Plain and simple… stress can kill. It can also cause tremendous damage to the body. This can lead to chronic pain, fibromyalgia, IBS, anxiety, depression, rapid aging, low energy, PMS, hot flashes, weight gain and many other issues.
Those who are chronically stressed often seek out help from their doctor. In fact:
- 75% of doctor’s visits are for stress-related illnesses (we’ll see later on that this figure is probably too low!)
- People who suffer from heightened levels of anxiety are 4 to 5 times more likely to have a fatal heart attack or stroke.
- 50% of all illnesses are caused by stress (again, we’ll see later on that this number is way too low!)
There are two kinds of stress, one is good and the other is very harmful…
Eustress: is a kind of good stress… like jumping out of an airplane. The thrill lasts a few minutes, is very positive and then it’s over. This is acute stress.
Distress: this is what to avoid. Think… job problems… money problems… bad relationships… the list goes on and on. And there’s no end in sight. This is chronic stress.
THERE ARE 3 BASIC KINDS OF STRESS
First, let’s define the term stress. What exactly is it? The exact definition, according to Functional Medicine, is that stress is “ANY influence, whether internal or external, that leads or causes the body to malfunction”.
Let’s take a look at different kinds of stress.
- Mental/Emotional/Spiritual: including fear, worry, excitement, anxiety, relationships, existential angst (why am I here?), lack of purpose, covertness, negative perceptions and bad attitudes.
- Physical/ Biomechanical: includes trauma, microtrauma to muscles, bone fractures, muscle injuries or weakness, nerve compression, repetitive or personal injury, intense or prolonged exercise, poor posture and accidents.
- Chemical/Biochemical/Functional: includes inflammatory foods, food additives, pesticides, herbicides, GMO’s, alcohol, caffeine, unstable blood sugar, prescription medication, recreational drugs, chemicals, metals, radiation, EMF’s, antibiotics, OTC medications, birth control (exogenous hormones), parasites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, lack of sleep, no exercise, allergies and an overactive immune system.
With a list of stressors this lengthy, it’s no wonder we are all struggling to be healthy. Remember the line that 75% of doctor’s visits are stress related? That’s just for Mental and Emotional Stress. When physical and chemical stressors are added it, it’s likely that over 90% of doctor’s visits are due to stress!
STRESS SCREWS UP HORMONES AND CAUSES HUGE DAMAGE
Stress raises blood sugar levels (which is inflammatory and causes pain) and blood lipid levels (triglycerides)…
Stress suppresses the immune system and leads to illness…
Stress causes high blood pressure…
Stress causes weight gain…
There are seven hormones that Functional Medicine looks at in a hormone panel. Needless to say, all of these hormone levels are affected by stress. The fact is that it’s not possible to feel good until the levels of these hormones are corrected back to normal…
- Cortisol: this hormone is produced by the adrenal glands. It has gotten a bad rap as the “belly fat” hormone. It’s true that elevated levels of Cortisol over long periods of time will cause beer bellies. However, Cortisol is actually a good thing. It is anti-inflammatory and controls pain. A person under chronic stress will usually have a cortisol level like this:
The first phase, when we’re young is called adaptation (the green area). It’s when cortisol is normal.
Next, we get to the acute phase. Cortisol is elevated (yellow area) and this can last for years. Usually, the person feels pretty good… and the good feeling can continue for years. Eventually, the adrenal glands “burn out” and the levels start to plummet.
The compensatory phase comes next (orange area). Cortisol levels take a nose-dive due to malfunctioning adrenal glands. The person starts to feel like crap. They will self medicate with caffeine or seek help from a doctor… which they are unlikely to get. Why? Very few doctors test for cortisol levels. They will usually run some kind of blood panel (cortisol is tested by saliva) and come back with no diagnosis. They may tell the sufferer “it’s all in one’s head”. Doctors often prescribe antidepressants and/or anxiety meds at this point.
The final phase is called the exhaustion phase (red area). At this point, the adrenal glands are totally burned out and produce little, if any, cortisol. The patient usually feels like death warmed over. Indeed, it’s possible to die at this stage.
Cortisol is known as a “catabolic” hormone. It breaks down protein, fats and carbs to get the body for the “fight or flight” response. This episode is supposed to be for just a few minutes and then subside. When it lasts for months or years (see the yellow acute phase above), the problems begin.
B) DHEA: this is short for dehydroepiandrosterone. The DHEA level is inversely correlated with the Cortisol level. In other words, when Cortisol levels rise, DHEA levels fall. And vice versa. Why is this important? Quite simply, DHEA heals the damage caused by elevated Cortisol levels. DHEA is “anabolic”, which means it builds the body up. Muscles bulk up. Bones get stronger. DHEA helps people thrive under stress. It reduces the risks of anxiety, depression, heart disease, neurodegeneration and speeds wound healing. It helps the brain grow.
When there is more DHEA than Cortisol (a higher DHEA/Cortisol ratio), it predicts better academic persistence in college students, is associated with better focus and superior problem-solving skills. Clearly, it is desirable to have more DHEA and less Cortisol… which is the opposite of what stressed-out people are.
The “normal” Cortisol/DHEA ratio ranges from 0.45:1 to 2.57:1 which means that Cortisol is usually dominant.
C) Estradiol: this is the strongest form of estrogen. Low levels cause night sweats, hot flashes and disturbed sleep. High levels cause moodiness, irritability, nervousness and bleeding changes.
D) Estriol: a weaker form of estrogen than Estradiol. It is often used in allopathic medicine to treat PMS and thinning bones (osteopenia) because of its lower potency.
Excess and lower levels have the same side effects as Estradiol.
E) Progesterone: sometimes called the “pregnancy hormone” since it is produced in the placenta. Optimal health usually requires high levels of this relaxing hormone. Excess levels can cause sleepiness, low libido and mild depression. Too low a level can cause hot flashes, brain fog and disturbed sleep. The optimal ratio of progesterone/estradiol is 30:1.
F) Melatonin: the primary sleep hormone… it is also a window into the health of gut function. It is made in the pineal gland at the base of the brain. A little known fact is that 400 times more melatonin is made in the gut bacteria, also known as the microbiome. Low melatonin levels, often caused by gut pathogens, cause sleep issues. High levels may cause a “hung-over feeling” when first awakened. It has an important interaction with the pancreas in controlling insulin release and blood sugar levels.
G) Testosterone: the main male hormone. It is an anabolic steroid and the level usually decreases with age. Women also need testosterone, but only about 10% of what men require. Low levels may lead to sarcopenia (low muscle mass), brain fog and general fatigue. Excesses may lead to baldness along with increased facial hair, oily skin and short tempers.
STRESS CAUSES DIGESTION PROBLEMS
A second test used to help diagnose stress is a digestion test, which collects a urine sample.
Three diagnostic factors are measured:
- Indican: indicates poor protein digestion. Indole is a by-product of incomplete protein digestion.
- Lipid Peroxidase: indicates that cell walls are breaking down… which gives an indication that the body is deteriorating.
- Urinary Bile Acids: bile acids are produced in the pancreas and are captured by the liver. The level of UBA’s in the urine indicates if the liver is congested (plugged up) or working properly.
STRESS CAUSES LEAKY GUT SYNDROME
The small intestine is where most of the food nutrients are absorbed. Specifically, the microvilli (left) are little hairs that project outward from the small intestinal lining and do the absorption. When they are damaged, vitamins and minerals are improperly absorbed. The lining of the small intestine becomes like swiss cheese (lots of holes) and allows toxins from the food to enter the bloodstream directly, which should never happen.This may cause diarrhea, constipation, nutritional deficiencies, poor immune system function, headaches, brain fog, memory loss and chronic fatigue.
This leaky gut test is a challenge test… drink a solution of two sugars and measure the concentration of the sugars collected in the urine a few hours later.
STRESS CAUSES GUT PATHOGENS
The fourth test used to measure damage from stress is a stool test. A sample is collected daily for three consecutive days and then sent off to the lab.
The sample is examined under a microscope and is also cultured. Pathogens, bacteria, yeasts and viruses are identified and can then be treated.
One especially nasty bacteria that is screened is H. Pylori. This is sometimes called the “kissing bug” since it can be spread by saliva. In fact, it is so highly transmissible that if one family member tests positive for it, the rest of the family MUST also be tested. It is responsible for constipation, diarrhea, stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
FOOD SENSITIVITIES MAKE STRESS WORSE
The last test used to deal with stress is called the Mediator Release Test (MRT). It is a blood test that identifies which foods a person must avoid since EVERYBODY reacts to certain foods… usually with inflammatory symptoms that cause poor health. This specific test screens 170 different foods.
Clients are advised to avoid all foods that are in the red (sensitive) category for three months and then gradually reintroduce those foods one at a time to see how they feel. Interestingly, food allergies often change over time, so the test may be repeated at regular intervals… possibly yearly.
STRESS DAMAGES AND KILLS BUT THERE IS A SOLUTION!
Running the five tests listed above (hormones, digestion, leaky gut, pathogens, food sensitivities) reveals the WHY, that is the root cause, of a person not feeling well. Whether it’s stress, depression, pain, IBS or anxiety. By correcting the issues found during testing, a permanent solution to many health problems becomes available.
The program used to correct these health issues is called the “Dress for Success” program. DRESS stands for:
- Diet: An anti-inflammatory diet with the correct ratio of fats to protein to carbs. No sugar. As much organic food as possible. Clients in the program often undergo a metabolic typing quiz to find out which foods are best for them and in the right ratio.
- Rest: Sleep hygiene is important. ALL electronics, including TV’s and cellphones, should be removed from the bedroom. Avoid all electronics for at least one hour prior to bedtime since the blue light from these devices destroys the melatonin that the body is producing. Strive to sleep from 10 PM to 6 AM regularly.
- Exercise: It’s important to have the right level of exercise… not too much or too little. The idea is to work up a good sweat doing weightlifting, high intensity interval training, yoga, walking, cycling or whatever activity the client prefers. About 2 hours per week is right for most people. SItting at a desk is the “new smoking”. That means those desk dwellers should get up at least once each hour and just move. Also, it’s important to not over-exercise. The person should not feel tired when finished exercising… they should feel energized. A “Barre” class that combines Pilates, yoga, dance and strength training is ideal.
- Stress Reduction: this is the most important aspect of getting better. If stress is not properly controlled, the healthiest diet and best exercise program will do little to improve one’s health.The key to handling stress is to make lifestyle changes to be better able to handle stress. Things like embracing challenges through mindset changes or changing one’s point of view. Three good steps to stress control are:
- Acknowledge the stress and how it affects the body.
- Welcome the stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something the person cares about.
- Make use of the energy that stress causes. Direct that blast of energy toward goals and values.
Activities such as meditation and the Emotional Freedom Technique (www.eftonline.org) are of great help. Avoid drugs such as Xanax and Valium and alcohol… they are merely a crutch and not a solution to the problem.
- Supplements: very powerful botanical supplements are used to correct hormone imbalances, leaky gut, gut pathogens and many other health issues revealed by testing. Over a period of three months or longer, the issues are gradually corrected. Usually the symptoms (stress, depression, etc) will subside in 2 – 3 weeks. The person being treated will just keep getting better and better for however long it takes to correct all the health issues.
An often asked question is “how long do I have to take supplements for”? The answer is “supplements are needed only as long as the person wants to stay healthy.”
Here’s the bottom line: stress must be conquered in order to have good health. Even though it’s a daily issue for most, it is relatively easy to control stress. Working with a Functional Medicine Practitioner, who will take the client through this program, makes it a whole lot easier to deal with stress and have a happy, healthy life.
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