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Duke Medicine: Don't let stress break your heart

Posted May 14, 2012

The human body’s reaction to stress is a wonderful thing. Often called the fight-or-flight response, it uses hormones to kick your body into overdrive briefly and intensely to deal with potentially life-threatening situations.

This evolutionary adaptation, invaluable when one is fleeing from mammoths or hunting bison, may seem less useful in our modern times.

But the thing is, we still use it -- the stimuli may have changed from prehistoric predators to tough bosses and traffic jams, but the response is the same.

When a person is under life stresses frequently or chronically, the fight-or-flight response stays turned on constantly. It’s like driving with the gas pedal pushed to the floor all of the time -- it’s going to wear out some important parts of the machine prematurely.

The fight-or-flight response triggered by stress releases a series of hormones. Adrenaline causes your heart to pump about three times as much blood per minute as it does when you’re resting, raising blood pressure.

It interacts with the hormone cortisol to cause fat cells to pour fat and glucose into your bloodstream, providing energy for your muscles to help you escape or defeat an external threat.

“All of this makes a lot of evolutionary sense,” says Duke behavioral medicine researcher Dr. Redford Williams, an expert on stress. “However, if the situation is not another caveman or a saber-toothed tiger after you -- just a lot of demands and very low control over how to meet those demands in work or in life in general -- this response being elicited day in and day out will damage your heart.”

For more about stress, its effects on your heart and how to relax, read the full post at Duke Medicine, Go Ask Mom's sponsor, offers health advice and tips on Tuesdays.


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  • snowl May 15, 2012

    This is nothing that a big glass of red wine at the end of the day won't fix. Personally, I drink grape juice but wine works better! Don't worry be happy.

  • almagayle50 May 15, 2012

    And when you try to talk about it with your doctor, they just say you eat too much and don't exercise enough - basicly call you a liar about your stresses and what they're doing to you.

  • suki May 15, 2012

    Now if they could just find a way to relieve the chronic stress of parenting a differently-abled person.....

  • tbk May 14, 2012

    Why all the talk of evolution? It has never been proven as a fact. Ever heard of intelligent design? That sure makes a lot more sense when you think about it!