Our bodies respond to stress by producing the hormone, cortisol. One of the many effects of cortisol on the body is weaker bones. When you’re stressed, your bones begin spilling the minerals they need for bone formation into the bloodstream for the benefit of other tissues. Unfortunately, if you experience chronic stress, your bones are continuously deprived of minerals, which can result in bone loss.
Cortisol and Bone Loss
Bone formation gets disrupted as long as your body remains in a state of chronic stress. Without much needed rest and repair, your body simply cannot keep up with the bone-building process.
Small amounts of cortisol are necessary for normal bone development, but large amounts block bone growth. Synthetic forms of cortisol, called glococorticoids can reduce bone building and increases bone resorption.
Cortisol tends to inhibit the activity of bone-building cells called osteoblasts and cartilage-building cells known as chrondocytes. This leads to a double whammy where not only does excess cortisol speeds ups the breakdown of tissues, it also hinders the process of building and repairing these tissues.
The stress hormone triggers bone mineral resorption to free amino acids to be used as an energy source through gluconeogenesis. The stress hormone indirectly acts on bone by obstructing calcium absorption which inhibits bone cell growth. This causes an increase of bone resorption, and ultimately reduces bone mineral density.
When you’re under constant stress, your body increases its cortisol levels. When your cortisol levels are high, your body goes under a state of inflammation where it becomes less able to absorb calcium. There even will be a significant increase in excreting calcium. Osteoblasts are reduced and inhibit the ability of the bones to renew what’s needed to keep the bones healthy.
Chronic stress causes calcium depletion that’s so fast that diets cannot replace the lost mineral. The bones are constantly leached of calcium, leading to more porous bones, brittle bones and osteoporosis.
There are a couple of ways arthritis can occur from too much cortisol and/or inflammation in the body.
Cortisol is also an anti-inflammatory hormone. High amounts of cortisol suppress the body’s repair functions because they choose to spend energy on fight-or-flight functions than in response to inflammation. Also inflammation in either the intestinal tract or from inflammatory chemicals circulating throughout the body as a result of poor diet or anti-inflammatory drugs triggers the release of enzymes that damage the joint cartilage, resulting in arthritis.
Daily stress can affect arthritis pain. It can also create a vicious cycle. Pain from arthritis may contribute to a stressful situation, and in turn the stressful situation may worsen the pain.
Managing Stress for Bone Health
Identifying what causes your stress can help. It may not be able to fix the situation, but you can find ways to manage it. Engaging in relaxing activities and exercise can be an effective strategy. It’s also important to avoid overeating as a way to cope with stress, as this could lead to obesity and worsening of arthritis.
People with Cushing’s syndrome have high cortisol in which results in bone loss. People with anorexia nervosa also have high cortisol resulting in bone and muscle loss. Studies suggest that addressing these diseases can also address cortisol overproduction, thus can help restore cartilage, bone and muscle tissues.
It’s a good thing to have a daily intake of calcium and other nutrients needed to keep the bones strong. But the most important thing about preventing bone loss is to avoid stress in the first place. As for those who are already experiencing bone loss, it is still important to get enough nutrition and relaxation and not to forget, avoiding things that can harm the bones.