Even Mild Stress Can Lead to Disability, Study Says

It is a beautiful spring morning in Missoula with the daybreak bringing sunshine. You awaken from a perfect sleep, revitalized and day dreaming about all you want to accomplish this day. This day lays ahead, full of opportunity, and you feel right in tune to accomplishing your goals.

You fix your breakfast, steamed leafy green vegetables in miso soup with chunks of last night’s salmon, side of rice.

Eating calmly, gazing out at the crocuses coming through the winter’s earth, you enjoy this time.

Down the street, your friend wakes reluctantly to the alarm clock, feeling tired still. She has to wake up her children, make breakfasts and get them out the door within thirty minutes. Her husband left for work at five a.m. The hurried rush produces pop tarts slammed down the toaster and eaten on the way out the door. She gets the kids in the car and tries not to speed in the neighborhood as she careens towards the school. Then off to her own job, applying her make-up at the red lights and squeezing the cell phone on one shoulder as she drives and talks.

Welcome to America. The interdependent work machine needs you. Factories, offices, stores and Wall Street need you to work, to buy, or better yet, consume. It is 2011 and we have been loyally enjoying the fruits of modern living for several decades now. Look at the result. Are Americans healthier? The answer is no.

Stress is a subjective feeling. As Hans Selye M.D., the first to explain the physiologic effects of stress in the human, said, “stress is not the situation, it is your response to the situation.”  His work launched better understanding and intervention for stress-induced problems, at least in the holistic medical world.

There are several things to know about the effects of long term stress. First of all most Americans suffer from the effects of long-term stress. Stress on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time. Acute stress reactions, as in your fear of taking an exam, is usually short-lived and physiologic recovery occurs after the exam.

Long term stress effects your hormones. Because cortisol, the stress response hormone, is manufactured in the same cascade as your testosterone, progesterone, and estrogens, you may see a dip in those products as your body makes more cortisol. I like to point out that all of the preceding hormones in addition to DHEA and Pregnenelone, two OTC supplements/hormones, are all produced from the building block of cholesterol. Yes, the maligned cholesterol. Please rethink cholesterol!

Long term stress depletes your feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.

Long term stress increases the inflammatory pathway, general inflammation increases, any inflammatory process increases arthritis or Irritable bowel, eczema, heart disease, ulcers etc.

Long term stress will eventually deplete the stress-response hormone itself.

Fatigue will be constant along with your other depressing symptoms!

So logic would provide that the cure, is to remove stress. In some cases that isn’t entirely possible, either though yes it is of our thinking process. It is complex. Once triggered, the stress reaction is firing the familiar pathways. People with PTSD know this all too well. If you are not a Buddha yet, logic would provide that the next best thing you could do would be to mitigate the physiologic damage, and replenish the depleted hormones and neurotransmitters. The environmental stressors have to be acknowledged in this day and age as well. The constant bombardment of invisible chemicals through water, air, food from new carpet off-gassing to Lawn-Be-Green herbicide, we are saturated. It damages normal cell function, leading to fatigue and disease.

This can be done, and is better done, without anti-depressants. Unless you are at the end of your rope, certainly a medication could help. Also, take in the nutrients that are the precursors to your neurotransmitters, take out of your diet that which depletes. You know instinctively what works against healing but I know you want to hear this list again: sugar foods, refined carbohydrates, soda, excess caffeine, alcohol and lack of : Vegetables and whole foods, skipping meals.

As a naturopathic physician, I try and rebuild your depleted system while educating about lifestyle changes. Homeopathic medicine is one of the quickest cures I have seen, but the body will also need sustenance. Food for the adrenal glands, herbal formulas that help soothe the nervous system, nutrients that lower that nighttime excess cortisol which keeps you awake, and sometimes a supplement of cortisol itself is needed to pick some people up off the floor.

The environment is also stressed. We can work together to make it better. We are both interrelated, environment in our body, environment outside of our body. I want people to achieve health so they will have the energy to help our planet.