Stress plays a crucial role in modulating our genes, which can influence the predisposition and development of various diseases.
Stress is a natural physiological response of the human body to situations that require adjustments or changes. By itself, it is not harmful; in fact, the stress we feel before an exam can help us concentrate better. However, when stress becomes chronic, it leads to serious problems.
Stress causes changes in gene expression, known as epigenetic changes. Epigenetics refers to heritable changes in gene expression and cellular activity that occur without alterations in the DNA sequence. Thus, epigenetic changes can influence how our genes are activated or deactivated, affecting how cells interpret genetic information. This can lead to the expression of genes that predispose to diseases or, conversely, their deactivation.
On one hand, the physiological response to stress involves the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger a series of biochemical changes. These changes can influence genetic expression, for example, through DNA methylation. DNA methylation, an epigenetic mechanism, can regulate the activation or deactivation of specific genes without altering their sequence.
Various studies have linked chronic stress with an increased risk of developing diseases such as cardiovascular disorders, mental conditions, autoimmune diseases, and some types of cancer. Additionally, the regulation of genes related to the inflammatory response can be modulated by stress, contributing to the development of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
On the other hand, the transgenerational transmission of these stress-induced epigenetic changes has been observed, although their incidence and precise mechanisms in humans require further research.
Therefore, strategies that address stress management, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation, regular exercise, and a balanced diet, are essential tools in the prevention and mitigation of the harmful effects of stress on health.