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How does the body react to stress in survival situations?

William B. Salt II., MD
Gastroenterology
The body's stress response system -- mediated through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the secretion of epinephrine and cortisol -- was really designed to handle short term, life threatening, physical survival risks. The hypothalamus of the limbic system sends chemical and nerve signals to the pituitary gland, which then communicates with the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Some of the signals sent through the HPA activate certain glands or organs and some of the signals inhibit or suppress certain glands or organs. This is the initial step of the stress response.
 
If you were really being chased by a raging tiger, you would be grateful to have the fight-or-flight good stress response on your side. Its nerve cell firing and chemical messengers would mobilize release of energy from storage sites to supply contracting muscles, increase heart rate and blood pressure in order to circulate blood throughout the body and suppress functions not necessary for your immediate survival, such as digestion. Survival is more important than digesting your lunch!
Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

Fast Facts on IBS: One in five people suffers from the frustrating symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There is no simple answer--no pill, potion, or quick fix--that will cure IBS. But help...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.