Stress: What it Does to the Body and How it Can be Managed
Jun 24, 2013 07:02PM
By Gary Kracoff
It’s a fact that stress occurs at all levels of life. Mental and emotional states such as anxiety, fear, depression, grief and frustration are stressful, and physical conditions such as infection, chronic illness or surgery cause tremendous metabolic stress on the body. Exposure to pesticides, cleaning agents and environmental toxins add to the stress overload, as does the consumption of drugs, excessive alcohol and processed foods. Some signs of chronic stress include:
• Insomnia and sleep issues
• Weight gain
• Hypothyroidism and subclinical hypothyroidism
• High blood pressure
• High blood sugar
• Depression and anxiety
• Lack of energy or stamina
• Sugar cravings
• Sexual dysfunction, low libido and infertility
• Poor memory
• PMS and hot flashes
Some of these problems can be traced to improper function of the adrenal glands, which control our reactions to stress. While the adrenals are meant to help us get through shortterm stressors, most people today experience long-term overstimulation of the adrenal glands, impacting the immune system and decreasing blood flow to the digestive tract. This can lead to indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome, insulin resistance, cravings of high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar foods and a decreased production of thyroid hormones. Symptoms of adrenal distress include headaches, environmental sensitivities, fatigue, dizziness upon standing, excessive perspiration, salt cravings, alcohol intolerance, cold hands and feet, indigestion and short temper.
Nutrition has a profound impact on the adrenal glands, which depend on certain vital nutrients to maintain a healthy output of hormones and an adequate response to stress. These nutrients include Tyrosine, zinc, selenium, B vitamins, magnesium and omega-3 oils. The adrenals also require sodium for the synthesis of adrenal hormones, and salt cravings can indicate chronic adrenal exhaustion. Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and stimulants, and getting adequate sleep, are helpful for adrenal health. Unfortunately, when most people are stressed they do not eat a balanced diet or get enough sleep, which exacerbates the problem.
Exercise, good eating habits, adequate hydration and a positive attitude all help to combat stress and its negative effects on the body. A brisk walk after a challenging day at work helps to release pent up stress and keep it out of the house. Adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola can be very helpful when the body is under undue stress. Rhodiola can be used as needed to calm the adrenals without causing drowsiness or mental slowdown.
Stress, while unavoidable, is best managed through healthy diet, exercise and lifestyle choices, along with a positive mental attitude. The right supplements can be helpful in restoring balance and dealing with the negative effects of prolonged stress, and health care providers and pharmacists can assist with designing a plan for overall wellbeing. Remembering the 80/20 rule is also helpful. That is, most people spend too much energy trying to control the 80 percent of life stressors that they cannot change, instead of managing the 20 percent that they can.
Dr. Gary Kracoff is a naturopath and registered pharmacist at Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center, 577 Main St., in Waltham. For more information, call 781-893-3870, ext. 2 or visit NaturalCompounder.com.