Stress is a normal physiological reaction. In short bursts, it is beneficial to our health and survival. However, studies demonstrate that people with disabilities tend to experience more stress due to chronic physical pain, financial strain, difficulties with activities of everyday living and inaccessible environments. Prolonged stress wreaks havoc on our body, often exacerbating other disability-related health conditions.
The detrimental effects of chronic stress are due to an overabundance of stress hormones. Our adrenal glands, located on top of our kidneys, produce and release stress hormones in response to any kind of physical, mental or emotional stress. Cortisol is the most damaging hormone to our health when over-secreted into our blood stream. So what does this have to with disability and nutrition? Lots.
Stress decreases our digestive function and our ability to break down and absorb nutrients. It lowers our production of stomach acid, which is critical to the breakdown and absorption of minerals and protein. Stress also makes our digestive enzymes less effective. These enzymes are required to help digest fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. However, cortisol can increase the acidification of our tissues, which in turn inhibits digestive enzyme activity, thus reducing enzymes’ effectiveness in digesting the nutrients we consume.