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Stress

Overview

Stress has been called ‘the silent killer’. While everyone feels stressed or harried at some point in their lives, doctors estimate that over 70% of Americans experience enough stress for it to affect their daily lives. The American Medical Association has estimated that stress is a precipitating or aggravating cause in up to 85% of all illness. The American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, NY, estimates that 90% of all visits to the doctor are for stress-related illnesses. And business experts estimate that stress and its related illnesses and conditions costs American industry over $200 billion per year.

 

While ‘stress’ in and of itself is not defined as an illness, its effects on your body are obviously far reaching. The list of illnesses that are induced or worsened by stress includes heart disease, migraine headaches, hypertension, cancer, arthritis, ulcers, colitis, respiratory problems like asthma and muscle tension problems. Even doctors who don’t subscribe to holistic and alternative medical theories have recommended the reduction of stress for years as part of the treatment for hundreds of illnesses from ulcers to migraines to heart attacks and stroke. And while stress is the body’s natural reaction to danger – in other words, a healthy response to outside events – excessive and/or inappropriate stress can, over time, become a disorder that affects everything about your daily life and your ability to cope with normal, everyday stresses.

 

Doctors of conventional medicine and mental health specialists will often prescribe medication to help lower stress. Those more in tune with holistic methods of treating illness may prescribe changes in lifestyle that include cutting back working hours, taking a vacation, meditation and biofeedback and other methods that teach a person to control and manage their stress levels.

 

More recently, research has focused attention on the role that nutrition plays in stress management. What you eat and the nutrients that you provide for your body seem to play a major role in how well it physically reacts to stress. By recognizing the role that nutrition plays in protecting the body from the effects of heightened stress and providing it with the nutrients that it needs to properly regulate the stress reactions, we can reduce the consequential damage from illnesses that so often accompany stressful situations.

 

What Stress  Does:

How is it that an outside factor like stress on the job can trigger a range of physical ills that includes everything from a sore neck to the common cold to a heart attack? To understand that, you need to understand what happens inside your body when you’re faced with something that your mind perceives as dangerous or stressful. Doctors call it the General Adaptation Syndrome – and it’s how your body prepares you to deal with possible harm to itself.

 

Your body’s first reaction to danger is the well-known fight or flight response. As soon as your mind perceives danger, it dumps adrenaline into your bloodstream and sends out panic messages along the neural pathways to prepare your body to run or fight. Your muscles tense, your stomach clenches, your heart races, your breathing quickens – and every one of these responses is designed to more quickly metabolize all the nutrients that your body needs to deal with whatever danger may be present. Ideally, when the danger is past, your body will return to normal as the chemicals are metabolized and depleted.

 

The second stage of the body’s adaptation to stress is the adaptive stage. In an attempt to protect the body, it releases hormones and corticosteroids that raise the blood sugar levels and prepare the body to deal with stressors in a longer term. Your body calls on its reserves of protein, amino acids, hormones and other nutrients to supply the chemicals it needs to keep all your systems working at high ‘be prepared’ speed. If this state continues for too long without the needed rest between ‘alarms’, all those supplies of nutrients become depleted. The more depleted they become, the less able your body – and mind – are to deal with additional demands on it. Because the chemicals that your immune system needs are depleted, you’re more likely to catch a cold, have an outbreak of cold sores, psoriasis or acne, have an asthma attack – in fact, you’re more prone to just about any illness when you’re under a lot of stress.

 

Symptoms of  Stress:

Because stress puts a strain on nearly every system in your body, the list of possible symptoms of too much stress reads like a laundry list of disorders and illnesses. It includes:

  • Sleep disorders (insomnia, hypersomnia, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors)

  • Poor appetite

  • Overeating

  • Bruxism (grinding teeth unconsciously)

  • Outbreaks of chronic conditions like herpes, mouth sores, shingles, acne, psoriasis, yeast infections and migraines

  • Stomach aches with no apparent cause

  • Ulcers

  • Worsening of symptoms of chronic disorders like ulcers, ulcerative colitis, hypertension, heart arrhythmias, asthma and digestive upsets

 

What Causes Stress:

Stress can be caused by anything out of the ordinary, particularly situations that are life-changing. These include happy events and situations as well as painful and frightening ones. Some of the most commonly identified sources of stress are:

  • The death of a family member or friend

  • A change of residence

  • Starting a new job

  • Losing a job

  • A life-affecting illness

  • Being the victim of a crime or other ‘assault’

  • Getting a new boss

  • Getting married

  • Getting divorced

  • Illness of a family member

  • An impending test, project or trip

 

Treatments for Stress:

Doctors often prescribe pharmaceutical medications to help deal with stress, many of which are addictive or can have serious side effects ranging from drowsiness to depression to gastric disturbances. More recently, doctors have realized the importance of both physical activity and nutrition in minimizing the effects of stress on the body. The best treatment for preventing and minimizing the impact that chronic stress has on your body is to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet, including health and nutritional supplements to be sure that your body has all the nutrients it needs to deal with stressful situations.

 

In particular, the B complex vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids and specific amino acids and other proteins help the body build healthy neural pathways, stimulate the brain to release needed chemicals and strengthen the body’s immune system. To help minimize the impact of stress on your body, consider taking a daily health supplement that includes the full complement of B vitamins as well as a fish oil supplement to provide all the essential fatty acids that your body needs. If you are in a stressful situation, make extra efforts to maintain a healthy diet and stay physically active, and consider adding a nutritional supplement with extra antioxidants and B vitamins.

 

 

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