Stress is a factor in every major degenerative disease - hear disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and autoimmune disseases. Stress undermines your immune system, breaks down every tissue in your body, raises blood sugar levels and increases inflammation everywhere in your body, making you more susceptible to all the major killers of our time. Stress isn't jsut in your head - it's in your blood stream. By too much stress we mean elevated levels of the adrenal hormone, cortisol. Fortunately there are many effective methods of combating the stress in your life.
Too much stress is the root cause of a large portion of chronic health conditions.
We can think of stress in terms of the Triangle of Health .
Short Term Stress Produces Adrenalin
Every time your body experiences too much stress there is a reaction in the base of the brain which signals the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones. Anything, good or bad, happy or sad, which gets you excited with cause a rush of adrenalin, increasing your pulse and heart output, dilating your pupils, increasing respiration and shutting down such things as digestion and the immune system. Adrenalin is short acting. When the stress continues for hours, days, months or years, the adrenal glands produce cotrisol, a steroid hormone, related to the sex hormones. Cortisol is vital to life. But modern life tends to cause long term stress and overproduction of cortisol.
Long-term Stress Results in Excess Cortisol
Cortisol is a seroid hormone. We've all heard about athletes getting in trouble for taking anabolic steroids. Cortisol is the opposite. It's a catabolic steroid. That means it breaks down tissue: muscle, bone, brain, digestive system, immune system everything. It's job is to mobilize everything for the fight or flight response. That means shutting down everything not immediately necessary to an immediate challenge. The result of chronic high cholesterol is:
- Increased blood sugar and fat deposit
- Bone loss
- Loss of brain mass
- Low stomach acid and low levels of digestive enzymes
- Poor healing
- Depresses the immune system and makes you more prone to infection
- Causes estrogen dominance in both men and women
- Eventually leads to burnout and low cortisol levels
Eventually Long Term Stress Results in Too Little Cortisol
Is the result of stress to the point that the adrenals can no longer adapt and it's just as bad. Cortisol is not all bad. If you have low cortisol in the morning you probably have a hard time getting out of bed. If you crash in the afternoon it's probably low cortisol and low blood sugar (remember cortisol brings blood sugar up which is an important function. Low cortisol is associated with waking up in the middle of the night -- again when blood sugar dips too low.
- Causes fatigue
- Is often associated with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar
- Is associated with depression,, fatigue and sleep disorders
Cortisol is Closely Related to Blood Sugar Handling Problems
When you eat any carbohydrate, and this includes sugars, grains, and starchy foods, the pancreas produces insulin which moves the sugars from you blood into the cells. Our bodies are really not designed to handle large doses of simple sugars. So the pancreas tends to overshoot and produce too much insulin. This results in a sugar crash, typically a few hours later. When blood sugars drop, the adrenals pump out cortisol (called in this case glucocorticoids) which bring blood sugar back up by signaling the liver to make more sugars from stored starches and proteins.
So if you are on a sugar roller coaster, you are not only stressing your pancreas but you are also stressing your adrenal glands. Eventually they both will fail. When the pancreas fails it is called diabetes.
Cortisol Has a Normal Daily Rhythm
Normally, the cortisol levels in your blood are at their highest just before you wake and gradually decrease through the day until it's time to sleep. They should be opposite to melatonin levels, since this is the hormone regulating sleep. Stress, worry, overwork, irregular sleep habits and particularly not eating regular meals all can cause this daily rhythm to be thrown out of balance. This can result in being tired in the morning and not being able to sleep at night.
Failure of the Normal Daily Cortisol Rhythm is an Early Predictor of Dementia
The part of the brain that runs the daily rhythm is the most sensitive to the kind of degeneration seen in dementia - the part that is key to short term memory. Some leading neurologists are using the daily cortisol test as an early indicator. The good news is that there are ways of slowing or preventing this process. The salivary cortisol profile is the only practical method of assessing daily cortisol rhythm. I use it routinely.
Cortisol Levels Affect All Other Hormones
High cortisol can interfere with the conversion of the thyroid hormone to its active form, thus producing a functional hypothyroidism that is often missed on standard lab tests. So high stress can make you effectively hypothyroid. Cortisol is a steroid hormone made from the same precursors as all the sex hormones. All the sex hormones are made from pregnenolone. If you are putting out lots of cortisol, all the pregnenolone is going down that pathway and you may become deficient in other hormones. This is why many women are deficient in progesterone, which is necessary to balance estrogens. Low estrogen is implicated in endometriosis, cystic breasts, ovarian cysts, fibroid tumors and female cancers. Similarly, high stress can reduce testosterone in both men and women.
In my clinic I frequently order adrenal salivary hormone tests. We collect four samples of your saliva; first thing in the morning, before noon, afternoon and before bed. This gives us a snapshot of how your cortisol levels change through a typical day.
The foundation of all treatment is lifestyle:
- Exercise: The right kind of exercise can help balance cortisol and insulin imbalances. On the other hand too much or the wrong kind can make the problem worse.
- Diet: A low carb diet, with adequate protein, rich in antioxidants and with a balance of essential fatty acids is essential for correcting hormone imbalances of all kinds.
- Handling Emotional Stress: Many patients need "vitamin N:" learn to say no. Take care of yourself. Get adequate rest and sleep. Learn some of the tools we teach to release tension. The energy psychology techniques (see box above) are very helpful in reducing the emotional component of stress.
A Variety of Non-Toxic Remedies:
Supplements can help balance too high, too low or dysregulated cortisol levels. It is important to find and handle the source of the problem. Chronic stress can produce many other imbalances and can eventually result in serious disease conditions including heart disease, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, back and neck pain and joint degeneration.
Neurotransmitter Support is a rapidly developing field. Stress is actually a brain phenomenon and modifying the stress response in the brain using simple amino acids and herbal compounds can provide immediate help in handling stress and help with overall healing.
If you or someone you know is overwhelmed by the stress of life there is help. Call my office for a free, brief consultation to see how you can start to feel yourself again.
Stress Release Techniques You Can Use
TAT is a self-care technique
which is demonstrating effectiveness in the treatment of traumatic stress, allergic reactions, and fixed negative emotional and mental states. I regularly use it in my practice to help patients move through blocks in their health and in their lives. And I use myself. This technique was developed by Tapas Flemming (left) who is an acupuncturist and a dear friend. more..
EFT is a simple technique that you can learn in minutes but that can change your life. I have been teaching it to patients for years so that they can help themselves. It has been used by thousands of people all over the world. It's easy to learn so here we go: more...
Heart Focused Techniqueswere developed by Institute of HeartMath® to Relieve Stress, Enhance Performance, Improve Decision-Making, and Promote Health. They have been tested in many settings including education and industry. These techniques include simple ways of reducing stress in the moment as well as high tech training systems. The Institute of HeartMath has done wonderful research demonstrating that a shift in the heart can produce changes in the electromagnetic field within and extending far beyond your body. more..
Stress Release Stress is implicated in every major degenerative disease. Stress undermines your immune system, breaks down every tissue in your body, raises blood sugar levels and increases inflammation everywhere in your body, making you more susceptible to infections, heart attack, stroke, cancer and all the major killers of our time. By too much stress we mean elevated levels of the adrenal hormone, cortisol. Fortunately there are many effective methods of combating the stress in your life. more...
Kinesiology and Emotional Stress Release People are frequently stuck emotionally because of childhood pain "due to the unconsciousness into which we were born," in the words of Ekhart Tolle.* This pain creates a block to the natural flow of energy in the mind and body. It is held not only at the level of thought but is literally a feeling; that is, it is held and experienced as body sensation. Such sensation/thought complexes are the very things which hold us back in life, create problems in relationships and can cause sickness, pain and even injuries. more..
"Fear is a question: What are you afraid of, and why? Just as the seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information, your fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if you explore them." Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Brain Revolution more
Links to other sites:
Does Stress Damage The Brain? "The gray matter density of the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain involved in emotional functioning, was reduced in veterans with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), but not in their twins who had not experienced combat."
National Institutes of Health Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
State-of-the-Science Consultation "Many CFS symptoms could be explained by changes in HPA (hypothalamus- pituitary- adrenal) axis function or regulation."
Uncontrollable Stress Worsens Symptoms Of Endometriosis “These findings contribute to our understanding of how stress may affect the severity of endometriosis. We think there is likely a connection with the immune system because of the observed levels of mast cells in the colon and the increased levels of inflammatory cells in the peritoneum of the affected rats, since this has also been observed in patients with endometriosis.”
Decreased ACTH and Cortisol Responses to Stress in Healthy Adults Reporting Significant Childhood Maltreatment "The main finding of this study was suppression of cortisol response to a standardized laboratory psychosocial stressor among healthy adults reporting significant childhood maltreatment, relative to healthy controls reporting none."
Psychophysiological and Cortisol Responses to Psychological Stress in Depressed and Nondepressed Older Men and Women With Elevated Cardiovascular Disease Risk "Older depressed subjects with elevated risk for CVD (cardopvascular disease) exhibited a hypocortisol ( response to acute stress (that is they produce too little cortisol). This impaired cortisol response might contribute to chronic inflammation (as reflected in the elevated C-reactive proteins in depressed patients) and in other ways increase CVD risk
Stress Increases Cocaine Addiction "Not everyone is genetically sensitive to addiction, but stress is certainly a risk factor to which we must pay more attention in people who are in danger of becoming addicted to cocaine."
Hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis and cortisol in young women with primary fibromyalgia: the potential roles of depression, fatigue, and sleep disturbance in the occurrence of hypocortisolism The study found "low cortisol concentrations in young women with fibromyalgia."