Describe, in detail, Brad’s hormonal response to long-term stress and the health problems that could result?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The effects of stress on the human body have received a great deal of attention over the years.  That stress, especially prolonged periods of extreme stress, can have deleterious ramifications on one’s health has been conclusively established as knowledge of the body’s production and storage of serotonin, for example, and its relationship to stress have become better understood.  With respect to hormonal imbalances caused by stress, an article posted on-line by the U.S. National Institutes of Health noted the following:

“In response to stress, the level of various hormones changes. Reactions to stress are associated with enhanced secretion of a number of hormones including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin, the effect of which is to increase mobilization of energy sources and adapt the individual to its new circumstance.”

Similarly, the Mayo Clinic, one of the most highly respected medical institutes in the United States, posted on its website the following information on the effects of stress on hormones:

“When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.”

As the latter article continues, the normal reaction of the human body once the immediate threat or cause of stress or panic subsides, the chemical reactions in the body also return to normal levels.  During periods of heightened or prolonged stress, however, those reactions do not return to normal and remain at elevated levels, which, in turn, places enormous stress on the heart as well as on the functioning of the brain, where stress-related chemicals are produced in the first place.  Within the brain, a section called the amygdala, which is vital for the regulation of the body’s response to stress, including emotional responses and retention of memory, and also plays a major role in hormonal balance.  When the amygdala receives “fight or flight” signals, it responds by directing the increased production of certain hormones and the decreased production of others; in other words, it is crucial to maintaining hormonal balance.  Excessive stress that adversely affects the brain, then, has a suppressive effect on the production of hormones, which leads to a decrease in appetite and in sexual activity. 

In short, Brad’s hormonal reaction to stress is decreased libido and appetite, and intense feelings of depression and anxiety.  Brad should, consequently, seek medical attention, including therapy.