It is no secret that stress is linked to disease. Some argue that every disease is the result of stress. Most people think of stress as psychological stress, or worrying, but there are many kinds of stress. There is structural stress from subluxations or muscle spasm. There is chemical stress from a poor diet or from chemical exposure. There is the stress of having your immune system challenged by a microorganism. There is thermal stress from being exposed to extreme hot or extreme cold.
According to research appearing in Epidemiology (May 2001;11:345-349), psychological stress can increase your chance of coming down with a cold. Also, individuals with a negative outlook on life have an increased chance of contracting a cold.
Of course one reason for this is the fact that stress tends to drive us toward unhealthy behavior. According to research published in Preventive Medicine (January 2002;34:29-39), many people overeat as a reaction to stress. Also, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have found a feedback system in rats that may explain the craving of so called “comfort foods” in people who are under stress. A steroid hormone, called corticosterone, is produced in rats as a response to stress. The human equivalent of this hormone is cortisol. The hormone causes rats to engage in pleasure seeking behavior 24 hours after stress. This behavior causes the rats to crave high calorie food. In the rats’ case, the food was sugar and lard. The hormone’s effect on people is likely to make them crave chocolate, greasy burgers or other high-calorie food.
Stress has a negative effect on the immune system. A review of research spanning more than 40 years was published in Psychological Bulletin on July 4, 2004 and covered nearly 300 studies on stress. Chronic stress has the most negative effect on the body. The longer the stressor is present, the more it affects the body’s ability to adapt, and the more likely that it will lead to a serious negative effect on health. Chronic stress attacks the immune system at the cellular level and then undermines the overall function of the immune system. Research published in Psychosomatic Medicine (March 1999;61:175-180) found that stress can actually intensify the symptoms of a cold or the flu.
Stress can also increase the chance of becoming a type II diabetic, according to research appearing in Diabetes Care (February 2000;23:197-201). The subjects consisted of 2,000 white adults, who were given a questionnaire about stressful events in their lives. Those with the highest number of stressful events, (serious stressors like the death of a spouse, end of a relationship, long term financial problems) were 60% more likely to have diabetes as those with fewer stressful life events.
Low back pain can have its roots in stress suffered much earlier in life. This is according to research appearing in the American Journal of Public Health (October 2001;91:1671-1678). Psychological distress at age 23 increased by 2 ½ times the likelihood of low back pain at age 33.
Stress is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and even wrinkles. Stress has even been linked to birth defects. Research appearing in The Lancet (September 9, 2000;356:875-880) indicates that stress during pregnancy can increase the incidence of birth defects by 80%. Severe stress, like the unexpected death of a child can increase the incidence of birth defects eight-fold.
Stress is cumulative. Stress from a poor diet will add to a stressful situation. If you control the stress that you can control, you will better handle the stress that you cannot control. Supplementation and chiropractic adjustments can also help to offset the physiologic harm from stress.