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Posts Tagged ‘stress’

why stress is so bad for you copy

Most cases of chronic disease can be linked to stress, even if that stress is more physical than psychological. About two-thirds of doctor’s visits are for stress-related complaints.

How does stress causes disease? The body responds to stress by making adrenal hormones (such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol  that cause the “fight or flight” response. This response raises blood pressure, increases the heart rate, and sends blood to the limbs in preparation for action. The sweaty palms, quickened breathing, and jitters before a job interview, first date, or big test? That’s from stress hormones.

A healthy body quickly returns to normal after a stressful situation. The problem with life today is stress is ongoing and many people never return to “normal.” Chronic financial worries, a stressful job, or a bad relationship keep us locked in fight-or-flight.

Stress doesn’t have to be only related to lifestyle. In fact, stressors to the body are more insidious and can be more damaging. These include a diet high in sugar and starchy foods, not eating enough or eating too much, gut problems, food intolerances, high or low blood sugar, diabetes, anemia, autoimmune disease, chronic pain, and environmental toxins.

How stress damages your body

Unrelenting stress causes continual production of cortisol  Cortisol is known as the aging hormone because it breaks us down more quickly. Chronic high cortisol is linked to:

  • depression
  • insomnia
  • increased belly fat
  • diabetes
  • insulin resistance
  • high blood pressure
  • low energy
  • suppressed immunity
  • reduced libido
  • bone loss
  • heart problems

Symptoms of chronic stress

You might think this is a no-brainer — a symptom of chronic stress is feeling stressed out.

This is true in many, but not all cases. Other lesser-known symptoms that indicate stress is robbing you of health include: constant fatigue, energy crashes, difficulty recovering from stressful events, headaches, trouble falling and staying asleep, trouble waking up, emotional mood swings, sugar and caffeine cravings, irritability, lightheadedness between meals, eating to relieve fatigue, dizziness upon standing, and gastric ulcers.

How to buffer damages of stress

The most important first step in addressing stress to better manage chronic disease is obvious: remove the stressors. This can mean a diet and lifestyle overhaul.

It also means adding in activities that lower stress and release chemicals and hormones that lower inflammation and improve overall health of the body and brain.

These include plenty of sleep, meditation, daily physical activity, hobbies, socializing, laughter, a healthy whole foods diet, avoiding junk foods, and more.

Herbal adaptogens help the body cope with stress

Daily stress is a way of life for the average American. Just the toxic chemicals we encounter in our environment are considerably stressful. Urban life, traffic, raising children, and existing illnesses are examples of potent stressors you can’t simply jettison.

Adaptogens are herbs that help tame inflammation, sustain energy, boost brain function, and regulate sleep patterns. They include panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng (eleuthero), astragalus, rhodiola, ashwagandha, licorice root, holy basil (tulsi) and schizandra.

Phosphatidylserine is a nutritional compound that helps normalize cortisol levels and protect the brain from the damages of stress.

For more information on how to identify and manage adrenal stress, contact our office.

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nature is powerful medicine copy

Have you ever wondered why a walk in the woods makes you feel so good? While that Zen feeling is partly about “getting away from it all,” studies show time in nature is also powerfully therapeutic for the body and brain. 

More than half of the world’s population lives in an urban setting, and by 2050 that number will increase to a whopping 70 percent. Urbanization disconnects us from nature with measurable effects on our health. For example, city dwellers are at a 40 percent higher risk for mood disorders than rural folk.

Eight reasons nature is powerful medicine for your body and brain 

Spending time in nature is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, and its positive impacts on mood and depression. Here are eight great reasons to spend more time in nature:

1. Vitamin D: Exposure to sunlight enables us to produce this critical hormone. In our increasingly indoor world, many people find they are deficient in Vitamin D. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including depression. Vitamin D is also critical to regulating inflammation.

2. Improved sleep: Sleep patterns are tied to the sun’s schedule. Spending too much time indoors away from natural light can alter this rhythm, which plays a role in many metabolic processes and mental health. Early morning exposure to sunlight has been shown to recalibrate the sleep cycle, and one study found participants were cured of insomnia in one week of camping outdoors with no exposure to electronics or electric light.

3. Increased emotional stability and empathy: People who spend time in nature show increased activity in parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love. In case you were wondering, yes, urban environments, have the opposite effect of promoting fear and anxiety. 

4. Grounding: A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported that grounding (bare-skinned contact with the earth) can have an intense anti-inflammatory and energizing effect on the body. 

5. Creativity: A study of backpackers found that after four days in nature, subjects scored 50 percent better on a creativity test. 

6. A breath of fresh air: Outdoor air really is fresher than indoor air! The EPA states that indoor pollutants are 2 to 100 times higher than outdoor pollutants! 

7. Improved mood: A Stanford study showed that participants who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment were less apt to focus on life’s shortcomings compared to subjects who walked along a busy highway. Added bonus: Time in the sun boosts serotonin, a brain hormone responsible for happiness. 

8. Renewed mental focus: Interaction with nature gives your brain a break from everyday stimulation, allowing it to restore your attention levels.  

Hit the hills!

Live in a city with no green space nearby? Try to get out of town into nature as often as you can. But even roaming the green places in your city can bring great benefits. And don’t worry if you aren’t capable of a vigorous hike; even “non-exercise activity” has solid benefits.

What are you planning for your next outdoor excursion?

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how stress harms body

Did you know that approximately two-thirds of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related complaintsStress is the body’s reaction to any situation that is demanding or dangerous. When we experience stress, the body responds by making adrenal hormones (such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol) that help your body cope. Commonly called the “fight or flight” response, this is where your blood pressure increases, your hands sweat, and your heart rate and breathing quicken. You’ve probably felt it during that big job interview, before a first date, during an argument, or being stuck in traffic when you’re running late.

Our bodies normalize quickly after responding to short-term stressors. But problems arise with chronic stress, such as financial worries, major life changes, job stress, or an ongoing illness. Other chronic stressors are not lifestyle related but instead metabolic: gut infections, leaky gut, food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances (low blood sugar, insulin resistance, or diabetes), anemia, autoimmune disease, inflammation, and environmental toxins are examples.

It’s no wonder adrenal stress is one of most common problems encountered by functional medical practitioners.

How stress damages the body

In chronic stress, the adrenal glands continually produce the hormone cortisol. Known as the “aging hormone” (ever notice how you look older when you are stressed a lot?), chronic high cortisol is linked to:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • suppressed immunity
  • insulin resistance
  • increased belly fat (muffin top anyone?)
  • reduced libido
  • bone loss
  • low energy
  • heart problems

How do you know if you have adrenal stress? You may experience ongoing fatigue, energy crashes, difficulty recovering from long days or stressful events, headaches, difficulty falling and staying asleep, difficulty waking up, mood swings, sugar and caffeine cravings (do you need to refresh from the afternoon blahs?), irritability, lightheadedness between meals, eating to relieve fatigue, dizziness upon standing, gastric ulcers, and hypothyroid symptoms.

Adrenal adaptogens help buffer the damages of stress

Everyone is familiar with classic stress-relief methods such as meditation, exercise, enjoying hobbies, and socializing, but there is much more you can do to support the body’s stress response.

One of the most reliable ways to buffer the damages of stress is to take adrenal adaptogens. These are a unique class of healing plants that support healthy adrenal function and help regulate the body’s stress response. Adrenal adaptogens include panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng (eleuthero), astragalus, rhodiola, ashwagandha, licorice root, holy basil (tulsi) and schizandra.

In addition to soothing inflammation and increasing energy and brain function, these herbs can also help the body and brain cope with stress. Although they come from the plant world, adrenal adaptogens are potent medicines that should be taken under the supervision of a trained practitioner.

Other smart tools to protect you from the damage of stress

There are other tools to add to your stress-reduction program. For example, phosphatidylserine can help normalize cortisol levels and protect the brain from the damages of stress.

Of course, one should always consider lifestyle habits when addressing stress. Below are lifestyle suggestions to help support healthy adrenal function and stress response:

  • Avoid or greatly minimize stimulants.
  • Eat nutrient-dense foods.
  • Avoid high carbs and sugars.
  • Avoid dietary causes of inflammation such as food allergens, high fructose corn syrup, refined foods, and especially industrial seed oils such as canola oil.
  • Have adequate intake of essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA).
  • Have proper sleep habits.

Though we may live in a world of unrelenting stress, it is possible to successfully manage the body’s response through a combination of healthy lifestyle habits and herbal adrenal support.

For more information on how to identify and manage adrenal stress, contact our office.

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PMS-low-progesterone-pregnenolone steal

It’s the time of the month that so many women dread, the PMS days. For some, premenstrual syndrome is simply an irritating inconvenience, but for others it is a cause of extreme suffering. Yet because it is so common, many women don’t take PMS seriously, even though the effect on their lives is serious indeed.

Common or not, PMS, especially the extreme variety, is not normal or healthy. It is a sign that the delicate balance of female hormones is all out of whack. PMS symptoms may be a signal that the body is experiencing a progesterone deficiency due to chronic stress.

Symptoms of low progesterone include:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Crying easily
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent or irregular menstruation
  • Low sex drive
  • Migraines

Natural remedies for PMS

Instead of reaching for the progesterone cream at your local supplement store, it’s safer to first address the underlying causes of low progesterone. For many women, progesterone levels take a beating because of chronic stress. Every time you experience stress, your body responds with cortisol, an adrenal stress hormone that works to keep the body in balance.

But in these fast-paced times, we experience stress so frequently that the body’s demand for cortisol is constantly high. To keep up with demand, the body borrows the materials needed to make reproductive hormones, including progesterone, and makes cortisol instead. This is called “pregnenolone steal,” when the body steals pregnenolone needed for other hormones to keep pace with the demands of stress.

Factors that can cause chronic stress:

  • Sugar and sweeteners, too many starchy foods (rice, pasta, bread, etc.), and excess caffeine
  • Food intolerances (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, grains, etc.)
  • Gut problems (gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, etc.)
  • Lack of sleep
  • Chronic inflammation (joint pain, muscle pain, skin rashes and disorders, brain fog, fatigue, etc.)
  • Autoimmune disease (such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism)
  • Overdoing it; pushing yourself without breaks or enough rest
  • Poor nutrition

Restoring hormonal balance naturally

Many times, the best way to reduce symptoms of PMS is to stop the pregnenolone steal, thereby allowing the body to make enough of its own progesterone. Strategies for stopping pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, which eases the body’s burden of stress. You may also need to work on restoring gut health, taming chronic inflammation, or managing your autoimmune disease appropriately, approaches that benefit from the guidance of an experienced practitioner.

Nutrients to ease PMS

Basic nutritional support can sometimes ease the symptoms of PMS. For instance, are you getting enough omega 3 fatty acids and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA)? You may find that supplementing with a high-quality emulsified fish oil or krill oil is helpful, especially if you add one of the GLAs—evening primrose oil, borage oil, or black currant oil—as well.

Supporting serotonin, your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter, may also alleviate symptoms when you’re premenstrual. Compounds that support serotonin activity include tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, and SAMe. Other nutrients that may offer additional support include magnesium, B6, and vitamin D3.

Ask my office for natural therapies to alleviate PMS and support healthy hormonal balance.

Important note: If you are taking an antidepressant, do NOT embark upon a serotonin support regimen without the guidance of your physician.

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A calm, healthy pregnancy and postpartum period could reduce the risk of allergies in your baby, according to a new Swedish study.

Researchers found infants with lower levels of cortisol, an adrenal hormone released in response to stress, developed fewer allergies than other infants.

Stress hormone cortisol triggers allergies

The researchers believe environmental and lifestyle factors during pregnancy and early infancy raise adrenal cortisol levels, which increases the risk of allergies.

Studies show high cortisol in a pregnant mother raises levels of the hormone in the fetus.

In functional medicine, we see many women enter into pregnancy with high cortisol. Common symptoms include excess belly fat, insomnia, insulin resistance (high blood sugar), hair loss, and an irregular menstrual cycle.

Stress isn’t just about too much to do on too little sleep (although that is certainly a factor).

Factors that cause high adrenal cortisol

Common factors that elevate cortisol are:

  • Sugary, starchy diets that consistently spike blood sugar (which causes excess belly fat).
  • Excess caffeine.
  • Undiagnosed food intolerances. Gluten intolerance and celiac disease are particularly common.
  • Poor gut health. Gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive symptoms are signs of a poorly functioning gut.
  • Improperly managed autoimmune disease. Do you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or another autoimmune disease?

Rate of childhood allergies rising

The rate of allergies has risen sharply in the United States. About 54 percent of Americans are allergic to at least one thing, an up to five-fold increase the late 1970s. The number of children with food allergies has risen 18 percent since the late 90s; witness the prevalence of peanut-free classrooms.

Manage health before pregnancy

The best thing a mother can do to reduce the risk of allergies in her child is to address her own health and nutrition before conception.

An adrenal saliva test is a good way to measure whether cortisol levels are normal. A mother’s health before conception and during pregnancy greatly influences the health of her baby.

Stress is a fact of life for us all. How have you managed to lower stress levels during pregnancy?

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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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