THE STRESS FACTOR. HEALTH & ADRENAL FUNCTION
by Lynn Hinderliter CN, LNC
Protecting oneself against the effects of stress is essential. As I have said time and time again over the past 30 years or more, the health consequences of not learning how to handle tension are serious and far-reaching. Consider that fact that chronic stress (according to 2 large British studies) is SIX TIMES more likely to contribute to heart disease and cancer than high cholesterol and smoking, and that middle aged people with decreased control over emotional stress had a 50% increase in death rate over a 15 year period!
The connection between stress, the adrenal glands, and our overall health may be one of the most overlooked modern day threats, and one of the most vital to address.
When we experience stress in the form of fear, pain, terror or grief, our body leaps to our defense: blood pressure rises, chemical messengers scurry about, some of our senses become more acute while others, less necessary for the moment, shut down; we become poised for extreme physical reaction. Many nutrients are instantly depleted, and certain body systems are drained of energy, which they need to replace before the next alarm, or there will be physical consequences.
What happens to our health, do you suppose, when we live in such a way that perceived threats are constant companions?
When we live a life where our bodies are called upon to experience extreme stress reactions not just once a day, but hourly? For many of us, stress is the norm. Jangling phones – crazy drivers – financial crises – bad news – demanding jobs – poor relationships – pain – ill health -chauffeuring the children here and there – care-giving -on and on it goes. Not to mention the Holiday Season, a time which should be one of happiness, but which nowadays only seems to add to our burden.
Everything mentioned above, and more, affects the adrenals, and through the effects of Cortisol (the stress hormone released in response to stressors), our immune systems, our hormonal balance, our temperament, even our weight.
Potential Sources of Stress
Additionally, stress may be divided into two main classes: immediate stressors, which can easily be identified as such, and chronic stress, such as a care-taking role, or disease, or an unhappy relationship, which may not be tagged as stressors, which we may not even identify to ourselves as stress, but which pose a significant risk to health long-term. These also need to be identified and addressed.
There are those who thrive on stress, who believe it brings out the best in them. Short term, they may be right – but long term, there is a price to pay: consider the type A/heart disease connection.
Chronic Stress response can lead to problems with energy production, blood sugar regulation, regulatory problems with fat storage, bone and kidneys, altered immune function, and DNA transcription ( gene health).
At some point the Adrenal glands, the Major-Generals of Stress Reaction, can no longer respond to the cry for performance: they are depleted beyond the point of function. The situation is made worse by inadequate supplies of C, certain B vitamins and Zinc, nutrients essential to proper adrenal function, by sub optimal nutrition generally, and also by a shift in the acid/alkaline state of the body. Your body and mind can both share this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.
What are some clues that you may have Adrenal Problems?
Cortisol also regulates the process of gene transcription, and whether you are at the stage where you are producing too much, or have passed beyond that to stress exhaustion and are not producing enough, the process is affected.
This exemplifies Cortisol’s influence at the basic cellular level, and explains why it affects so many body systems so dramatically, and why it breaks down the stored resources of the body.
Additionally, stress plus adrenal insufficiency cause acidosis – and acidosis makes it difficult for the cells of the body to absorb any nutrients which are ingested – meaning less nutrition, further adrenal weakness – further acid conditions, etcetera, etcetera, and so forth! Acidosis also affects digestion, with consequences for the stomach and the bowel. See my article on pH balance for more detailed information, including how to balance pH with proper diet.
Lets look at why acidosis means less effective absorption of nutrients:
The cells of the body are designed to operate best at a neutral pH of between 6.5 and 6.8. They protect this level against all comers, and if the extra-cellular fluid carrying nutrients is too acid, the cells will not permit access, nor are they able to discharge their wastes efficiently. In the interests of accuracy, I would add that excessively alkaline conditions have much the same effect, but acid conditions are far more common among Americans because of the double whammy of diets high in animal products and carbohydrates, and high stress levels.
A highly acid metabolism can really be a “Silent Killer”: think of the havoc wrought by acid rain – killing plants, jeopardizing the environment, killing fish in our lakes – nothing does well in acid conditions, and in our bodies, if left to continue over time, it may well be partly responsible for most of the degenerative diseases that plague us, among them heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, obesity, MS, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease. Certainly, in all these conditions of ill health, pH levels are invariably too acidic.
Your acid alkaline balance can be ascertained simply with inexpensive test strips.
You can order them directly from us here
Because Cortisol is so essential to vital body systems, a safety mechanism applied during its production ensures that a shunt in the pathway will redirect Pregnenolone (the mother hormone) away from both the DHEA ->Androstenediol -> Testosterone downline; and the DHEA -> (intermediates) -> various Estrogens downline, cutting out the production of essential hormones and passing through Progesterone to ensure production of the needed Cortisol.
In other words, unrelieved stress cuts the DHEA pathway and maintains the Cortisol pathway through what is referred to as “Pregnenolone steal“. As a side note, this is why stress makes menopausal symptoms so much worse, and why the thyroid, sensitive to estrogen/progesterone imbalances, is often implicated. Remember ,too, that Pregnenolone relies on a supply of cholesterol for its synthesis .. all part of the Dance!
When did you last check your Cortisol levels? A simple home indication for adrenal problems is to take your blood pressure while you are lying down, then take it again after rising to your feet. If it is lower when you are standing up than when you are lying down – this may lead you to suspect a problem. Here is a simple quiz which will also give you insight into your adrenal function. http://www.health24.com/tools/Quizzes/1891-1892,33.asp
An effective saliva test is available reasonably, which measures your DHEA and Cortisol levels to determine their balance. DHEA and Cortisol serve as markers of stress response, regulating how your body reacts during stress. Each hormone is released into your bloodstream from your adrenal glands when your body feels stress and helps your body make the necessary adjustments to protect itself.
Cortisol promotes the excretion of Interleukin- 6, a nasty little item implicated in autoimmune diseases, allergies and negative calcium balance. Cortisol affects DHEA levels in this way: when stress causes Cortisol levels to rise, interleukin-6 also goes up, and DHEA goes down. Low levels of DHEA are related to poor memory, degenerative diseases, low immune function, muscle shrinkage, and other nasty consequences. This is how stress impacts women’s health, and shows us how important it is to address stress control.
I also offer an even more sophisticated system, which measures Adrenal response at 4 times during the day, together with the marker that can tell whether your immune system is being affected by infections, allergies and/or environmental toxins.
Stress can lead to Cancer
A report in the International review of Psychiatry states as follows; (http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/(1d5zfi45tecxxh55s14n5pii)/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,10,10;journal,4,37;linkingpublicationresults,1:100633,1)
The persistent activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary axes in chronic stress response and in depression impairs the immune response and contributes to the development and progression of some types of cancer.
This overview presents results from experimental animal models, human studies, and clinical evidence that various cellular and molecular immunological parameters are compromised in chronic stress and depression.
At the cellular level, stressed and depressed patients had overall leukocytosis, high concentrations of circulating neutrophils, reduced mitogen-stimulated lymphocyte proliferation and neutrophil phagocytosis.
At the molecular level, high levels of serum basal cortisol, acute phase proteins, specific antibodies against herpes simplex virus type 1 and Epstein Barr virus, plasma concentration of interleukins IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-a, and a shift in the balance of Th1 and Th2 immune response were observed. Both stress and depression were associated with the decreased cytotoxic T-cell and natural killer cell activities affecting the processes of the immune surveillance of tumours, and the events that modulate the development and the accumulation of somatic mutations and genomic instability.
DNA damage, growth and angiogenic factors, proteases, matrix metalloproteinases, and reactive oxygen species were also related to the chronic stress response and depression.
Behavioural strategies, psychological, and psychopharmacotherapeutic interventions that enhance effective coping and reduce affective distress showed beneficial effects in cancer patients.
A better understanding of the bidirectional communication between the neuroendocrine and immune systems could contribute to novel clinical and treatment strategies in oncology. (Lynn: my emphasis)
Stress and the Immune System
When cortisol levels are raised by continued exposure to stressors, the body’s production of a factor called SigA, or Secretory IgA, declines. An overall deficiency of SigA indicates that the mucosal barriers which protect your body from attack by bacteria, pathogens, toxins and infections, are no longer functioning optimally.
A one time exposure to stress can lead to a short period of risk, but continued episodes lead to the gradual erosion of the mucosal barrier, leaving it eventually totally inadequate to perform its protective function, and your body susceptible to any opportunistic virus or infection.
As you can see, a vicious cycle has started here! Stress causes high cortisol production, leading to the breakdown of the mucosal barriers, meaning increased risk of infection and decreased ability to absorb the very nutrients needed to rebuild health.
Stress also affects the uptake of glucose in to the cells, and the rate of your metabolism. This means that chronic stress can be one of the root causes of obesity and weight gain.
Recent studies have shown that stress causes the release of a neurotransmitter ( a neuropeptide named NPY) which also has the job of controlling appetite. The clincher is that blocking the receptor for this neuropeptide prevents stress-induced obesity.
The authors of the study found that two weeks of daily exposure to a stressor — either cold water baths or an aggressive mouse — increased both NPY levels and abdominal fat deposits in mice fed a diet high in sugar and fat. Neither stress nor the high-calorie diet alone led to fat gain. Stress combined with the high-calorie diet also increased blood vessel development in abdominal fat tissue. NPY2R knockout mice, however, were resistant to stress-induced obesity.
L.E. Kuo et al., “Neuropeptide Y acts directly in the periphery on fat tissue and mediates stress-induced obesity and metabolic syndrome,” Nature Medicine, published online July 1, 2007.
Stress can also affect body weight after the age of 40, because at that point, the adrenal glands are the main source of sex hormones: estrogen belly can be the direct result of an under-functioning adrenal system, one that has been run-down by stress to the point where not enough cortisol is being produced. At an earlier point in the cycle, adrenals forced by stress to produce too much cortisol can block the conversion of T3 to T4, affecting thyroid function and weight…
The importance of controlling stress can therefore hardly be overemphasized. Anyone who is under pressure, and feels that their adrenal function may be compromised, or that their body is operating on the acid side of the ledger, needs to take action.
Lifestyle and nutritional measures to lessen the impact of stress would include
eating a wholesome diet of natural foods, chosen from the alkaline side i.e. high in fruits and vegetables. I have a list here. If you are a died-in-the-wool veggie hater, look here for powdered supplements which can help with pH balance
ensuring that the body remains at the proper pH level by measuring it regularly, and correcting any imbalance with changes in diet or supplements designed to buffer pH.
supplementing to support the adrenals, to include Pantothenic acid, Vitamin C, Zinc, manganese, A and E with an actual Glandular Supplement (such as SubAdrene) for more serious cases where the adrenals are compromised
low impact exercise
relaxation techniques, such as inspirational reading, meditation (http://hop.clickbank.net/?vtmnldy/meditation), relaxational tapes and Mind Control –http://www.hypnosisnetwork.com/hypnosis/stress_anxiety.php
environmental boosters such as candles, aromatherapy, a fish bowl on your office desk (virtual or real), a small shrine in a corner of your home.
Stress Control through Mind Control – Accepting and Receiving suggestions for change through Hypnosis
This is the ultimate relaxation technique, where certified experts guide you to minimize stressors. When I think of the years I wasted reacting to every set-back in life so extremely that I made myself both ill and miserable, I wish I had known about this method of learning to be patient with myself, and finding out how to become skilful at controlling my reactions.
Find out more about programs to manage Stress and Anxiety”, all composed by state-licensed psychologists. http://www.hypnosisnetwork.com/hypnosis/stress_anxiety.php
While low impact exercise can be helpful for stress control, extreme workouts, being a form of stress, cause the adrenals to respond by releasing Cortisol, which is a catabolic (breakdown) hormone.
One of Cortisol’ s duties is to stimulate glucose production for a quick return of energy: people under long-term stress of any kind eventually run out of fuel, and the body will attack its own muscle stores to find the necessary fuel. It is best, if you have reason to believe your stress levels are unacceptable, to stick to such exercise choices as walking, swimming, yoga or tai chi. The catch here is that forcing one’s body to do what it doesn’t feel up to may actually be worse for one’s health than doing nothing.
One of the problems with stress and exercise is, of course, that stress robs one of the very energy one needs to get out there and do it.
Stress leads to burn-out, and to feelings of exhaustion. It sometimes also leads to inappropriate food choices, and therefore to even less of the nutrients needed to create the feeling of well-being and motivation necessary to get one’s life back on track.
The need is to a take-a-deep-breath and foster a “do the right thing” mentality. When instinct says “reach for the donut or the chocolate or the coffee,” a pause to remember the nutrient connection can promote reaching for fruits, or nuts, or green tea instead. Learning to trust in an ability to train the mind not to re-act negatively can lead to a mastering of the physical reactions that are so destructive.
Following these strategies of nutritional intervention, regular non-extreme exercise, proper diet and mind control can lead to an immediate improvement in overall health.
Exercises for Stress Relief – http://www.stress-relief-exercises.com/
Stress Balls – http://www.officeplayground.com/balls.html
Stress symptoms – effects on your Body – http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-symptoms/SR00008_D
Stress Management Tools – http://www.mindtools.com/smpage.html
Stress Support Groups – http://www.dmoz.org/Health/Mental_Health/Stress/Support_Groups/
Help for Mind Control – http://www.hypnosisnetwork.com/hypnosis/stress_anxiety.php?hn=1632
Stress & Anxiety Control through Mind Control – Accepting and Receiving suggestions for change through Hypnosis – http://www.hypnosisnetwork.com/hypnosis/stress_anxiety.php
Traditional Worry Beads – What are they? http://www.yasou.org/geninfo/komboloi.htm
Staying Healthy in Stressful Times – http://www.byregion.net/articles-healers/Healthy_Stress.html
Non-denominational Meditation instruction – http://hop.clickbank.net/?vtmnldy/meditation
For more about YOGA, http://www.yogajournal.com/
For more about T’AI CHI CHUAN http://www.mtsu.edu/~jpurcell/Taichi/tc-links.htm
Work stress and Heart attacks – http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=cp_feh1a6a4k1&show_article=1&cat=0
Information on a simple saliva test for measuring Stress Levels (Cortisol and DHEA)
A more complete test for Adrenal and Immune Function
Writing to Heal writing deep thoughts and feelings about stressful events can help people relieve stress – http://www.writingtoheal.com/
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