Stress and the Working Girl
First, some of the basics: our brain sends signals from around the various centers to what is called the HPA axis: Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal. The HPA out put, in the most basic sense is our chemical stress response (ok, it causes ovulation, and a few other key responses, but remember, this is ‘101’ coverage of the topic). This shower of output results in a cascade of physical events. More specifically the hypothalamus is the center of the brain that produces releasing hormones, those hormones are mostly to control the pituitary gland. The pituitary when stimulated by the hypothalamus production of CRF, (cortisol releasing factor) secretes ACTH is carried in the blood stream to the adrenal gland and result in many glucocorticoids being released (cortisol is the main one). We have natural, daily rhythmic patterns of this release, and then we have our stress patterns of release. The cycle of hormones especially relating to light and those released during sleep. Cortisol is one such hormone that rises sharply in the later hours of the night and in the morning your peak levels are the highest. sleep is so vital that it can be heart healthy to grab a nap! In fact various stress triggered diseases have their own documented patterns as well, like the chronic fatigue individuals. Aging can flummox the pattern of some, but not all of us. “She ages well” is more than just a statement. The working girl who has control of her stress will think better and be healthier.
And when you try to fool mother nature with hormone treatments? What then happens. We would like to know but it’s tricky to figure out. Clearly estrogen treatment in menopause, biologically identical or not, transdermal or not, increases cortisol. But it also increases the liver globulin, CBG (cortisol binding globulin) that binds and inactivates these elevated numbers. So many studies just cannot tease out when there would be exaggerated or bunted HPA stress responses.
Stress effects on our bodies have been reported to be more dramatic than just graying of the hair. Strokes, heart attacks, and cancers have been linked to stress, just to name a few. But physicians are reporting even more bizarre effects of stress. A rare condition of unexplained and painful bruises (ecchymosis to your physician) on the face or extremities has been called the Gardner-Diamond syndrome and is thought to be actually of psychogenic nature.
The researchers Ursin and Eriksen in a 2004 publication in Psychoneuroendocrinology became very interested in working out how the stressors can affect memory. And apparently cognition and memory, especially long term memory are dramatically affected by the surges in cortisol due to stress. And this can even be studied in your blood work looking at markers of inflammation as well as your hormone levels. And if none of that works, try laughing, heart research states you need 15 minutes! So not just gabbing with your gyno, you need to giggle too!
As a way of quantifying risk a group from the Ruhr-University in Bochum Germany has tried to gather up a score based on physical findings that would be an objective measurement of the stress your body is under. But when you rush to your doctor with your red pen marked copy of this edition, be sure to expect some resistance. There’s a lot to be worked out here: if you are a diabetic, on medication, get the test at the wrong time of the day, on hormones, just how will these results be interpreted? Good and probing questions, and we will have to wait until Bio 201 to cover that!