There are three main types of stress that occur in life:
• acute (short event);
• acute episodic;
• chronic (long-term events).
Our body responds to all types of stress through the same “fight or flight” mechanism.
What language do our stress hormones speak to us?
1. A very small area at the base of the brain called the hypothalamus triggers a reaction and communicates with the body through the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This system regulates spontaneous reactions such as blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and digestion.
2. Acute stress is a golden time for the adrenaline hormone to appear due to stimulation of the adrenal glands. It helps to speed up the heart rate and increase blood pressure, so more blood circulates to the muscles and heart to support the flow of energy. Even sight and hearing can be impaired.
3. If the stress is prolonged, the adrenal glands secrete another hormone called cortisol, which stimulates the release of glucose into the blood and increases the use of glucose by the brain for energy. It also shuts down certain systems in the body to allow the body to focus on stress responses. These systems include digestion, reproduction and growth.
4. These hormones do not return to normal levels until the stress is over. If the stress does not pass, the nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions that can eventually lead to inflammation and cell damage.
The chronic stress that Ukrainians are currently experiencing causes a steady rise in hormones, which lead to a number of health problems:
digestive problems (heartburn, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation);
increase in blood pressure;
chest pain, heart disease;
problems with the immune system;
muscle pain (headache, back pain, neck pain);
sleep disorders, insomnia
How does stress affect the diet?
Stress creates a greater need for oxygen, energy and nutrients. People who are chronically stressed are attracted to sweets, snacks, semi-finished products that are high in fat and calories, but low in nutrients.
People who are stressed may lack the time or motivation to cook nutritious, balanced meals, or they may miss meals.
Stress can disrupt the sleep formula, causing shallow sleep or waking up, leading to fatigue during the day. To cope with daytime fatigue, people can use stimulants to increase energy, such as caffeine or high-calorie snacks. Poor sleep is a stress factor in itself. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation causes a significant increase in cortisol levels.
During acute stress, the hormone adrenaline suppresses appetite. But with chronic stress, high levels of cortisol cause cravings for foods high in sugar, fat and calories, which can lead to weight gain.
Cortisol promotes the accumulation of fat in the abdomen, also called central obesity, which is associated with insulin resistance, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. It also lowers the level of the hormone leptin (the hormone “everything, I’m full”), while increasing the release of the hormone ghrelin (the hormone “I want to eat”). Therefore, we become prone to overeating.