Stress:How it Affects Your Body

We all tend to think of stress as mental and emotional reactions to life’s less-than-pleasant events, such as being stuck in traffic, detesting work, problems in relationships, and on and on. Certainly these are stresses that take a toll, and we’d all like to have coping skills to help us deal with them in reasonable and healthy ways. The good news is that it’s possible to learn such skills.

We need also to be mindful of the fact that there are other kinds of stresses to the body than those we create in our minds. The way we eat, for example, can be very stressful to our bodies. Eating sugar in the form of candies, cakes, cookies, ice cream, sodas and even consuming fruit juice, canned fruit, and dried fruit is a stress to the system. Simple carbohydrates such as white flour and white rice create the same kind of stress. That news may not make you happy, but it is true and it’s important to know what ails you.

Another stress to our systems comes from allergic reactions. Most people are familiar with one type of allergic reaction: It occurs immediately and typically causes sneezing, watery eyes, wheezing and hives. This kind of allergic reaction may respond to medication.

What most people do not realize is that there are other types of allergic reactions that occur in our bodies from 2 to 72 hours after exposure. These are the reactions that cause every-day aches and pains, such as the joint pains of arthritis, chronic muscle pains, headaches (including migraines and cluster headaches), irritable bowel problems-the list goes on and on. Allergic to what? It’s a long list, and it’s different for each of us. For many, the multiple causes for these allergic reactions include chemicals that we ingest or inhale, environmental pollutants, concentrations of toxins we may be carrying in our bodies, certain foods, dairy products, pollen, and so forth.

Whatever the allergy, a reaction to it induces stress.

These three types of stress-”life stress,” simple carbohydrates (“sugar stress”), and “allergy stress”-can cause many other symptoms and problems in the body. For example, all three reactions result in a decrease in the body’s ability to fight infection and even cancer cells. Further, they all stimulate the adrenal glands to excrete the hormones cortisone and adrenaline. The adrenal glands are a pair of endocrine glands that secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream-and they have a major impact on the body’s metabolism and sympathetic nervous system, the first line of response and defense against physical and emotional stresses. These are truly hormones of “distress!”

Simply put, when the body is high in these hormones it is operating under a distress signal, which means the body is not in growth and repair mode. If the delay in growth and repair goes on long enough, then illness and premature aging take place.

In addition, the continued stimulation of the adrenal glands (due to these three types of stress) causes female health problems. Progesterone is a female hormone made mostly in the latter half of the female cycle. When there is excessive stress, the adrenal glands will “steal” progesterone to make cortisone-the hormone it needs for “protection.” The more the adrenal glands do this, the less progesterone is available to balance estrogen. Progesterone and estrogen need to be in balance. Imbalance causes such problems as premenstrual syndrome, heavy or abnormal bleeding, endometriosis, fibroids, and painful periods. Continued imbalance between progesterone and estrogen over time, and a shift in hormones can lead to a loss or decrease in sex drive.

So, when menopause does arrive these women experience more than the usual problems.

Depression is another prominent symptom linked to the constant release of cortisone and adrenaline from the adrenal glands. Adrenaline and seratonin balance each other in the brain. When adrenaline levels are constantly up, seratonin levels go down, leading to depression-not necessarily severe depression, but certainly a lack of motivation or lack of “get up and go.”

When the adrenal glands are constantly stimulated they become exhausted. And that leads to a range of symptoms and problems: decreased ability to handle stress, fatigue, less productivity, lightheadedness (or even passing out when standing suddenly), difficulty arising in the morning (need to drink coffee to get started, not really awake until 10:00), feeling sluggish late in the afternoon (4-6 p.m.), if not going to bed by 10 or 11 p.m. can get a sudden burst of energy that can last until 1 or 2 a.m., often work best at night, may crave salts and fat.

It is important to relieve stress in the body. Do this by removing simple carbohydrates from the diet (such as sugars), addressing allergies, nutritional support for the body and the adrenals in the form of targeted supplements, judicious use of natural hormones, avoidance of allergens, and the relief of mental stress through meditation, yoga, biofeedback, exercise, and other effective practices. This is not as difficult as it seems. It is truly possible to become healthy. I see it in my practice every day, and I have accomplished it in my own life.