How stress affects our Biology

Stress is often described as feeling overwhelmed, worried or run-down. It affects people of all ages, genders and circumstances and can lead to both physical and psychological health issues. By definition, stress is any uncomfortable “emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes”. Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, extreme and/or chronic stress can have health consequences and adversely affect our musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, nervous, reproductive & immune systems.

Musculoskeletal System

When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is our reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head.
Individuals who are fearful of pain and re-injury, and who seek only a physical cause and cure for the injury, generally have a worse recovery than individuals who maintain a certain level of moderate activity. Muscle tension, and eventually, muscle atrophy due to disuse of the body, all promote chronic, stress-related musculoskeletal conditions.
Relaxation techniques have been shown to effectively reduce muscle tension, decrease the incidence of certain stress-related disorders, such as headache, and increase a sense of well-being.

Respiratory System

Stress can also cause our breathing to be shallow and irregular, and can lead to hyperventilation and panic attacks. Deep breathing helps us remain in a relaxed state and helps increase circulation in the body.

Cardiovascular

Chronic stress, or a constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke.
Repeated acute stress and persistent chronic stress may also contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system, particularly in the coronary arteries, and this is one pathway that is thought to tie stress to heart attack. Daily movement & deep breathing promote healthy circulation; which helps to counter the effects of stress.

Endocrine

When the body is stressed, the hypothalamus signals the adrenal cortex to produce cortisol and the adrenal medulla to produce epinephrine. This starts the process that gives your body the energy to run from danger.

Digestion

Stomach

When you’re stressed, your brain becomes more alert to sensations in your stomach. Your stomach can react with “butterflies” or even nausea or pain. You may vomit if the stress is severe enough. And, if the stress becomes chronic, you may develop ulcers or severe stomach pain even without ulcers.

Liver

When cortisol and epinephrine are released, the liver produces more glucose, a blood sugar that would give you the energy for “fight or flight” in an emergency. For most of you, if you don’t use all of that extra energy, the body is able to reabsorb the blood sugar, even if you’re stressed again and again. But for some people — especially people vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes — that extra blood sugar can mean diabetes.
Studies show that if you learn how to manage stress, you can control your blood sugar level as much as you could with medication.

Bowel

Stress can affect digestion, and what nutrients your intestines absorb. It can also affect how fast food moves through your body. You may find that you have either diarrhea or constipation.

Nervous System

When the body is stressed, the nervous system generates what is known as the “fight or flight” response. The body shifts all of its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat, or fleeing from an enemy. The nervous system signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster, respiration rate to increase, blood vessels in the arms and legs to dilate, digestive process to change and glucose levels (sugar energy) in the bloodstream to increase to deal with the emergency.
This response is fairly sudden in order to prepare the body to respond to the situation at hand. Once the crisis is over, the body usually returns to the pre-emergency, unstressed state.
Experiencing stressors chronically over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body. It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic.

Male Reproductive System

Excess amounts of cortisol can affect the normal biochemical functioning of the male reproductive system.
Chronic stress can affect testosterone production, sperm production and maturation, and even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence.
Also, when stress affects the immune system, the body can become vulnerable to infection. In the male anatomy, infections to the testes, prostate gland and urethra, can affect normal male reproductive functioning.

Female Reproductive System

Menstruation
Stress may affect menstruation in several ways. For example, high levels of stress are associated with absent or irregular menstrual cycles, more painful periods and changes in the length of cycles.
Menopause
As menopause approaches, hormone levels fluctuate rapidly. These changes are associated with anxiety, mood swings and feelings of distress. Thus menopause can be a stressor in and of itself. Some of the physical changes associated with menopause, especially hot flashes, can be difficult to cope with. Furthermore, emotional distress may cause the physical symptoms to be worse. For example, women who are more anxious may experience an increased number of hot flashes and/or more severe or intense hot flashes.

Immune

Stress creates chronic inflammatory conditions throughout the body. This along with the issues stress causes in our other systems, creates an endless amount of work for our immune system, eventually weakening it over time.

How we respond to stressors makes a huge difference. Know what soothes your soul and make sure it’s part of your daily routine. For me that’s daily movement, being in nature, and time alone to unwind and reflect. In addition, support your body with the right foods & nutrients, and minimize your exposure to sugar, processed & fried foods that make your body’s job more difficult.

 

If you want to make some changes and need help getting started, send me a message here or book a nutrition & wellness assessment with me here.

Black Bean Avocado Brownies

Confession, I have a pretty serious sweet tooth. I love dark chocolate and sometimes when i avoid it for too long, I end up making poor decisions (aka quick decisions that typically involve junk ingredients). I found this recipe for black bean brownies, tweaked it a little, and love it!Continue reading

Preparing Black Beans From Scratch

I hear you, canned beans are quick and easy. Dried beans need to be soaked for 8 hours, then cooked 40 minutes or longer. That takes time and commitment. But considering that canned beans contain about 100 times the sodium, are more expensive, not as fresh, and could have absorbed endocrine-disrupting properties from the lining of the can, and add to landfills, I like to cook them from scratch.

You can eat them throughout the week, or even freeze some for future use.Continue reading

6 Brain fuel foods that help boost mental performance

teenage-brainLet’s face it, we all like to think we are in control. But the truth is, 90-100% of our decisions come from a primal, instinctual and sub-rational (below the level of conscious reasoning) part of our brain. The part of our brain responsible for conscious thought either provides rationalizations for our sub-rational decisions, or acts as an override mechanism that allows us to revise them.Continue reading

Getting to know your poop

Our poop is about 75 percent water. The rest is a combination of fiber, live and dead bacteria, miscellaneous cells and mucus. The characteristics of your stool will tell you a good deal about how happy and healthy your digestive tract is – the color, odor, shape, size, and even the sound it makes when it hits the water and whether it’s a “sinker” or a “floater” are all relevant information.Continue reading

Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D deficiency is pretty common in North America, but many of us are not aware that we may be lacking this important nutrient. The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency in adults include:

  • general tiredness, aches and pains, and a general sense of not feeling well
  • severe bone or muscle pain or weakness that may cause difficulty climbing stairs or getting up from the floor or a low chair, or cause the person to walk with a waddling gait
  • stress fractures, especially in the legs, pelvis, and hips

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What is an Allergy?

Allergy today is generally misunderstood, and it’s more common than we realize. Our greatest challenge is recognizing it. Allergy is the cumulative effect of many insults to the body which, over time, have overwhelmed the body’s protective mechanisms. While dust may appear to be the cause of your runny nose, in reality it’s only the trigger that activates the symptoms in an already comprised organism.

People inherit the disposition for allergy rather than the specific allergy itself. Metabolic individuality can cause people to react very differently to various substances. What adds to the challenge is that cellular injury releases endorphins, creating a subconscious addiction to the offending foods so you can actually be craving the foods you are intolerant to (In fact, this is a good tool to use to identify what may be causing your symptoms – what do you crave all the time?).

Food allergy or intolerance can be caused by intestinal permeability, allowing undigested proteins and food particles to pass through the gut into the bloodstream causing systemic body inflammation. It is the body’s response to the foreign object that becomes the problem more than the object itself.

The Physiology – Food allergy occurs when a specific immunoglobulin antibody (blood proteins produced in response to an allergen or toxin) reacts to a foreign object (the allergen) that is found in our bloodstream, causing our immune system to react abnormally whenever exposed. Our Ig (immunoglobulin) antibodies work to identify triggers that could be harmful to the body, and tell the body to release histamine. Histamine causes your blood vessels to swell or dilate, so that your white blood cells can quickly find and attack the infection or problem.

What causes Allergy?

  1. Allergy appears when the accumulation of toxic substances leads to metabolic overload (when your body can no longer keep up).
  2. Nutritional deficiencies further stress the immune system leading to vulnerability of developing allergy.
  3. Chronic infections heavily contribute to the production to allergic symptoms. Infection of the intestine can make it’s lining more permeable to undigested food particles, which end up in your bloodstream & produce allergic symptoms.
  4. Toxins produced by Candida (including acetaldehyde, carbon monoxide & alcohol) also play a major role in allergy as well.
  5. Stress is any form, whether emotional, physical, chemical, or environmental will also contribute to allergy by weakening your immune system and adding to your metabolic overload. 
Literally any symptom which your body is capable of producing can be of allergenic origin. Due to the vast array of possible symptoms as well as causes (food, chemicals, or inhalants), food allergies are a difficulty topic of study from a scientific standpoint. How do you study a substance that causes headaches in one person, rashes in another and depression in yet another, while the majority of people experience no symptoms at all? Most laboratory blood tests deal primarily with the antibody IgE and don’t screen for reactions involving the IgG, IgA, or IgM antibodies. Food journals are a great way to spot the patterns and pinpoint possible suspects.
In holistic nutrition, we’re always trying to get to the root of the problem and address it at that level, rather than simply suppressing symptoms. Imagine you had a stone in your shoe causing you pain in your foot. Would you take painkillers to relieve your pain, or take off your shoe and remove the stone?
Self empowerment through personal responsibility is key. The primary sources of prolonged/chronic trauma and irritation to the body are habits, lifestyle and beliefs. For example, getting drunk regularly is a source of chronic irritation to the body, as the body tries to compensate for mineral loss, lack of oxygen and toxicity to the liver. If it continues long enough, the body will fall out of balance and symptoms of dis-ease will begin to appear. Symptoms are the body’s message to you that it is struggling to cope with it’s environment.
If you suspect you may be suffering from a possible allergy, I can help you get on the path to healing. Although change may seem intimidating or uncomfortable, with the right support it can be fun and exciting! The end goal is not permanent avoidance, but only temporary avoidance while we support the healing of the intestine. Intestinal permeability is typically how it all started in the first place.
I encourage you to take the next step and reach out to me so we can get started! You can book an appointment with me at Sage Wellness or you can call Sage at 613.235.7243

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