Most of us have some familiarity with cortisol (the primary “stress hormone”). It is important to realize that its function is wide-ranging and intimately related to whether you are in a state of good health or not.
When cortisol production and breakdown are appropriate and normal, well – all is usually good. However, when we find ourselves in a situation where the cortisol levels or pattern are not normal (hyper-cortisolism, hypo-cortisolism, or some form of diurnal dysrhythmia), the HPA axis (Hypothalamus/Pituitary/Adrenal Axis) is not functioning normally and needs to be corrected.
With HPA dysfunction, maladaptive changes occur (i.e. adrenal fatigue) and a variety of illness and symptoms develop (i.e. hypoglycemia, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, renal calculi, depression, chronic inflammation, poor learning, hypothyroidism, PMS, severe menopause, truncal obesity) to name a few.
Stress is a part of all of our lives. While we all know stress when we see it, it is amazing that biologists have not agreed on the definition of stress for more than 75 years! Stress can be emotional, physical, or as a result of metabolic dysfunction.
How much stress is “normal”? Is stress defined by the changes made in adapting to stress or the dysfunctions associated with the failure to adapt to the stress?
Although we primarily think of stress as “negative stress” – ie “distress”, positive events can also elicit similar physiologic responses! What is clear is that stress can have a major impact on our health and well being, as well as the progression in many cases to chronic disease.