NUTRITION: Stress - A Modern Epidemic - Great Health Guide
NUTRITION: Stress – A Modern Epidemic

NUTRITION: Stress – A Modern Epidemic

‘Stress – A Modern Epidemic’ by Trudy Cadoo published in Great Health Guide (Sep 2015). Stress is extremely common in our busy lives and our modern lifestyles may be contributing to many health complaints.  Nine out of ten Australians report being stressed and 41% of people feel they experience unhealthy levels of stress. Read how stress can affect our overall general health. 
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NUTRITION: Stress – A Modern Epidemic

written by Trudy Cadoo

Stress is a natural, evolutionary body response that is part of a larger response known as the General Adaption Syndrome (GAS).  This is a term used to describe the body’s short and long term reactions to stress and was originally described by Dr Hans Selye in 1936, an Austrian born endocrinologist and physician[1].  Dr Seyle’s research found stress caused many changes in various organs including enlargement of the adrenal cortex,  atrophy of thymus, spleen, lymph nodes and other lymphatic tissue, stomach bleeding and ulceration of the stomach and duodenum. Later the role of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system was thought to be responsible for the cascade of hormones released during short and long term stress. 

In describing the body’s reaction in simple terms, Dr Seyle proposed three distinct phases on GAS: 1. Alarm, 2. Resistance and 3. Exhaustion. The biochemical aspects of GAS have been the researched extensively and only in recent years have some new substances been detected, measured and tested for their effect on the body. It is beyond the scope of this article to elaborate on the biochemical and metabolic systems in the body, but reference to some hormones and their effects is made to understand GAS.

1. Alarm Phase is the first response to threat or danger:  Thousands of years ago, we were faced with the threat of a wild animal while hunting and our immediate response of fight or flight would occur.  The body produces cortisol to increase blood glucose for increased energy for immediate fight or flight, and adrenalin to increase blood pressure and heart rate. During this phase cortisol is redirected away from immune system with wound repair and healing less important than survival. This cascade of hormones will return to normal levels when the threat has been eliminated or stopped.   

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2. Resistance Phase is the second response after the body has responded to the initial threat. Muscle tissue must be repaired and energy storage replenished with glycogen storage from sugars with increased insulin production.  However, if the body stays in the alarm state, cortisol will continue to be produced, heart rate and blood pressure will stay high, insulin will be continuously produced to store energy, the immune system will continue to operate at a lower level of efficiency.

Are you stressed?

  • Do you find it difficult switching off at night?

  • Do you wake in the morning rarely feeling refreshed from your sleep and need coffee to get you going?

  • Do you often feel overwhelmed, anxious, irritable or worried?

  • Do you feel forgetful?

  • Do you feel unmotivated?

  • Do you suffer sore muscles or joints, tension headaches?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be experiencing some level of stress.

3. Exhaustion Phase is the third response of the body to continuous stress.  Cortisol and adrenalin levels are high as is blood pressure and heart rate.  Insulin levels are also high where insulin resistance can now develop and blood sugars are stored as fat in the abdominal area. The immune system is not fully operating so infection, poor wound healing occurs and the body begins to become exhausted. If changes are not made to the stressors and threats at this point, disease states and major health problems become apparent.

The biological response to stress hasn’t changed over thousands of years but the nature of the stress has.  No longer are we being chased by the wild beast while hunting.  

Small amounts of stress can be beneficial as it can keep us motivated and helps us to achieve our goals.  The difference between short term stress (where stage one and two are felt) and long term stress (where stage 2 and final stage three of exhaustion are manifest) is that continual stress ultimately affects the whole body in a negative way and is one of the factors in the large group of modern disease states referred to as the Metabolic Syndrome.

Below is a list of Lifestyle factors that will assist you to adapt to stress and stressors:

• Diet – consume a balanced wholefood diet, avoiding any food intolerances.

• Avoid stimulants such as coffee, and energy drinks.

• Balance blood sugar levels with regular meals – eat protein rich foods throughout the day.

• Include good fats such as omega 3’s from fish, nuts and seeds and olive oil to help with brain health and mood regulation.

• Avoid alcohol – although people use it as a relaxant, alcohol is a known depressant as it lowers serotonin and norepinephrine and may increase levels of anxiety the following day.

• Exercise regularly but avoid over exertion.  Exercise is a brilliant form of stress relief, as it conditions the body and mind and encourages the release of endorphins which help you feel good.

• Use relaxation techniques such as meditation, warm baths, acupuncture or prayer.  Make use of aromatherapy essential oils such as lavender, ylang ylang and chamomile to help relax.

• Get  good  quality  sleep  by  being in bed by 10pm and avoid taking your lap top/ phone into the bedroom.  Aim for eight hours sleep each night.  If you are not getting enough sleep, or your sleep cycles are disturbed, then your brain is not getting enough time to rejuvenate and ‘reset’.

• Remember that sunshine and the outdoors can help to reduce stress hormones.

• Surround yourself with the right people.  Positive people have a positive impact on your life.

Although the stress of modern life is inescapable, it is important to understand that you have the choice to manage your level of stress and be able to adapt to these stressors.  With the right support, diet and lifestyle changes it is possible to feel more in control of your life.  The outcome is that you will be more energised, resilient and have the ability to live life more fully.

Author of this article:
Trudy Cadoo is a Senior Naturopath at Brisbane Livewell Clinic, Chermside. She believes that health is more than the absence of disease. It is the balance of many factors including mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.  Trudy uses a wide range of diagnostic tools to identify and treat presenting problems.  

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