We often speak of being stressed out. The pressures of a job, of school, or of a relationship build up and we find ourselves on edge, nervous, losing sleep, and eating excessively. We are stressed out until the situation is resolved and our life returns to some degree of normalcy.
But stress goes beyond thisit encompasses much more than the examples given above and can harm us much more than losing some sleep or gaining a few pounds can.
C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., one of the worlds leading experts on pain management and chronic disease, contends that all illness is stress-induced. And although this may be difficult to graspespecially to those of us who think of stress only in terms of job pressures, family pressures, and so onit is a true statement, and, in the medical world, nothing new.
As long ago as 1956, Hans Seyle, an endocrinologist, defined stress as the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it. He termed these demands stressors. Stressors can be physical and environmental factors, such as trauma, pollution and toxic exposure, crowded environments, allergies, and temperature extremes; physiological stressors, such as pain, chronic infections, lack of sleep, dietary imbalance, and dehydration; and mental/stressors, such as emotional strain, anxiety, and depression.
These stressors can also be acute, intermittent, or chronic. Acute stress hits hard and quicklybeing robbed, being in a car accident, or having a sudden disagreement with a spouse. Intermittent stress lasts over a longer period of time and builds upthink of studying for an important exam, then having to pay taxes, and then being put in charge of an important project. When intermittent stressors continually occur, they can become chronic stressors. Chronic stressors are long term and become part of life. Examples include continuing in a job you dislike, eating a diet low in important nutrients, caring long term for a loved one, dealing with a degenerative disease, or experiencing a never-ending stream of intermittent stressors.
These are all stressors because they all trigger a physiological sequence of events in our bodiesa stress response mechanism (also called a stress adaption mechanism). If the stress is short-livedan acute stressorthe body quickly returns to normal. However, if stress continuesas in intermittent or chronic stressorsthe bodys stress response mechanism continues, and it may aggravate an existing health problem or trigger an illness for which youre at risk.
This Should Not Be Taken Lightly. Various surveys estimate that stress contributes to 80 percent of major illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, digestive diseases, mental disorders, injuries, nervous system and sensory organ diseases, musculoskeletal diseases, cancers, endocrine and metabolic diseases, skin disorders, and infectious ailments of all kinds.
More Specifically, Seyle Has Linked Stress To angina, asthma, autoimmune diseases, cancers, the common cold, depression, diabetes (adult-onset, type II), headaches, hypertension, immune suppression, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual irregularities, premenstrual tension, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and ulcers.
How Can Stress Lead to Such Serious Health Problems?
This has to do with what the stress response mechanism can do to the body long term.
The First Physiological Stage is Alarm. This is most noticeable in acute stress. When something sudden and dramatic happens, we produce something called catecholamines, which produce some of the familiar signs of stressrapid heartbeat, loss of appetite, and so on. This reaction is normal and the body rapidly returns to normal.
The Second Physiological Stage is Resistance. If the stressor is prolonged or uncontrolled, a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This signals your adrenal gland to release a class of stress hormones known as corticoids, which include glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. Each of these plays a role in stress, and examining them points to why stress is a factor in so many health problems.
Glucocorticoidsespecially cortisolraise cholesterol levels and inhibit gastric secretions while facilitating colonic movement. This can result in peptic ulcers and the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. In some cases, glucocorticoids can inhibit insulin production, leading to the development of adult-onset diabetes.
Cortisol results in blood becoming thicker, which can result in higher blood pressure. In the long run, this can increase the risk for stroke or heart attack.
Cortisol can also inhibit macrophages and natural killer cells, two important components of the immune system. Intermittent or chronic stress may increase your susceptibility to upper respiratory viral infections such as the common cold or flu, and studies suggest that the incidence of bacterial infections such as tuberculosis and group A streptococcal disease may also increase.
Mineralocorticoids, such as aldosterone, can affect how the kidneys absorb and reabsorb sodium and water, which in turn can raise blood pressure.
This resistance stage may last for days, weeks, months, years, or longer. It can thus be involved in intermittent or chronic stress. Still, if the stress is resolved, your body does return to a normal state.
The Third Stage of Stress is Exhaustion. In this stage, the stress response mechanism has continued for too long. The body has done all it can to fight the stress and is now exhausted. This stage can lead to degenerative diseases.
A Role for DHEA and Magnesium?
Stress does affect us on a physical level. But there is another physiological link. Dr. Shealy has continued to study pain and stress, and he believes there is a connection between stress and the mineral magnesium and the hormone precursor DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).
In his book Sacred Healing, Dr. Shealy notes that reduced levels of DHEA are found in every known illness. It is his belief that the decline in DHEA is related to cumulative stress and how well individuals handle this.
When the body produces cortisol, it also produces DHEA. DHEA works with the cortisol both to bring the body back to a normal state of function and also to buffer us from some of the negative effects of cortisol. However, if the stress continues, the cortisol levels continue to rise, but DHEA levels begin to decrease. This is because DHEA is converted into cortisolin other words, DHEA is sacrificed for the production of cortisol. This results in a high cortisol to DHEA ratio and a loss of regulatory control over cortisol.
If the stress is not eliminated soon, we experience the exhaustion stage. This ultimately results in an even lower cortisol/DHEA ratio. The long-term consequences of this are degenerative disorders such as cardiovascular disease (stroke, heart disease, atherosclerosis), cancers, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, collapse of the immune system, failing memory and concentration, depression, and other mental disorders.
Dr. Shealy believes that keeping DHEA levels normal may help eliminate many, if not all, of these problems. Thus, DHEA is a key in managing stress in our lives, and in staying healthy.
In regard to magnesium, Dr. Shealy believes it is integral in the hormone pathway that creates DHEA.
What To Do
To combat stress and its negative effects, there are a number of steps we can take.
- Start With Nutrition. Inadequate nutrition is a stressor in itself, and if we are not nutritionally fit, any other actions we take to combat stress will fall short. This means eating a good dietone high in complex carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables, and low in sodium, fats, and sugars. A good way to get good basic nutrition is through AIM BarleyLife.More Specifically, if you feel you are under intermittent or chronic stress, be sure you get:
- Nutrients That Help Your Adrenal Glands, which stimulate the liver to convert glycogen (stored sugar) to glucose. These nutrients include pantothenic acid, vitamin C, and potassium.
- Nutrients That Help Fight Infection, that could result when ill or under stress. These nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin E, and potassium.
- Nutrients That Help Keep the Thymus, which produces the T cells that fight disease, from shrinking and working less in times of stress. These nutrients include vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc.
- Nutrients that are known to help out in times of stress. These include B vitamins and magnesium.
- Avoid Stressors When Possible. Although stressors are a constant in the world, we can take steps to eliminate as many as possible. This means avoiding pollution and toxins and dealing with the emotional stress found in life.
To Start The Process, Try a Stress Audit.
- Write down every stressful thing in your life and then decide which ones you can and cannot control. If you cant control it, let it go. If you can, prioritize what is bothering you the most and find a way to eliminate it.
- Exercise Regularly. The natural decrease in adrenaline production after exercise may counteract the stress response. People who are physically fit better handle stress.
- Relax. Prayer and meditation can help you deal with stress. Picking up a hobby, listening to relaxing music, getting a massage, or soaking in a bath can all help you relax. If you soak in a bath, AIM Cell Wellness Restorer is the ideal product to use.
- Talk to a Friend. Talking with someone about stressful events relieves stress.