All living creatures have to deal with stress, from an amoeba moving toward a more favorable pH to a deer avoiding the local wolf pack, or even a human like you or me, dealing with family problems.
Where the human being has an edge is our understanding of stress, which gives us clues to help us manage our stress and keep it from compromising our health.
When it comes to understanding stress, there are three names that are important to remember: Bernard, Cannon, and Selye. Each of these scientists has made an important contribution to the way we understand stress and its effects on us.
French physiologist Claude Bernard described the principles of dynamic equilibrium, or in layman’s terms, the state of balance between two forces, in the mid 1800’s. He noted that external forces, or changes in the external environment, must be reacted to and compensated for by internal forces. What are those “external forces”? Some of them are temperature, oxygen concentration in the air, presence of predators, etc. Another word for each of these external forces? Stressors.
In the early 1900’s, neurologist Walter Cannon coined the term homeostasis as the understanding of the body’s response to stressors. Cannon researched the behaviors commonly known as ‘fight or flight’ responses, and learned that the adrenal glands were instrumental in this response. According to Cannon’s research, the body modulates levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine. That means we recognize the initial effects of the adrenal response to stress as heightened alertness along with an increased heart rate. Cannon also advanced the notion that stressors did not just have to be physical, but could be emotional, too. The concept of stress coming from emotional sources is not a stranger to us today – just spend a little time in front of the computer or watching a 24-hour news channel for proof of that.
Later in the 20th century, Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye continued to advance the science of stress. Selye’s early career research with animal studies showed that stress caused a swelling of the adrenal cortex (think cortisol) and atrophy of the thymus along with gastric and duodenal ulcers. The thymus is integral to the immune response, which helps explain why chronic stress can contribute to illness. We don’t pay too close attention to the final decades of Selye’s research, as that was funded by RJ Reynolds to help prop up their pro-smoking campaigns.
Selye did point out that stress is normal and that proper adaptation to these normal stressors was a healthy response. Therefore, the problem is overstress, either acute or chronic. So when we talk about the negative effects of stress, we really mean overstress. Without some stress, we wouldn’t get anything done. We need some stress for healthy motivation. Soldiers suffering from PTSD often comment about a singular action, like their Humvee getting blown up – that would be an example of acute overstress, which taxes the body’s ability to return to homeostasis.
The most common type of overstress is chronic. Everyone has their own list of reasons for chronic overstress, but I would guess the two primary categories can be grouped under love or money.
Just like your source of stress will most likely be fairly unique to you, the range of physiological manifestations will be yours as well. However, there are common signs of overstress: irritability, sleep problems, headaches, GI disturbances, fatigue, anxiety, over or under eating, decreased enthusiasm for life and related problems.
So what can you do about overstress? There’s enough advice on that subject that it depends on whom you ask. From our point of view, though, there are some steps that you can take to reduce overstress starting right now.
A favorable diet is a good place to start. Know which foods contribute to overstress and then cut back or eliminate them. The specific foods on this list depend on your particular physiology, however the most common food items include sugar, gluten, dairy and eggs. To determine which foods contribute to overstress on your body, we like to run different types of tests, like blood antibody (Cyrex Labs), stool antibody (Enterolab) and T-cell tests (Alcat) to help sort this out. Continuing to eat foods that contribute to stress will eventually not be worth the pleasure anymore. You increase your risk of all kinds of disease.
Sometimes you can make lifestyle changes that will lower your stress. We have done this ourselves a few times by changing the focus of our practice, and a couple of times by making a major physical move. By move I mean to a different country once, and once to a different state.
Major lifestyle change isn’t always possible, but being aware of the effect that your situation is having on your health can help you begin to plan changes. I think it is helpful to write down ALL possible options, no matter how ridiculous, as this will help you see what real options you really do have to lower stress.
Sometimes in my practice, I would be asked a money question. I thought this curious, as I really don’t have a black belt in money management. My answer would therefore be something like this: If you have money and sleep better with it in the stock market, put it there. If you sleep better with real estate, buy real estate. If you have lower stress by buying silver coins, then do that. You get the idea. There is no magic solution for every person, but if you use lowering stress as the goal, your best option becomes more obvious.
If you have had enough stress over decades, your body may not be able to find a good homeostasis anymore. This is where supplements come in. Two things are key here. One is a good night’s sleep. If that isn’t your problem than we can jump right to the second key and that would be adrenal support. In fact, if you do have sleep issues, we want to make sure you are getting adrenal support anyway, as your quality of sleep will depend on how well your adrenal glands work to maintain energy levels during the day.
For the people we work with, we have questions and tests that help us determine which supplements have the greatest chance of helping a person get a good night’s sleep. We often use NeuroScience products like Kavinace for this. For adrenal support, we often use NeuroScience AdreCor and/or BetterGenix AdrenalGenix. We will be inclined to recommend AdrenalGenix if hypoglycemia is an issue.
So there you have it. Try to be aware of where your stress is coming from. Plan changes to help lower stress. Learn which foods will help your body manage stress. Take some key supplements to help your adrenal homeostatis. And if you have questions about the right supplements for you, or how to identify the stressors in your daily life, call us and talk to our experts for their recommendations or a consultation.