Is chronic stress making you older than your years?

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The stress warning signs you should never ignore

You may have heard that worrying can give you wrinkles – but did you know that stress can have other, more damaging effects on the body that aren’t so easy to see?

While it’s normal to feel stressed sometimes, like when you’re running late, before a big presentation, or when your taxes are due, constant or ‘chronic’ stress can trigger a chain reaction inside your body that can have devastating consequences for your health.

In fact, studies have shown stress can disrupt almost every system in your body, including your entire hormonal system, which can lead to numerous health problems and accelerate the aging process.

What’s more, stress has become so synonymous with modern life that many people may not even realize they’re suffering from chronic stress until they reach a health crisis.

Thankfully, there are a range of biomarkers or stress signals that can help you understand what’s going on inside your body before more serious problems emerge.

In this article, we’ve outlined 3 key things to check to see if stress is affecting your health – so you can take steps to get your mind and body back into balance.

Chronic stress can trigger a chain reaction inside your body that can have devastating consequences for your health #stress labtests #health #wellness Click To Tweet

1. Check your cortisol levels

When your body perceives a threat, whether physical, emotional, your hypothalamus – a small region at the base of your brain – sets off an alarm inside your body.

This alarm triggers a series of reactions – known as the ‘fight or flight’ response – that alerts your pituitary gland and ultimately causes your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including cortisol.

This increased level of cortisol in your blood can help your body cope with stressful situations.

For example, it can give you a quick burst of energy and help maintain your blood pressure, and usually returns to normal once the perceived threat has passed.

But if you’re constantly stressed, your body’s inbuilt alarm system can stay switched on and keep your cortisol levels high – and this can have serious consequences for your health.

In fact, studies have shown that overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all your body’s processes, leading to problems like weight gain, fatigue and brain fog that can make you feel older than your years.

That’s why your cortisol level is one of the key biomarkers associated with longevity.

Cortisol levels are normally highest in the morning and then gradually decline throughout the day.

Higher-than-normal morning cortisol levels usually indicate acute stress, while below-normal levels are linked to fatigue, depression and anxiety.

Cortisol levels outside the usual range can also be a sign you have sleep issues that need to be addressed.

That’s because while excess cortisol can disrupt your sleep, over time sleep deprivation from things like shift work, insomnia and sleep apnea can increase your cortisol levels and affect your normal cortisol slope. This creates a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.

Studies have shown that overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all your body’s processes #stress #labtesting #health #wellness Click To Tweet

2. Look into your thyroid hormones

As well as affecting your sleep cycle, too much cortisol can play havoc with your thyroid.

Along with your hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, your thyroid is an important part of your endocrine system that helps control a whole host of vital body functions like your heart rate, metabolism, body temperature, and more.

Excess cortisol can suppress your thyroid function and lower its production of triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormones, which can lead to issues like fatigue, constipation and weight gain.

Studies have shown that low thyroid hormone levels may even increase the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood, putting you at greater risk of heart disease.

Excess cortisol can also interfere with the release of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).

While TSH comes from your pituitary, not your thyroid, it affects the amount of T3 and T4 your thyroid produces.

That’s why testing your TSH levels, along with T3 and T4, can give you a more complete picture of how stress is affecting your health.

3. Watch out for hormonal imbalances

You’ve probably heard that sex is a good stress relief – but did you know that stress can actually stifle your sex drive?

While your body is making extra cortisol to deal with stress, the production of your other hormones – including testosterone, estrogen and (in women) progesterone – can go a little haywire.

Testosterone is produced by both men and women, and low levels of this key sex hormone can not only cause low libido but also muscle weakness, fatigue and depression.

Hormonal imbalances in women can also lead to issues like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, estrogen dominance, moodiness, weight gain and insomnia, while high estrogen levels in men can cause erectile dysfunction.

If you think you might have a hormonal imbalance, checking your cortisol and thyroid hormone levels too can help you understand if stress might be an underlying factor, or if there are other causes you need to consider.

While your body is making extra cortisol to deal with stress, your other hormones can go a little haywire #stress #labtesting #health #wellness Click To Tweet

Blogs on related topics:
Advanced Thyroid Testing: Why checking your TSH level isn’t enough
Lipoprotein(a): The one biomarker that could change everything
The five secrets to aging well

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Alan Hopkins, MD

About the Author:

Dr. Alan Hopkins is a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine where he was elected into the prestigious Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society for leadership and academic excellence. He is board-certified in Emergency Medicine and completed an A4M fellowship in Anti-Aging Medicine. He’s an advocate of innovative medical care and is on the board of directors of several private companies to assist them in developing strategies that are consumer-oriented and patient education-based.
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