Every day we are faced with ever increasing “bad news”. Constant references to terrorism, natural disasters and the economy nip at us begging for something to be done. Emotional stress plays a large part of our lives in the 21st century. Being so dependent on the array of electronic gadgetry, we lose the inter-personal connections vital to us as human beings. We constantly hear about stress and the impact it has on our lives.
The majority of people experience stress as general fatigue. We wake up in the morning feeling we did not have a good night’s sleep. We’re tired and cranky. We can’t wait to down that cup of coffee because we know it will give us that “pick me up” feeling to start the day. Long term stress or severe acute stress has the same effect. Ultimately it leaves us in a state of adrenal fatigue. But what exactly is stress, how does it manifest and how can we alleviate it so we can recover on a daily basis?
Dr. Hans Selye, a Canadian endocrinologist, pioneered the study and measurement of the metabolic/chemical changes induced by stress. He concluded even emotions of love, hate, joy, anger, challenge, and fear brought about the changes and characteristics of the stress syndrome. Stress is not a single specific “thing”. It triggers changes in the chemical and hormonal systems of the body. Any external or internal substance, a real or perceived threat can disrupt the natural balance of the body. Environmental toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides, excessive alcohol or caffeine intake, or an over demanding superior can induce a stress response upsetting our natural balance. When this balance is disturbed for prolonged periods of time, it results in chronic adrenal exhaustion and disease. Stress itself is not “seen”, rather, only the manifestations of how it affects the body are observed. Signs of stress generally include fatigue, insomnia, a lowered immune response, irritability and even depression.
During his clinical research, Dr. Selye observed that even enjoyable activities or positive emotional states can illicit a stress response. A stress response is any response that is outside the normal day-to-day balance of the body, mind and spirit. “Stress is the nonspecific response of the body to any demand, whether it is caused by, or results in, pleasant or unpleasant conditions. Stress as such, like temperature as such, is all-inclusive, embodying both the positive and the negative aspects of these concepts.
Within the general concept of stress, however, we must differentiate between distress (from the Latin dis = bad, as in dissonance, disagreement), and eustress (from the Greek eu = good, as in euphonia, euphoria). During both eustress and distress the body undergoes virtually the same nonspecific responses to the various positive or negative stimuli acting upon it. However, the fact that eustress causes much less damage than distress graphically demonstrates that it is “how you take it” that determines, ultimately, whether you can adapt successfully to change.” 1
In alternative medicine is an array of help for identifying and coping with stress. From acupuncture to nutrition, we find ways to improve our ability to handle the changes brought about by stressors. We must identify those stressors particular to ourselves in order to modify and/or eliminate them.
It is our presence of mind and emotional state when we respond to any external or internal stimulus. The news of being laid off or breaking off of a relationship most often will cause anger, sadness or fear. How well we handle these emotions will determine the effect they have on us. If we are not able to move past these emotions in a reasonable amount of time, signs and symptoms of an out-of-balance body will manifest. Depression, frequent colds and flu-like symptoms, insomnia, aches and pains can occur as a result.
Mechanical and structural stress is found in those with back problems, sciatica, hip and joint problems, and neck and shoulder pain. These problems may be corrected through acupuncture, massage, or manipulation such as chiropractic or osteopathic care. Resolving mechanical stress allows the body to right itself relative to the structural imbalance. It takes pressure off the nerves which reduces or alleviates the pain associated with inflammation. Lifts or arches in shoes are often used for extra support.
Unknown to most people, however, is the stress our bodies experiences from improperly digested food. Digestive leukocytosis is the clinical name when leukocytes (white blood cells) enter the blood stream to finish digesting cooked food that was not digested in the stomach but has crossed over into the blood. It happens every time we consume cooked food without enzymes; stimulating the immune system which in turn creates daily stress. If we are to manage stress we must begin with digestion and what we eat. It is the starting point for recovery in any program.
Everyone has “dietary stress factors” from improperly digested carbohydrates, fats and protein. These are foods we crave but do not digest adequately leaving us bloated or tired. The hypothalamus-adrenal-pituitary (HAP) axis is the pathway of communication between glands engaged in the stress response. The hypothalamus is also the control site in digestion. It constantly reads the blood chemistry making adjustments to maintain homeostasis, which is the equilibrium required by our cells. When we cannot adequately digest food down to the micro-nutrient size our cells require, it signals us to eat more. We try making up in quantity what we failed to get in quality. Metabolic syndrome, which manifests as a variety of diseases such as insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and obesity is also associated with this phenomenon.
The hypothalamus signals other glands to induce hormonal changes when the chemistry is out of balance. This affects the entire endocrine system resulting in the hormonal imbalances seen in PMS, menopause, and other health issues. Modifying what we eat to reduce dietary stressors, improving digestion with enzyme rich-food improves the chemistry of the body.
Food is the biochemistry of the body. How well we digest, assimilate, utilize and eliminate the waste from our foods determines how healthy or ill we are. Food is not only “fuel” but affects how we think and feel and how well we repair damaged tissue. In many ways it directs how we live. It affects the HAP axis which in turn affects the entire body. It is from food we are able to better handle stress. It is the raw material for manufacturing hormones by the endocrine system. When the adrenals receive proper nourishment they work more efficiently allowing us to respond to stressors appropriately. It is then we can recover on a daily basis from the stress in our lives. Various herbs, minerals and vitamins are known for their beneficial support of adrenal function. Protein is the main food component in preventing and healing adrenal exhaustion. Too little protein or an inability to properly digest protein prevents normal adrenal function and recovery. It is believed adrenal glands repair and recover every night between 11:00 pm – 4:00 am. However, without adequate nutritional support they fail to do so, leaving us tired and unable to meet our daily demands and be fully present in our relationships.
In our modern times, we have three major forms of stress; emotional/mental, mechanical/structural and dietary/nutritional. All are manageable but we need to assess mechanical and nutritional stress factors to determine how they affect us. This can be done through a 24-hour urinalysis and a Digestive Challenge Test. In doing so we can improve diet, digestion and structural problems resulting in a reduction of stressors. Only when stressors are removed or modified can we begin to heal at deeper levels. Positively influencing our diet by choosing fresh, organic foods, using digestive enzymes, mineral and vitamin and herbal support when necessary, will give us the tools to greatly improve how we move gracefully through this life.
1) “The Nature of Stress” by Hans Seyle
2.”Managing Your Mind and Mood With Food” by Judith Wurtman; Harper Perennial, January 6,1988
3. “Molecules of Emotion – The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine” by Candice B. Pert; Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster, 1997
4. “The Chemistry of Success – 6 Secrets of Peak Performance”; Susan M. Lark MD; James A. Richards MBA, Bay Books 2000
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