5 Important Effects of Stress on Health

The effects of stress on the body occur both physically and mentally: `can cause damage to the cardiovascular system, endocrine system, gastrointestinal system, sexual system and even sexuality.

The stress response involves the production of a series of psychophysiological changes in the organism in response to an over demand situation. Such an answer is adaptive in preparing the person to face emergency situations, in the best way possible.

Effects of Stress

In spite of this, there are occasions in which the maintenance of this response for long periods, the frequency and the intensity of the same, end up hurting the organism.

Stress can lead to various symptoms such as ulcers, enlargement of certain glands, atrophy of certain tissues, leading to pathologies.

Nowadays, there is an increasing possibility of knowing how emotions and biology interact with each other. An example of this is the abundant research between direct and indirect relationships between stress and disease.

Effects of stress on human health

1- Effects on the cardiovascular system

When a stressful situation occurs a series of changes are generated at the level of the cardiovascular system such as:

Constriction of the main arteries that cause the increase of the blood pressure, mainly occur in those that channel the blood to the digestive tract.

Constriction of arteries that supply blood to the kidneys and skin, facilitating blood supply to the muscles and brain.

On the other hand, the vasopressin (antidiuretic hormone that causes increased water reabsorption), causes the kidneys to stop the production of urine and thus a decrease in the elimination of water, resulting in an increase in blood volume and an increase in blood pressure.

If this set of changes occurs repeatedly over time, there is a significant wear on the cardiovascular system.

To understand the possible damages that occur, it must be taken into account that the circulatory system is like a huge network of blood vessels covered by a layer called the cell wall. This network reaches all the cells and there is bifurcation points in which the blood pressure is greater.

When the vascular wall layer is damaged, and in response to the stress response that is generated, there are substances that are discharged into the bloodstream such as free fatty acids, triglycerides or cholesterol, which penetrate the vascular wall, adhere to it and consequently thicken and harden, forming plates. Thus, stress influences the appearance of the so-called atherosclerotic plaques that are located inside the artery.

This series of changes can cause damage to the heart, brain and kidneys. Such damage results in possible angina pectoris (chest pain produced when the heart does not receive enough blood supply); in a myocardial infarction (stop or severe alteration of the rhythm of the heart beats by obstruction of the corresponding artery); kidney failure (failure of kidney function); cerebral thrombosis (obstruction of the flow of some artery that waters part of the brain).

Three examples of stressful phenomena of different nature will be presented below to illustrate the above.

In a 1991 study by Meisel, Kutz and Dayan, the three days of Gulf War missile attacks were compared in the population of Tel Aviv with the same three days of the previous year, and a higher incidence (the triple), of myocardial infarction in the inhabitants.

It is also worth noting this increased incidence in the face of natural disasters. For example, after the earthquake in Northrige in 1994, there was an increase in cases of sudden cardiac death during the six days following the catastrophe.

On the other hand, the number of myocardial infarctions in soccer world championships increases, especially if the games end on penalties. The highest incidence occurs two hours after the matches.

In general, it can be said that the role of stress is to precipitate the demise of people whose cardiovascular system is severely compromised.

2- Effects on the gastrointestinal system

When a person has an ulcer in the stomach, this can be due to infection with Helicobacter pylori, or they present it, without an infection. In these cases is when we talk about the possible role of stress in diseases, although it is not clear what factors are involved. Several hypotheses are discussed.

The first refers to the fact that when a stressful situation occurs, the body reduces the secretion of gastric acids, and simultaneously reduces the thickening of the walls of the stomach, since, during that period, they do not need to be in functioning of said acids to produce digestion, is it about ?? saving?? Some of the functions of the organism that are not necessary.

After this period of intense overactivation there is a recovery of the production of gastric acids, in particular of hydrochloric acid. If this cycle of reduction of production and recovery occurs repeatedly, an ulcer can develop in the stomach, which is therefore not so related to the intervention of a stressor, but with that period.

It is also interesting to comment on the sensitivity of the intestine to stress. As an example we can think of a person who before going through a major examination, for example, an opposition, has to go to the bathroom repeatedly. Or, for example, someone who has to present the defense of a thesis before a jury composed of five people who evaluate you, and in the middle of the exhibition feels uncontrollable desires to go to the bathroom.

Thus, it is not strange to allude to the causal relationship between stress and certain intestinal diseases, for example irritable bowel syndrome , consisting of pain and change in bowel habit, causing diarrhea or constipation in the person in situations or stressful conditions. However, current studies report the implication of behavioral aspects in the development of the disease.

3- Effects on the endocrine system

When people are fed, a series of changes are made in the body to assimilate nutrients, store them and transform them into energy. It produces a decomposition of foods into simpler elements, which can be assimilated into molecules (amino acids, glucose, free acids ??). These elements are stored in the form of proteins, glycogen and triglycerides, thanks to insulin.

When a stressful situation occurs, the body has to mobilize surplus energy and it does so through the stress hormones that causes the triglycerides to break down into their simplest elements, such as fatty acids released into the bloodstream; that glycogen is degraded in glucose and that the proteins become amino acids.

Both free fatty acids and excess glucose are released into the bloodstream. In this way, by means of this released energy, the body can cope with the over-demands of the medium.

On the other hand, when a person experiences stress, there is inhibition of insulin secretion and glucocorticoids make the adipose cells less sensitive to insulin. This lack of response is mainly due to the gain of weight in people, which causes that the adipose cells, when distended, are less sensitive.

In these two processes, diseases such as cataracts or diabetes can occur.

Cataracts, which translate into a cloud in the lens of the eye that hinders vision, are caused by the accumulation of excess glucose and free fatty acids in the blood, which cannot be stored in adipose cells and form plaques atherosclerotic arteries in the arteries obstructing the blood vessels, or propitiating the accumulation of proteins in the eyes.

Diabetes is a disease of the endocrine system, the most investigated. It is a common disease in the older population of industrialized societies.

There are two types of diabetes; stress is more influential in type II diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes, in which the problem is that cells do not respond well to insulin, although it is present in the body.

In this way, it is concluded that chronic stress in a person with a predisposition to diabetes, who is obese, with an inadequate diet and elderly, is an essential element in the possible development of diabetes.

4- Effects on the immune system

People’s immune system is composed of a set of cells called lymphocytes and monocytes (white blood cells). There are two types of lymphocytes, T cells and B cells , which originate in the bone marrow. Even so, the T cells immigrate to another area, the thymus, to mature, which is why they are called the name?? T??.

These cells perform functions of attacking infectious agents differently. On the one hand, T cells produce cell-mediated immunity, ie, when a foreign agent enters the body, the monocyte called macrophage recognizes it and alerts it to an auxiliary T cell. Then these cells proliferate exorbitantly and attack the invader.

On the other hand, B cells produce antibody-mediated immunity. Thus, the antibodies they generate recognize the invading agent and bind to it, immobilizing and destroying the foreign substance.

Stress can influence these two processes and does so in the following way. When stress occurs in a person, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system suppresses the immune action, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system, upon activation, produces high glucocorticoids, stopping the formation of new T lymphocytes and decreasing the sensitivity of the same to the warning signs, as well as expelling lymphocytes from the bloodstream and destroying them through a protein that breaks their DNA.

Also Read: Chronic Stress: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Thus, we conclude that there is an indirect relationship between stress and immune function. The higher the stress, the lower the immune function, and vice versa.

An example can be found in a study by Levav et al in 1988 where the parents of Israeli soldiers killed in the Yom Kippur War showed higher mortality during the mourning period than those observed in the control group. In addition, this increase in mortality occurred to a greater extent in widowed or divorced parents, confirming another aspect studied such as the buffering role of social support networks.

Another much more common example is that of the student that in times of tests, can suffer a decrease of the immune function, getting bad with a cold, flu??

5- Effects on sexuality

A slightly different theme that has been treated throughout this article is that of sexuality, which of course can also be affected by stress.

Sexual function in men and women may be modified before certain situations experienced as stressors.

In humans, given certain stimuli, the brain stimulates the release of a releasing hormone called LHRH , which stimulates the pituitary (a gland that controls the activity of other glands and regulates certain

Functions of the body, such as development or sexual activity ). The pituitary releases the hormone LH and the hormone FSH, producing the release of testosterone and spermatozoa, respectively.

If the man lives a situation of stress, an inhibition occurs in this system. Two other types of hormones are activated; endorphins and enkephalins, which block the secretion of the hormone LHRH.

In addition, the pituitary secretes prolactin , whose function is to decrease the sensitivity of the pituitary to LHRH. Thus, on the one hand, the brain secretes less LHRH, and on the other, the pituitary is protected to respond less to it.

In addition, the glucocorticoids discussed above block the response of the testes to LH . What is extracted from all this series of changes that occur in the body when there is a situation of stress is that it is prepared to respond to a potentially dangerous situation, leaving aside, of course, having sex.

One aspect that may be more familiar is the lack of erection in man in the face of stress. This response is determined by the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which causes an increase in the blood supply to the penls, blockage of blood flow through the veins, and filling of blood from the cavernous bodies of the penls. the hardening of this.

Thus, if the person is stressed or anxious his body is activated, in particular the activation of the sympathetic nervous system occurs, so that the parasympathetic is not functioning, not producing an erection.

As for the woman, the functioning system is very similar, on the one hand, the brain releases LHRH, which in turn secretes LH and FSH into the pituitary. The former activates the synthesis of estrogen in the ovaries and the second stimulates the release of ova in the ovaries. And on the other hand, during ovulation, the corpus luteum formed by the hormone LH, releases progesterone , thus stimulating the walls of the uterus so that in case an ovum is fertilized, it can be implanted in them and transformed into embryo.

There are times when such a system fails. On the one hand, the inhibition of the reproductive system can occur when there is an increase in the concentration of androgens in the woman (since the women also present masculine hormones), and a decrease in the estrogen concentration.

On the other hand, the production of glucocorticoids before the stress can produce the decrease of the secretion of the hormones LH, FSH and estrogens, reducing the probability of ovulation.

In addition, the production of prolactin increases the reduction of progesterone, which in turn interrupts the maturation of the uterine walls.

All this can lead to fertility problems that affect an increasing number of couples, which become a source of stress that aggravates the problem.

We may also refer to dyspareunia or painful intercourse, and vaginismus, involuntary contraction of the muscles surrounding the opening of the v@gina. With respect to vaginismus, it has been observed that

possible painful and traumatic experiences of the sexual type of the woman, can provoke a conditioned response of fear of the penetration, that activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing the contraction of the muscles of the v@gina.

The dyspareunia, on the other hand, may be related to women’s concerns for whether it will do well, inhibiting the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system  and activating the sympathetic, making relationships difficult due to a lack of excitation and lubrication.


Now that all the possible adverse effects that may be caused by stress are known, there is no excuse for thinking about situations in a more adaptive way, for example by using relaxation techniques or meditation, which have proved very effective.