Stress is the most common malady affecting most Americans today. If someone is not stressed, feeling free and at ease we wonder to ourselves; “What is that person on?” We are not accustomed to experiencing a relaxed state and when we do it feels like a vacation.
Stress is so common yet it is the leading cause of illness. Most people are unaware of the biochemical changes that occur in the body when we are stressed. If you visit your physician and complain of stress and exhaustion you are likely to get a routine blood test for iron and/or thyroid levels. These are good tests to perform but once you understand all the biochemical changes that occur with stress you will better understand its relationship to disease.
Stress triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline. You know when you are in a hyper cortisol state because you feel wired and ready and for action. You might even find it hard to slow down and take a breadth. You sometimes feel compelled to keep moving even without clearly defined objectives to achieve. You will definitely find it hard to have a restful sleep. Lack of restful sleep is associated with accelerated aging of the brain.
High levels of cortisol trigger a cascade of other biochemical changes. There are many and to name only a few, the high levels of cortisol trigger lower levels of DHEA, a hormone that is the precursor to other hormones in the body. This is why when we are stressed we are less likely to feel sexy and our sex drive is lower. Hormones suffer at the demands of cortisol production. Cortisol is crucial because it is the survival hormone. If we are threatened, then cortisol and adrenaline go into production to ready us for fight or flight.
High levels of cortisol have the effect of lowering our immune system. As a result we are more likely to catch a cold, flu or some form of infection when we are highly stressed. Lowered immune response will then lead to other issues in the body as we are not able to fend off the foreign organisms.
High levels of cortisol are associated with the experience of being stressed, wired and tired. We often seek alternatives, some healthy and others not so healthy to ameliorate the experience of stress. These include but are not limited to drugs and alcohol, food, shopping, emotional outbursts and other issues in an attempt to regain equilibrium and to discharge the stress. The negative coping behaviors however lead to other health issues.
When you are stressed do you reach for the comforting sugars and carbohydrates? Does a pizza, or a cake or sweets seem inviting when you are stressed? Of course they do because these foods are associated with the pleasure pathway in the brain. The temporary nature of the pleasure of eating these foods is what leads to frequent indulgence. The change in diet then leads to other issues such as yeast overgrowth which causes even more issues with cognition and mood. The change in diet also leads to issues with aging as these foods are associated with an increase in oxidative stress. The diet that is rich in refined carbohydrates and simple sugars is linked to obesity, heart disease, cancer, allergies and diabetes.
Because stress is so common, it is looked upon with benign acceptance. Frequent sleep disturbance that is common with chronic stress is adapted to and as a result the necessary biological functions of a deep restful sleep with the interrupted release of growth hormone, leads to other health issues and is believed to be a major contributor to obesity. Such benign acceptance is deadly. The more you ignore the chronic stress, the more likely you will develop a more serious health issue.
Chronic stress often leads to adrenal exhaustion. The condition is the end stage of chronic stress and such adrenal exhaustion is often diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome is associated with other health conditions and can sometimes be misdiagnosed as major depression.
The early signs of stress induced illness are often overlooked. The changes in biochemistry can be identified and the most important action step to be taken is to reverse the biochemical changes. Stress can be managed from a number of integrated and holistic vantage points in Functional Medicine. These include restoring the hormonal balance, providing the missing nutrients to manage stress, supporting the immune system and reversing the biochemical imbalances if left unchecked can lead to chronic disease.
FxMed Centers provides a workshop on this very topic to help those who are experiencing chronic stress and may feel wired, tired and exhausted from lack of sound sleep. The treatment approaches are varied and should be targeted to each person’s specific needs. Not every person who has chronic stress will have the same biochemical changes. As such Functional Medicine is designed to address the personal needs of each client to restore optimal health.
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