The Nature of Stress and the
Mind Body Connection
by Douglas Fleckman (For more information, or to schedule an appointment or a speaker, please call: 713 515-9988. www.douglasfleckman.com
Stress comes in many forms. It can be good and beneficial or not so good and taxing to the body. The good forms of stress or "ustress" can come in the form of exercise. Some examples would be weight lifting because it starts off temporarily stressing the muscles in order to bring about the beneficial effects of building and strengthening the muscles and cardiovascular system and at the same time supporting strong bones by improving the bodyís calcium retention. Of course, over exercising, without proper rest, fueling, and nutrients can have the opposite effect. The beneficial ustress looses the "u". Then we are left with stress which can lead to depletion, decreased immunity and sometime a craving or attraction to sweets, simple carbohydrates or stimulatory types of food. All of which lead to more stress. Another beneficial or ustress is gravity. The stress of gravity helps to keep calcium in our bones. This was discovered when the astronauts traveled into space; they experienced calcium bone loss.
Unfortunately we are most familiar with and affected by the problems or difficulties of stress as oppose to the benefits. For the sake of time, space and expediency, I will quickly list other forms of stress so that we can explore the affects of stress on the mind and body including our endocrine system, hormonal system, immunity, energy levels and overall wellbeing.
The list: stress in our jobs or work, stress in relationships: family, partners, parents, children; stress of driving the freeways on daily commutes; stress of watching too much TV, stress of being at war; stress of uncertainty (unless you like surprises); financial stress, stress of eating the wrong kinds of food; stress of not enough sleep; electromagnetic stress (An interesting aside: we have more technology that is supposed to make life easier, right?. but we wind up trying to do more as our so called leisure slips away and that my friends is stressful); the stress of surgery, illness or accidents; the stress of eating too fast and not chewing our food enough (remember: "drink your solids, chew your liquids"; not drinking enough water; the stress from too much caffeine; too much chocolate; or not enough chocolate (oh my); and the list goes on.
What is the biochemical, hormonal, physiological and emotional effects of the stress and how does the body cope? The first response to stress is the "alarm" stage and depending on the severity, the body will secrete beneficial hormones to help us deal with stress. Sitting on top of the kidneys is the tiny adrenal glands. One of the hormones that the adrenals secrete is the beneficial and protective hormone: cortisol. You might be familiar with cortisone pills, topical anti-inflammatory cortisone creams, cortisone injections, or cortisone inhalersÖthese are derivatives of the natural anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol. The secretion of cortisol is a beneficial and protective response to stress and after the stress is over, the body will rebalance itself and the circulating cortisol in the blood is reduced. However, when the stress is severe enough or ongoing, the second response to stress takes place: "adaptation". This means that after a while, we donít realize that the initiating stimulus is a problem because we habituate to the stress and donít even realize it is still there. But, the body remembers. And again, this release of cortisol is a beneficial healthy protective response. It just so happens that elevated levels of circulating cortisol turns out to have its own side effects.
Stay tuned next month for the next installment of "Stress and the Mind Body Connection: Hormones, weight gain or loss, immunity and energy".
In review, the body has a built in mechanism to deal with stress through the secretion of the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol that is produced in the cortex of the adrenals (the tiny gland that sits on the top of each kidney). The adrenals play a major role in influencing our bodyís fluid balance, blood sugar control, energy production,immunity and hormone regulation. However, elevated circulating cortisol has its own physiological, biochemical response that may become a high price to pay for the protection that it gives.
Increased levels of circulating cortisol can cause disturbed sleep patterns: waking in the middle of the night and unable to go back to sleep; hard to wake up in the morning or difficulty going to sleep at night. The disturbed sleep pattern prevents us from reaching deep restful and restorative sleep where the body repairs, rebuilds and replenishes. When we donít get enough restorative sleep, we are often tired, on edge and hyper sensitive to noises or loud sounds. Another response to high circulating cortisol is the tendency for weight loss, but more often, weight gain, especially around the hips and abdomen areas, and difficulty to loose weight. The cortisol can also cause a hyper tonicity (tension or tightness) in smooth muscle tissue. One of the major smooth muscle tissues in the body is our liver and biliary tree (gall bladder and bile duct areas). This means that we could have compromised liver function do to ongoing stress. This stress response can also cause us to be more sensitive to allergic reaction and sinus flare ups leading to more frequent colds and flu. Not to mention the fact that we just donít feel good because are energy is down.
Now you might be asking, well what can we do about this? Surely the body has a way do deal with all of the stresses. And the answer is, yes there is. Stay tuned for next monthís article.
"Stress and the Mind Body Connection: Beneficial strategies and natural ways to deal with stress".
In previous articles we have talked about different kinds of stress and its physiological and biochemical response. Now letís discuss beneficial and natural ways to help our body to: lower our stress response, help to reduce the elevated levels of cortisol.
One of the most beneficial habits to get into is the habit of taking in enough water throughout the day. Our body requires water so the kidneys (the washing machine of the blood) can clean and filter our blood. Water is also a universal solvent. The electrical charge that our entire body depends on to perform all metabolic functions must have water for the minerals (ions) to flow in. Water is a natural diureticÖjust start drinking it and see how long it takes to pass through! Many of our "long lived" individuals restrict their water intake for this very reason: frequent urination, which puts more stress on the kidneys. So drink more water. How much? A general rule to follow: to divide your weight in half, convert that half to ounces of water, and thatís how much you drink per day. (ex: 150 lbs divided by 2 = 75 ounces per day).
Other beneficial ways to deal with stress and elevated circulating cortisol is by increasing the counter regulating hormone: DHEA. Raising the DHEA will lower the cortisol. You can accomplish this by getting full spectrum day light exposure: working near windows, spending more time outdoors, or installing full spectrum lighting over your work station or in your home environment. Going for daily walks is another way to bring up levels of the counter regulatory hormone: DHEA and lower circulating cortisol. Exercise in general will have the same effect: raise DHEA levels and lower cortisol. Be careful not to over exercise without the proper fuel and rest. Yoga and Tai Chi are other ways to help the body deal with stress. Practicing relaxation responses, meditation, and abdominal breathing also helps this beneficial hormonal response and is very peaceful and calming.
We can also help ourselves deal with stress naturally by working with our nutrition. Eating breakfast starts us off with a good nutrition foundation to begin the day. Taking time to sit down and chew our food is another excellent strategy to take good care of ourselves. Eating regular meals rather than substituting sodas or candy bars for meals is a "biggie". It is also good to avoid eating large heavy meals late at night. The body will do a better job of repairing and resting. We donít want the body working all night on a heavy meal. Here is another excellent strategy to decrease stress by getting better sleep: begin lowering the lights approximately one hour before bedtime. An important point to remember: The pineal glandís release of melatonin, which triggers sleep, is stimulated by darkness. So it is a good idea to have your bedroom as dark as possible. Digital clocks and night lights can interfere with your bodyís release of melatonin.
There are many other protective strategies to help deal with stress. These are just some of the more practical and easy to apply Healthy Solutions for the Mind and Body to improve overall health and wellness.
Douglas Fleckman, BSc, FACACN, CCN (Certified Clinical Nutritionist), has over 18 years experience in the Complimentary Health field, and is in private practice in Houston with Whole Health Associates. Understanding that we each have a unique "biochemical fingerprint," Douglas customizes specific Nutrition and Lifestyle programs to address his clientís needs. In his customized nutrition programs, he uses Biochemical Analysis, Self-Inquiry and Energy Balancing. For more information, or schedule an appointment or a speaker, please call: 713 515-9988.
Also, ask Douglas about "House Calls": Dining Out (How to select the right menu choices), Cooking Classes, Grocery Shopping Tours, Pantry & Fridge Inspections (identifying foods and condiments that support your health and those that donít), and Mind-Body coaching, all in the comfort of your home.
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