Chronic stress is the primary driver of modern health problems and rapid aging

Let’s look at why this is, physiologically.

The neuroendocrine cascade contains the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, and reproductive/sex organs (ovaries/testes).

The pituitary is the like the director of a movie and the hypothalamus is the producer. Every movie needs a good director and every director needs a producer to manage time, budget, and logistics. In both the body and the movie, communication between these two is key.

The pituitary is responsible for secreting the right hormones, in the right amounts at the right time to tell the thyroid, adrenals, and sex organs to do their job. The same is true in a movie, the director directs the actors, lights, sounds effects, etc. The hypothalamus’ responsibility is to control the on/off of the pituitary’s secretion of hormones, based on feedback it gets from the body, just as the producer manages the spending of the director.

In the case of stress, namely chronic stress situations, there is a mini-break in the communication between the hypothalamus & pituitary. When this happens over and over again, the pituitary doesn’t know when to secret more chemicals so it just shuts off.

Think about it this way, without the communication and oversight of the producer, the director could be spending money like crazy on lighting, but then not pay the sound team so they all quit–when was the last time you saw a silent movie? And then maybe the director tries to over-correct and only pay the sound team, but by this time the movie is so out of control that he gets so fed up he quits.

That’s essentially what happens with the pituitary: it quits, or more accurately, “down-regulates.”

Relying on the pituitary to do its job correctly are the

  • thyroid (metabolism, body temperature, etc),
  • thymus (immune system),
  • adrenals (stress, metabolism),
  • pancreas (sugar processing), and
  • sex/reproductive hormones (sex drive, menstruation, conception).
You can imagine when the pituitary shuts off or isn’t responding to lack of, or over production of, hormones in the body, breakdowns occur in the
  • metabolic system (metabolic syndrome, i.e. diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc)
  • digestive system (processing of food, food allergies, digestive distress, leaky gut, IBS, malabsorption, etc)
  • immune system (auto-immune conditions, poor immune response, allergies, etc)
  • reproductive system (low to no libido, irregular or no menstruation, infertility)
One of the hormones that the pituitary is no longer secreting at optimal levels is the growth hormone, aka “youth hormone.” Growth hormone manages everything from testosterone production, including ability to build muscle, to eyesight, to brain size including learning, memory, and clarity, to the immune system, and fat metabolism.

The amount of growth hormone in our bodies looks something like this: starting high, and staying high until about 16 years old, then dropping off rapidly. This curve can also represent our life or vitality.

There are individual variations in this curve. Unfortunately  many Americans, due to stress, toxins, and poor diet are experiencing an even sharper or earlier decline in their secretion of growth hormone and thus lost vitality. This is why people are getting older much quicker, why chronic disease sets in much earlier, and why the current youth’s lifespan won’t exceed that of their parents.

But there is good news.  Places like Okinawa, Japan have a different curve, that stays more level, indicating youthfulness until their 70’s or 80’s. Then the question becomes, how can we emulate that extended growth hormone curve to lengthen the longevity period and enjoy more life in our years? But, that’s another post.

To summarize, stress is the first source of breakdown in the neuroendocrine cascade. But the havoc stress wreaks does not end there.  Unfortunately, that too, must be saved for another post.