Can Stress Turn into a Killer

We live in competitive times. With deadlines to meet, bills to pay and families to take care of, the life of the average individual in today’s world can be hectic. Stress has become so common nowadays that it is just considered a regular part of life. But dealing with increased stress levels on a daily basis can be quite taxing on both the mind and body. So, let us take a deeper look into the stress mechanism to understand it better.

Stress related symptoms are experienced when there is a high concentration of a hormone called cortisol in our body. Just like any other hormone, cortisol, in the right amounts is also necessary for the body’s functioning. But when the cortisol levels are off balance it can cause our system to go haywire.

An uncommon disease that is the resultant of a substantial overproduction of cortisol due to a benign tumor of the adrenal or pituitary gland is Cushing Syndrome. The symptoms of this condition includes abdominal obesity, fat deposits near the neck and face, diabetes and high blood pressure. The affected individuals are also at a high risk of suffering from further side effects such as fatigue, anxiety and cognitive impairment. Sometimes, even after tumor treatments, the condition can be so deeply rooted that the psychiatric effects of it can still persist. Refusing to return to work life, avoiding social activities are all common things that some of these patients exhibit. 

Alterations to the DNA of such patients can be a possible explanation to their behaviour. It is a known fact that high levels of stress can have an impact on the structure of our DNAs to an extent. This has been supplemented by further studies which has proved that a high stress load has a direct correlation with DNA methylation, a process that results in changes in the expression and characteristics of genes. 

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg analysed the DNA methylation in the entire human genome for a patient group. They found that the individuals who have Cushing Syndrome had a significantly lower level of methylation when compared to the ones who were healthy. Moreover, they also found that the specific changes within the DNA of the patients with Cushing Syndrome had links to the persistent psychiatric problems they were experiencing. And most of these genetic changes also had a correlation with Cortisol sensitivity. 

The changes that are imparted to the structure of the DNA could potentially be long term or even permanent. So programming a person’s cortisol sensitivity might not be the best route to take. But, with further studies, if the researchers can show that DNA methylation has a direct impact on the levels of certain proteins, we could possibly have new and improved methods of treatment in the near future. But until then, for both healthy and affected individuals alike, it is important to be aware of our brain health, follow mindfulness techniques and lead a stress free life to try and counter the effects of adverse DNA methylation.