Friday, May 20, 2011

Stress - How it creates havoc for our health.

Stress can be caused from a wide array of bad lifestyle choices and difficult circumstances. Stress is mostly unavoidable in the modern age. From a health perspective, when we are talking about stress we are making the distinction between stress and feeling overwhelmed. The majority of us have many stressors in our lives, but we don't consider ourselves to be suffering from stress. However this feeling of being "stressed" is what we would call feeling overwhelmed which is usually experienced once stress levels start to get really high. In daily life a certain amount of stress can be useful, however if you have filled your life with work and family commitments plus social commitments, charity work etc and couple it with inadequate relaxation time and less than amazing nutrition - even if you're coping well with it all - it's a recipe that we call stress. If our daily lives are filled with the body combating many stressors, then there is very limited leeway for dealing with life's challenges that inevitably come our way.

One of the least understood and unrecognised aspects of stress are that stress includes physical, chemical, emotional and electromagnetic factors. The major stressors follow:

Physical                                                   Chemical              
Inactivity                                                  Sugar      
Toxins (including drugs,                             Infection
Pesticides, additives, immunizations ect)    Nutritional Imbalance
Inadequate light                                        Nicotine
Allergens                                                 Caffeine
Temperature extremes                              Alcohol
Trauma                                                    Xeno-estrogens from plastics
No sunshine for at least an hour a day
Being indoors in “managed” air
Sleeping outside of our natural circadian rhythm

Emotional                                               Electromagnetic     - Positive ions  
Fear                                                       Mobiles              
Anger                                                     Refrigerators, microwaves      
Guilt                                                       Television
Anxiety                                                  Computers
Depression                                             Printers, photocopiers      
Pain                                                       Airplanes
Inadequate sleep, shift work (sleeping     Fluorescent lights
during the day)
Lack of meaning or purpose in life
1. (Shealy, pg.7, 1996)

Normally the body is able to balance these stressors, and align the body to a homeostatic level. However, if stress continues the body can adapt, which changes the efficiency of the stress reaction. Every time we adapt to one stressor, whether it be nicotine, electromagnetic radiation, inadequate sleep ect, then we lower our threshold for a new stressor. 2. (Selye,1974)

A non coffee drinking individual would ordinarily require a cup of coffee to double norepinephrine production, and someone who has adapted to cigarettes might only require two-thirds or half a cup of coffee. When you have adapted to three or four stressors, or even hundreds, it may take less than half as much of a new stress to cause an alarm reaction. The Stress builds up, and we become vulnerable to small stressors more and more.

Even though we become vulnerable to stress, interestingly enough we can also become addicted to the sensation of stress, especially if we grew up in a stressful environment, or were encouraged to place ourselves in stressful situations as teenagers to achieve success, higher grades, accolades and for winning competitions.
The neurotransmitter serotonin is also elevated during stressful times. Serrotinin tends to make us feel satiated or satisfied, and also makes us feel slightly euphoric. The release of high levels of serritonin could be a link to our addiction to stress.

Like caffeine, when Serotonin is released it triggers the release of adrenaline, which allows the body to work through the stress, as It kick starts our sympathetic nervous system (the Fight or Flight response) which quickens the heart rate, elevates blood pressure, increases our sensitivity to pain, light, sound and smell, increases aggression and speeds up mental activity.

This is obviously useful in life or death situations, and in stressful circumstances that we can not avoid. However, when we get bombarded by exogenous stressors mentioned in the chart above then we start to tax the body in many ways, which leads to a long list of health issues.

An overproduction of adrenaline causes nervousness, panic attacks, anxiety, phobias, extreme mood swings and bouts of aggression.  Also, as adrenalin is not quickly renewed,  if we become addicted to the sensation of serotonin and adrenalin in the body, stress, and or caffeine for that matter, for long duration's, our adrenal reserves get used up. This leads to symptoms of exhaustion, anxiety and depression, known as adrenal fatigue.

Over time the serotonin levels can decrease and we may develop a deficiency of Serotonin in the brain which can cause depression (now causes by adrenal fatigue and low serotonin) and it can also upset the appetite mechanism which may lead to obesity or other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa and may be responsible for insomnia, as serotonin converts to melatonin which helps us sleep.

A person low in Serotonin will be inclined to consume greater amounts of sugar in an attempt to increase Serotonin production and this may lead to sugar addiction. 3.  (J. Plesman, The serotonin connection). Remembering sugar is an addictive and stressful chemical on the body, which may have gotten us here in the first place. Sugar addiction can then lead to insulin resistance, which causes unstable concentrations of blood glucose, causing fatigue, moodiness and sugar cravings, and can then lead to diabetes over time.

As we eat large amounts of sugar or refined carbohydrates, our insulin levels increase to mop up the sugar. The spike in insulin can also create a spike in some of our hormones known as androgen, mostly androstenedione and testosterone. This can then create hormonal imbalances, which can create PCOS, hirsutism (male hair growth patterns in women), male pattern balding, and over time aromatizes into estrogens. High Estrogens are linked in with incidence of endometriosis, fibroids, cysts, heavy / irregular periods and breast cancer.

This elevated insulin in this circumstance blocks the utilization of fat cells as a source of energy, thus causing obesity, or storing fat around the waist line. Wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels causes the body to produce excess adrenaline, once again.  The cycle continues.

These interrelationships of stress are almost certainly a prime contributor to the body’s loss of homeostasis and a gradual progression of chronic stress adaptation-maladaptation-exhaustion stages. It is probable that by the time you adapt to any given stress that it will be difficult for you body to maintain in balance in all hormonal levels.

The results of Chronic Stresss (Exhaustion)

Stress hormone Cortisol increases 24 hours a day
Sex hormone DHEA decreases
Insulin erratic (metabolic fluctuation)
Poor sleep recovery
Immune system significantly deficient
Major illnesses begin
-    Heart disease
-    Stroke
-    Cancer
-    Infection
-    Autoimmune disorders
-    Degenerative diseases

Although research shows a strong correlation between chemical, physical and emotional stress and patients diverse symptoms, most physicians do not evaluate even the most basic measures of stress, or address hormonal fluctuations.

When Cortisol (our stress hormone) is elevated in our body’s from Chronic stress and from the adaptation stress response then the body must use up a master hormone called Pregnenolone to then make Cortisol. The more Pregnenolone used up to make Cortisol, the less there is to make other hormones such as Progesterone, estrogen, DHEA, testosterone ect., which then has a cascade effect on mood, energy levels, libido, menstrual issues, fertility, immunity response, youthfulness, weight issues, high cholesterol, diabetes from insulin insufficiency, susceptibility to heart attack, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis and much more.

How to Combat Stress

Moderate exercise,

Increase water to 8 glasses a day,

Avoid creating a build up of serotonin in the body by allowing the serotonin to convert to melatonin at night time by going to bed before 10.00pm and having at least 8 hours rest a night in complete darkness. (See blog on Are you sleeping in the dark?).

Avoid situations that create volatile emotions

Avoid stressful situations that you can avoid like long distance running, sky diving, or driving to work in the city.


Qi Gong, Yoga, deepen your breath

Listen to music.

Go for a walk.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine.

Avoid stressful foods like sugar and caffeine.

Avoid the use of SSRIS (Serotonin reuptake inhibitors). For depression try an everyday   a Hatha yoga or Tai qi class or practice at home. Eat food with Tryptophan, take B vitamin supplement and SAMe.

Reducing the use of electronic equipment which releases positive ions. Also use a negative ionizing machine, which will help balance serotonin levels.  (The Ionizing study)

Correct chemical and hormonal imbalances by a hypoglycemic diet together with an omega-3 fatty acids supplement.

Considering exposure to emotional stress may be  the main cause of symptoms, it is to seek some sort of emotional transformative counseling and or kinesiology.

Observe your addictions, and ask yourself “Why do I crave this, and does this serve me”?

This is THE treatment to restore a person to health.

1.    C. Shealy M.D. PhD, DHEA, The Youth and Health Hormone, Keats Publishing, Connecticut, 1996,  
2.    Selye.  H, Stress without Distress, Lippincott co, Philadelphia, 1974
3.    J. Plesman, BA(Psych), Post Grad Dip Clin Nut, The Serotonin Connection.

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