How Stress Physically Affects the Body

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Scott: Doctor, you've talked about stress quite a bit. What's going on in here when we experience stress? Physically, how is that damaging our body?

Jonny Bowden: When you experience stress, your body secretes a number of hormones from the adrenals. They're called the fight-or-flight hormones, and they are there for a very good reason. A zebra is grazing on the plaink, spies a lion. It's going to run like hell, or it's going to be lunch. What happens is, cortisol and adrenaline flood the body. These things shunt blood away from nonessential, at the moment, organs, like digestion or sex organs. You're not going to be reproducing. You want to avoid being lunch. This is all about getting the blood to the muscles so that you can run. Raising the heart rate. Increasing blood sugar so that you have fuel for the muscles, so that you can run from the lion. 

These things actually allow us to run from, in the olden days, from a wooly mammoth, or run up a tree, or pick up a club and fight it off. These are the fight-or-flight hormones. They are necessary for survival. They were meant to be on for about 30 seconds. They were meant to be the turbo charge, the first gear to get you up that hill. You can't drive a car in first gear on the 405 freeway. You'll ruin your transmission. You can't run our bodies on turbo charging cortisol and adrenaline 24/7, and that's how we live. 

What do these hormones do? They raise blood sugar, number one, which we know already is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and diabetes. They raise the heart rate, which is great if you're running from a lion. Not so great if your blood pressure is now 160 over 100. All of those things have long term collateral damage. You could write a book about all of the metabolic downstream effects of high levels of stress hormones. But the point people need to know is that stress ain't all in your head. There's a real, physiological response, and it does real damage, and it's inflammatory as hell. And stress also adds belly fat, and belly fat, visceral fat is the most dangerous fat. Why? We talked about it. Because that's the stuff that shoots out those inflammatory... you've got this whole trifecta of events which predispose to heart disease. Stress reduction, or stress management, is vitally important. It's not something "I'll do it when I'm old," it's vital. You need to do it now. 

Scott: One thing you had in the book that I thought was interesting, you talked about how doctors way back a hundred plus years ago used to use bloodletting, leaches, and that's how they . . .

Jonny Bowden: Actually, the people who wrote our intro, the great Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, used ot use that example.

Scott: Do you think the current view on cholesterol will get to that point? Where we look back and we go, "God, how did we do, why did we do that?"

Jonny Bowden: Yes. I do. I may not see it in my lifetime. I hope I do. I think we will look back on this 50 years from now, and say, what the hell were they thinking? That's what I think.

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We've all heard that stress is bad for us, but why is it bad? Dr. Jonny Bowden explains exactly how our bodies react to stress and how it affects us physiologically. Find out how many different parts of your body end up being affected by stress.

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