Stress is the answer to an emergency situation, but when the emergency becomes the norm then we speak of chronic stress. A path of attrition begins that affects the body and mind and the damage reaches the chromosomes: Robert Lefkowitz, professor of medicine and biochemistry at Duke University Medical Center, was able to identify for the first time, a specific molecular mechanism. Let’s see how
Stress is an organic response that the human being has been equipped with to cope with threats. Nature has not thought about the modern chronic stress that maybe does not endanger life immediately, but it is a continuous goad that stimulates bodily activation: acceleration of the heartbeat, dilation of blood vessels, accelerated breathing, synthesis of sugars, etc. But this progressive activation causes wear and tear on the body and mind with damage at different levels.
What are the damages of chronic stress?
When a stressful event crosses our path, it is the hypothalamus that takes charge of the situation. This brain area secretes the hormones that trigger the response to the stressful situation in all the physiological processes involved. This system was created to cope with an emergency and is therefore not suitable for a stressful everyday life. A first negative effect involves fertility: in men the level of testosterone is lowered, while in women the menstrual cycle is stopped. On a physiological level there are serious problems in the stomach and intestines, causing digestive problems, ulcers, but in some cases also diabetes. Hyperactivity of the hypothalamus due to chronic stress can cause disorders and symptoms similar to those of mental illness. It is not possible to establish a critical level of stress hormones beyond which not to go, the variability between individuals is very high. Everyone listening to the signals from their body should understand how the situation is degenerating.
The damages of chronic stress: a journey in stages
When the individual is unable to find a new balance with the harmful element, stress becomes chronic and the effects begin to emerge. The route generally includes five stages: 1. the first sign is the continuous feeling of tiredness: in the morning there are severe difficulties in getting out of bed and continued use of exciting drinks to cope with the crises of fatigue, 2. problems in the social sphere that lead to self-isolation follow. The problems arise from the attitude of the stressed person who becomes more suspicious, angry and less inclined to compromise; 3. chronic stress subsequently leads to pouring out negative emotions towards oneself causing a gradual psychological and affective wearing down; 4. at this stage the body begins to give physical signals through pain typically due to muscle stiffness; 5. lastly, we enter the phase of chronic stress exhaustion characterized by specific diseases (for example affecting the immune or cardiovascular system).
Chronic stress: chromosomal damage
Another line of research has tried to go deeper and, for many years, has been looking for evidence to show how chronic stress causes chromosomal damage. The team of Robert Lefkowitz, professor of medicine and biochemistry at Duke University Medical Center, was able to identify for the first time, a specific molecular mechanism. Experiments on mice have shown that chronic stress (caused by regular injections of adrenaline) causes a lowering of the levels of the P53 protein, which is considered a kind of guardian of the genome able to prevent genetic abnormalities. These low levels are found in those samples that show damage to the chromosome.