original detrimental effects stress has on the body. For example, in the study mentioned in the article from El Chicano Weekly, it was discovered that reducing stress actually negated much of the effect of stress on heart health. The heart walls actually get stronger with reduced stress, leading to a much lower rate of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events (Anonymous, 2010). Similarly, the reduction of stress decreases blood flow to tumors and reduces the risk of hypertension caused by sleep deprivation (Howard, 2009, Rosch, 2009). With more sleep allowed by a lower level of stress, teenage girls will also have a greater chance of eating a healthier diet and subsequently avoiding gaining as much weight as they would have with less sleep (Maler, 2010).
Ways to Lower Stress
The negative consequences of stress are clear, and, although stress is increasingly prevalent in the world today, there are many feasible ways to lessen its effects. Although cliché, the most effective methods of reducing stress are laughter, relaxation and exercise.
A 1989 study by Berk, Tan, Fry, et al observed the effects of laughter on cortisol levels in the blood of ten healthy males. Cortisol, a hormone involved in stress response that also causes high blood pressure, was measured in the blood before and after short exposure to comedy clips. Levels of cortisol were significantly lower after short amount of laughter, suggesting that laughter in small doses and the consequently lower levels of cortisol may contribute to lower blood pressure. However, 90 minutes or more of laughter was shown to increase cortisol past its initial level in participants.
Relaxation is also a key factor in reducing stress. A study in Japan of 133 people monitored blood pressure and disposition based on a tests and a subjective survey before and after the participants visited a zoo. Researchers Taketo Sakagami and Mitsuaki Ohta (2009) discovered that the diastolic and systolic blood pressures of participants, although their pulses were not significantly changed. The diastolic blood pressures were decreased by an average of 5 mm Hg, while systolic decreased by an average of 8 mm Hg. Additionally, the World Health Organization’s Quality of Life survey subscores increased an average of 1.3 points after a short visit to the zoo (Sakagami and Ohta, 2009).
Finally, exercise is an incredibly efficient and easy way to reduce stress. A cross-sectional survey of 12,988 Japanese from age 20-79 revealed that low levels of exercise are associated with higher numbers of stress-induced headaches (Yokoyama et al, 2009). Exercise influences stress and stress release and calls for the body to release hormones such as endorphins (natural painkillers that act like morphine in the brain) and prostaglandin, which controls smooth muscle contraction, blood pressure, inflammation and body temperature. Therefore, increasing exercise lessens headaches and other pains in the body and relieves stress.
Extensive research has been done in many countries the world over examining multiple hypotheses about both the sources and effects of stress. However, the general consensus is that stress negatively affects mood, health and quality of life. There are also countless avenues and methods for reducing stress, so its injurious effects on the body are easily avoidable and correctable in this day and age the world over.
Anonymous. (2010, February 18). Reduce stress, increase heart health. El Chicano Weekly, 47(9), A13, Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/pqdweb?index=3&did=1974351881&SrchMode=1&sid=5&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1285866365&clientId=622
Anonymous. (2010, May 2). Work pressures lower nicotine dependence. NewsRx Health, Retrieved from https://login.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/pqdweb?did=2015632081&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=622&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Berk, L.S., Tan, S.A., & Fry, W.F., et al. (1989). Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 298(6), Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu
Howard, Melanie. (2009, October). The truth about stress and cancer. Self, 31(10), 118.
Maler, Sandra. (2010, September 2). Too little sleep bad for teenagers' diets: study. Reuters, Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6807PW20100902
Munm, Eboni. (2010, August 5). Young, professional, & dying: current health threats to generation next. Sun Reporter, pp. L2, 1.
Pakistan: job stress may reduce smoking. (2010, April 20). The Pak Banker, Retrieved from https://login.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/pqdweb?did=2105732741&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=622&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Rosch, Paul J. (2009). Stress and insomnia - surprising solutions. Health and Stress, (8), Retrieved from https://login.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/pqdweb?did=1821702931&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=622&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Sakagami, Taketo, & Ohta, Mitsuaki. (2009). The effect of visiting zoos on human health and quality of life. Animal Science Journal, 81(1), Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/doi/10.1111/j.1740-0929.2009.00714.x/pdf
Yokoyama, Masako, et al. (2009). Associations between headache and stress, alcohol drinking, exercise, sleep, and comorbid health conditions in a japanese population. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 10(3), Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com.proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/pqdweb?index=2&did=1704904721&SrchMode=1&sid=2&Fmt=6&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1285878529&clientId=622 doi: 10.1007/s10194-00
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