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Posts Tagged ‘chronic stress’

election recovery copy

Weathering one of the most acrimonious elections in U.S. history can be hard on health. Fortunately, functional medicine offers some strategies to help take the edge off.

Prolonged heightened stress  fear, anger, and negativity have been shown to harmfully impact the body in the following ways:

Raises inflammation. Heightened stress and negativity can inflame joints, cause skin breakouts, disrupt brain function, upset the stomach, provoke respiratory problems, and trigger headaches.

Triggers anxiety, depression, and/or insomnia. People have lost sleep and become anxious and depressed this election year. Chronic stress keeps the central nervous system in a heightened state, chipping away at your health.

Causes stomach aches and abdominal symptoms. Chronic stress ravages the gut, predisposing one to pain, inflammation, and digestive upsets.

Tightens muscles. Chronic stress keeps the body in a fight-or-flight state, with the muscles constantly tense.

Imbalances hormones. Stress hormones can devastate the delicate balance of hormones in both women and men. This can impact menstrual cycles, libido, and the brain.

Causes brain fog and memory loss. Because chronic stress and negativity are so inflammatory, the brain may become inflamed as well. Common symptoms of brain inflammation are brain fog, depression, and memory loss.

Weakens or over stimulates immunity. Chronic stress weakens the immune system so that you’re more susceptible to illness. It can also over stimulate it so that autoimmune conditions flare up.

Promotes high blood pressure and respiratory stress. Chronic stress constricts the blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and inflames respiratory conditions.

Encourage addiction and bad habits. Chronic stress makes people more prone to addictive behaviors.

Healthy ways to buffer the effects of election stress

Stress is a normal function that serves a survival purpose. The trick is to rebound from it appropriately.

Although it’s tempting to mix a drink or pop a Xanax, aim for functional medicine tips that ease election anxiety and support your health:

Take an adrenal adaptogen supplement. These herbs help buffer the body and brain during stress. Examples include ginseng, ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola, eleuthero, and pantethine.

Connect with others. Seek out like-minded friends and do something fun. Positive socialization is a well-documented health booster.

Release feel-good hormones through exercise. Exercise can’t be beat in the face of chronic stress and negativity. It floods your body with feel-good hormones that improve health and brain function. Just be careful not to overdo it, over exercising stresses and inflames the body.

Find unidentified causes of stress. Much of our stress today comes from factors we’re not even aware of. Unstable blood sugar is the most common. Unidentified food sensitivities, such as to gluten or dairy, is also common. Chemical sensitivities, anemia, unmanaged autoimmunity, leaky gut, and infections are examples of health issues that keep one in a state of chronic stress.

Practice positivity. Although it’s important to allow and process any negative emotions, at some point it’s helpful to practice positivity, something science shows is vital to good health.

By taking better care of your health and managing how outside events affect you, you have a better chance of having a more positive impact on your own life and the people around you.

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stress derailed health habits

It seems the times when we most need to support ourselves with healthy habits is when we are most apt to fall off the wagon. It can happen during major life changes or stressors, such as a move, the end of a relationship, or change in job status. Although the desire to comfort ourselves with sweets, junk foods, and too many days off from the gym are powerful, in the long run slacking off just adds to the stress. Instead of beating yourself up (which just causes even more stress), honor the fact that you’re in a tough spot and take small measures to slowly work your way back into a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Once you see how even the smallest changes transform into more energy and peace of mind it will motivate you to increasingly expand what you include in your healthy habits routine.

With that in mind, here are some gentle and easy steps to keep you from getting sucked into the abyss of destructive habits during stressful times.

Go for a walk. Have you stopped working out? Then walking is a gentle, pleasurable way to reawaken your physical body while settling the mind. Exercise is a magic bullet when it comes to health, but too much exercise stresses the body and causes inflammation. If a major life stressor has you feeling weaker and more tired than normal, that may be your body’s way of telling you it needs extra rest to cope. Walking’s physical benefits are only part of the story; research shows walking, especially in a natural environment, lowers stress, anxiety, and depression while boosting energy.

Make veggie smoothies. When we’re beset by stress, healthy cooking can seem overwhelming. Frozen pizza or bowls of cereal may feel comforting at first, but their effects on your blood sugar stability and brain chemistry will soon spike stress levels. One way to outsmart comfort-food cravings is to make veggie smoothies. Simply combine a few different vegetables, such as carrots, celery, beet, some salad or leafy greens, cucumber, avocado, ginger, etc. with filtered water, a small bit of fruit for taste and, if desired, some lemon juice and salt. People with hypothyroidism should be careful not to overuse raw cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, or broccoli as it can inhibit thyroid function. Also, avoid the temptation to rely on all fruit smoothies or the use of super-sweet additions such as pineapple or fruit juice. The high sugar content creates stress for the body, something you don’t need more of.

Eating lots of veggies also improves the balance of your gut bacteria, which play a profound role in mood, stress, weight, and immunity.

Don’t be a hermit. When stress is high it’s tempting to retreat under a rock, but isolation can compound your troubles. Ample research has shown the stress-lowering and health-boosting benefits of healthy socialization. Get together with friends, join meetup.com groups, take classes, go to church…being around other people boosts feel-good brain chemicals and is a reminder you’re not the only one with big life struggles.

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adrenal-exhaustion-chronic-stress-adrenal-saliva-test

It’s a constant refrain: We’re too stressed out. But how stressed out are we really? An adrenal saliva test can tell you whether your cortisol (the stress hormone) is too high or too low, whether your circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle) is normal, and also pin point the cause of your symptoms: adrenal fatigue or high adrenal hormones.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue

  • Fatigue
  • Slow to get going in the morning
  • Energy crash in the afternoon
  • Craving sweets, caffeine, or nicotine
  • Unstable behavior; moodiness
  • Shaky, light-headed, or irritable if meals are delayed
  • Inability to stay asleep
  • Dizziness when moving from sitting to standing

Symptoms of high adrenal hormones

  • Excess belly fat
  • Insulin resistance (high blood sugar)
  • Insomnia
  • Not feeling rested in the morning
  • Women grow facial hair; men grow breasts
  • PCOS in women (polycystic ovarian syndrome).

How to do the adrenal saliva test

The adrenal saliva test requires you to collect a small vial of saliva several times throughout the day. Adrenal stress is always caused by something else, such as unstable blood sugar, a chronic infection, or an autoimmune disease. So the importance of the adrenal saliva test is that it allows us to track the progress of a protocol.

One test is a good place to start, but the second and third tests tell us if we’re on the right track with a protocol; adrenal health should improve as conditions resolve. If things do not improve, it means we must dig deeper to find out what is taxing the body.

Measuring the circadian rhythm

An abnormal sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one symptom of adrenal stress. A normal circadian rhythm shows high cortisol in the morning and low cortisol at night. This makes us alert when we wake up and tired before bed. For many, this rhythm is backwards, causing fatigue in the morning and insomnia at night. In addition, instead of the usual gradual decline throughout the day, cortisol may suddenly drop in the afternoon, causing an energy crash.

The stages of stress

By measuring circadian rhythm, precursor hormones (DHEA and 17 hydroxyprogesterone), and cortisol levels, the adrenal saliva test can tell you whether you are in the “alarm reaction” of high adrenal hormones, in adrenal exhaustion, or somewhere in between. Contrary to popular belief, one does not necessarily progress from alarm reaction to adrenal fatigue; adrenal function can jump around between phases, or stay in one phase for years.

The adrenal saliva test also measures total SIgA (secretory antibodies). SIgA levels measure the impact of stress on the immune system. When SIgA is low, it means a person is more susceptible to food intolerances, infections, and other assaults on the immune system.

A variety of herbal and nutritional compounds can profoundly influence adrenal function, but they are not the first line of defense. You and your doctor must first ferret out what is causing your adrenal stress and make addressing that a priority. Only then is adrenal support appropriate.

Ask my office how you can support your adrenal health.

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Question

Why did pregnancy trigger my hypothyroidism?

Answer

Natural immune shifts during pregnancy, together with a genetic tendency and other predisposing factors, can trigger hypothyroidism in some women.

Hypothyroidism is an immune disease for most

For 90 percent of Americans, hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland.

The immune system has two major arms of function, one that reacts immediately to an invader, and one that reacts later to produce antibodies. When one of these arms of becomes overly dominant it can trigger an autoimmune disease.

Going into pregnancy predisposed

Pregnancy and the postpartum periods naturally polarize the immune system. In the third trimester the delayed immune response is dominant. Postpartum the immediate immune reaction is stronger.

If a genetically predisposed woman goes into pregnancy with an existing immune imbalance, these natural immune shifts could be the tipping point for Hashimoto’s.

When pregnancy is one stressor too many

Pregnancy can also cause hypothyroid symptoms secondary to chronic stress. Stressors such as gut infections, food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, and hormonal imbalances can depress the pituitary gland, which controls hormone function in the body. As a result the pituitary fails to signal thyroid activity.

For many women this manifests not only as low thyroid function, but also postpartum depression. Because so many women enter pregnancy dealing with multiple chronic stressors, the increased demands of pregnancy overwhelm the pituitary gland and depress thyroid function.

Balancing health pre-conception lowers risk for mother and baby

A woman should address health and immune imbalances before conceiving to reduce her risk of developing hypothyroidism.

Doing so also may lower the risk of her infant developing eczema, asthma, food allergies, and even autism, which has been found to be caused by an autoimmune disease in many. When the mother’s immune system is healthy and balanced, there’s a stronger possibility her baby’s will be too.

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Question

I learned I have intolerances and allergies to certain foods, and that I need to avoid those foods if I want to lose weight. Isn’t it just a matter of eating fewer calories?

Answer

Some people find they can’t lose weight through calorie restriction alone. When that happens several issues need to be investigated. One of the most important is food intolerances. Eating foods to which you are allergic or intolerant will prevent weight loss.

Food intolerances cause inflammation

Food intolerances and allergies create inflammation, and inflammation prevents weight loss. Every time you eat gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, or some other food that may be a problem for you, you create inflammation in your body.

Leaky gut is a primary culprit

For many people today, a variety of foods trigger inflammation. This is due largely to intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut,” which allows undigested food particles to slip into the bloodstream through damaged and inflamed intestinal walls. Leaky gut is very common today due to poor diets, excessive sweets, chronic stress, and other maladies of modern life. Gluten intolerance and celiac disease are also common and cause leaky gut.

As these food particles circulate throughout the body the immune system responds by attacking and destroying them for removal, just as it would respond to a viral or bacterial infection. Unfortunately, if the food is eaten regularly, this keeps the immune system constantly at work, hence creating chronic inflammation. Symptoms can be obvious in the way of joint pain, skin issues, abdominal pain, or even brain fog, memory loss, or moodiness. Sometimes the inflammation is not obvious, yet a person finds she or he can’t lose weight.

Inflammation halts weight loss

Studies show the immune compounds that cause inflammation also make insulin receptors less sensitive, creating insulin resistance. As a result glucose can’t get into cells and blood sugar becomes too high. The body lowers blood sugar by converting it to fat for storage. Insulin resistance also hinders fat burning.

Inflammation also has been shown to cause leptin resistance, which stimulates hunger and promotes fat storage. Furthermore, excess body fat secretes immune messenger cells that trigger inflammation, promoting a vicious cycle that prevents weight loss.

Although moderating caloric intake and exercising are recommended for weight loss, effective and lasting weight loss depends in part on tackling chronic inflammation and food sensitivities.

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