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Can relationships induce disease?

New research published in the journal Diabetic Medicine found permanent stress at work or home to be a significant factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.  Of the 7,000 men in the study, 45 percent were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they reported permanent stress.

The study was conducted at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. The men of the study had no previous history of diabetes, heart disease or stroke.  Stress levels were rated on a six-point scale indicating no stress, periodic stress or permanent stress over a 35-year period. 

The researchers taking into account other diabetes risk factors such as high blood pressure, age and physical activity level further confirmed the findings. 

"Self-perceived permanent stress is an important long-term predictor of diagnosed diabetes, independently of socio-economic status, BMI and other conventional type 2 diabetes risk factors," researchers added.

Stress increasing doctor’s visits

Stress can also play a significant role in the development of headaches, high blood pressure, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety.  75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s office visit are stress related according to WebMD.  43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress at some time in their lives. 

However, stress is a normal part of life and cannot be avoided. Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires a response. Stress can be positive as well, keeping us alert and avoiding danger. One can experience physical, chemical, mental and emotional stress.

Stress becomes negative when one faces continuous, long-term challenges without relief between the challenges. As the definition implies, stress upsets the normal equilibrium or balance in one's life and causes health conditions to develop.

Stress can be exacerbated and become extremely dangerous if one uses alcohol, tobacco, or drugs in attempt to relieve their stress. A poor diet and lack of physical activity can even take a further toll on one’s body.  Diet and exercise play an integral role in facilitating how one reacts and responds to stress.

How does stress cause disease?

Over-commitments to one’s work responsibilities, dysfunctional family life, lack of time, financial pressures and difficulties in personal relationships can all be important sources of stress and disease. A person's response to stress varies tremendously and in large part depends on his or her own personality style, family upbringing and social support structures.

The body has a buit in system that is activated under any form of stress called the fight or flight response.  Perceived threats activate a tiny region at the base of one’s brain called the hypothalamus.  The hypothalamus communicates through nerve and hormone signals that activate the adrenal glands at the top of one’s kidneys.  The adrenal glands release hormones called adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline is the hormone that increases one’s heart rate and blood pressure.  Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that increases sugars in the blood stream that can cause inflammation, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. 

Cortisol also shuts down functions that would be nonessential in the fight or flight response.  Nonessential functions can be essential functions in a relationship. An example of this can include erectile dysfunction.  Erectile dysfunction is a major side effect of chronic stress and uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. 

The fight or flight response also alters regions of the brain that control arousal, mood, motivation and fear.  The stress response is often cycical and causes health conditions that create further stress and additional complications.

The body’s ability to respond to stress is usually automatic and self-regulating. Hormones within the body return to normal once the stressful situation has passed.  This prevents excessive stress on the heart, pancreas, brain and other vital organs involved in the stress response. 

The fight or flight response is always activated under chronic, long-term stress.  The resulting long-term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can wrec havoc throughout the body.  Health problems include heart disease, sleeping difficulties, digestive problems, depression, obesity, poor memory and a variety of skin conditions. 

How to handle stress

Exercise is an effective way to maximize your response to negative stress.  It will lower cortisol, balance insulin and trigger hormones that improve the stress response.  Exercise does not combat stress or cure it, it simply allows the body to function at a greater level thus taking care of stress naturally.

An example is if one’s house is on fire, one needs to move out of the house as soon as possible.  Step out and re-group oneself if there is a lot of chronic, overwhelming stress. Go for a walk, relax and find something that takes you out of the negative environment.  The solution is not to ever have stress; it’s to know how to respond to the best of one’s ability.

We need to re-program what obstacles, challenges and seemingly impossible situations mean to success, life and health.  Certain challenges may require some effort but that effort makes you stronger versus weaker. Exercise and working out is an example of a positive stress, it makes you stronger. 

Dietary factors are commonly overlooked in regard to the stress response and diabetes. One’s diet positively contributes to the physical and the psychological response of the body’s neurology and hormonal balance. Poor dietary factors will add unneeded chemical stress on the body and will contribute to the production of the fight or flight response that spikes adrenaline and cortisol.

The primary dietary factor that many people struggle with is the amount of sugar and highly processed food items that they have in their diet.  Sugar is found in breads, cereals, pastas and nearly everything in a box, can or bag. Highly processed food items have hidden food colorings, preservatives and chemicals that are not natural. 

Stressful events are a fact of life. One may not be able to change their current situation but one can take steps to manage the impact stress has on their health. Learn to identify what stresses you out, how to take control of some stress-inducing circumstances, and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the face of stressful situations.

Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people cope with stress more effectively and recover from stressful events quicker than others. Work and personal relationships can be stressful but one can limit their effects by lifestyle management.  In poor relationships, individuals can often exploit another’s health conditions and cause the individual to experience more stress, guilt, depression and anxiety.  These can further exacerbate dysfunctional relationships.

The bottomline is that our health will impact our work, relationships and physical and mental wellbeing.  Being proactive with our lifestyle will minimize the stress response that is associated with diabetes, erectile dysfunction and allow one to responds to the best of their ability. 

Dr Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

Facebook: Dr Cory Couillard
Twitter: DrCoryCouillard


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