Let’s talk stress!! 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems (Rosch, 2005). We all have times when we’re under more stress- pressures and responsibilities at home & at work, financial stressors, emotional burdens, etc. ALL stress isn’t bad stress! Positive stress is called “eustress.” Beneficial stressors are those that can spur us into action & increase productivity, such as getting married, having a deadline to meet or going on a first date- doing anything that involves a challenge and the prospect of a reward. Our bodies are equipped to handle acute (short duration) stressors, but when stress is prolonged, we develop psychological and physiological health problems. Let’s take a look at the definition of stress:
The term stress was coined by Hans Seyle, a pioneer in stress research. “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 (Seyle, 1982).”
Stress triggers the fight-or-flight reaction, which was required for our ancestors to run from a predator or withstand a period of hunger. Our bodies have biological systems that respond to life-threatening danger, which are needed for survival. Adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine, and cortisol are released during threatening situations, and our energy shifts away from non-critical tasks, such as the digestive, immune, integumentary and reproductive systems, and toward the heart and long muscles to help us run from danger (Bremner, 2002).
Today, chronic stress is common as our lives are filled with constant activities, pressures, responsibilities and emotions. Our stressors are different than our predecessors, but our bodily response remains the same. Our culture provides an overabundance of stress. Stress is the body’s way of responding to demands from physical and psychological sources in order to bring back its normal state of balance, or homeostasis. The number of stressors, intensity, frequency and duration all combine to form total stress load (Baum, 1990).
The adrenals are the glands of stress and regulate the state of physiological and psychological hyper- arousal that constitutes a stress response. When the adrenal hormones are out of balance, other hormones including insulin, thyroid, reproductive and neurotransmitters are also thrown out of balance. Blood sugar imbalances, low thyroid function, reduced fertility and depression are all conditions associated with chronic stress (Bauman, 2013).
Chronic stress leads to adrenal fatigue and can lead to the following symptoms of adrenal insufficiency:
- Brain fog, cloudy-headedness and fuzzy thinking
- Low thyroid function
- Poor memory
- Cold intolerance
- Low stomach acid (HCL)
- Poor digestion & decreased protein digestion
- Decreased gut flora (dysbiosis)
- Cravings for salt
- Cravings for sugar
- Inability to exercise
- Lack of perspiration
- Hair loss
- Blood sugar imbalances (hypoglycemia)
- Abdominal fat
- Decreased bone density
- Sleep disruption
- Low blood pressure
- Decreased reproductive hormones
- Increased immune activation leading to allergies/autoimmune diseases
What Predisposes Us to Stress?
Genetics: the ability to handle stress can stem from inherited strengths or weaknesses, though this may be the least important factor.
Congenital Weaknesses: originating from birth, these may be genetic or originate in utero from nutrient deficiencies or toxins passed from mother to fetus.
Emotional or Psychological Stress:
Marital stress, financial pressures, divorce, death of a loved one, unemployment, guilt, depression, unresolved physical or psychological traumas from childhood or young adulthood (Studies have shown that this may be the most important factor in determining how individuals handle stress throughout life), lack of personal connections and support, and negative attitudes and beliefs.
Physical Factors (Acute or chronic infections) Dietary Factors:
- Viral *Overload of nutrient-poor
- Bacterial *Too few carbohydrates
- Fungal *Stimulants (excess caffeine/sugar)
- Parasitic *Skipping meals or fasting
- Chronic inflammation *Blood sugar imbalances
- Physical injury or pain *Toxic food, air, water
- Surgery and wound healing *Food allergies
- Allergies *Endotoxins
- Sleep deprivation
Key Nutrients/Foods for Stress Reduction:
*B complex & extra pantothenic acid (B5): Nutritional yeast, egg yolk, meat, seafood
*Magnesium: whole non-gluten grains, legumes, broccoli, seafood, nuts, ,seeds, leafy greens.
*Potassium: asparagus, avocado, apricots, oranges, beans, tomato, banana, meats, seafood, sea vegetables.
*Vitamin C with bioflavonoids: rosehips, leafy greens, citrus fruits, broccoli, acerola, berries, tomatoes, red peppers.
*Zinc: oysters, ginger, pumpkin seeds, organic & grass-fed beef
*L-glutamine (for gut repair) : homemade bone broths, undenatured whey protein
*Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) : coldwater fish, nuts, seeds
*Vitamin E: avocado, olive oil, steamed greens, almonds, sunflower seeds.
*Increase good quality protein (whey& yogurt if tolerate dairy-easily digestible)
*Sea vegetables (kelp, dulse, wakame- unless Hashimotos)
*Healthy fats: coconut oil, olive oil/olives, avocado, nuts, seeds, ghee, organic whole milk dairy products.
*Celtic sea salt (watch blood pressure but most likely low if low adrenal function)
*Green powders: spirulina, chlorophyll
*Licorice (unless pregnant!): herbal tea
*Herbal teas: chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, valerian.
Exercise moderately, meditate, pray, spend time with loved ones, laugh/play, journal and be at peace at much as possible!! =)