It is fairly common knowledge that stress is never good for the health. It has been linked to many conditions, ranging from mouth problems to back pains. These things might be easy to overlook, and many will probably shrug it off as just collateral damage in dealing with the everyday rigors of life. But did you know that there is a strong link between stress and other chronic conditions and diseases?
Stress is linked to an increased risk for depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and HIV/AIDS. It is easy to see the association between stress and depression, as stress can lead to extreme emotional imbalance in an individual. Stress also causes spikes in blood sugar levels, worsening diabetic conditions. Moreover, stress also causes blood pressure to shoot up, a major risk factor in developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Stress is also linked to immune system disorders such as HIV/AIDS because it weakens the body’s immune response.
Ina review of medical literature on the link between stress and disease, a psychologist from Carnegie Mellon University Sheldon Cohen has proposed this of the link: "The majority of people confronted with even traumatic events remain disease-free. Stress increases your risk of developing disease, but it doesn't mean that just because you are exposed to stressful events, you are going to get sick.”
The relationship between stress and HIV/AIDS has been less clear, although the study has been followed since the year 2000. However, there has been a consistent link between stress and the rate of progression of HIV to AIDS in affected individuals. "Individuals differ with regard to rate of progression through the successive phases of HIV infection. Some remain asymptomatic for extended periods and respond well to medical treatment, whereas others progress rapidly to AIDS onset, and suffer numerous complications and opportunistic infections. Stress may account for some of this variability in HIV progression," says the authors.
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to challenging situations, triggering a flight or flight response. This can be helpful in many situations—particularly emergency situations—but if it becomes chronic stress the body gets too much of the hormones corticosteroids which can cause harmful effects in the body. For one, it damages certain functions in the brain such as the processing of memory and it can also trigger aggression. Moreover, as discussed, the hormones also affect the body’s immune system.
"Effects of stress on regulation of immune and inflammatory processes have the potential to influence depression, infectious, autoimmune, and coronary artery disease, and at least some (e.g., viral) cancers," says the authors. It is speculated that stress also affects how cancers develop and progress, but more studies are needed to prove this. "We will need additional studies across a broader range of cancers before we can fairly evaluate the role of stress in cancer.”