How does stress affect our health?
It's an odd concept right? How can something that we can't see (our emotional state) create a physical issue within the body? When we end up with things like high cholesterol, heart disease or diabetes, how much can we really pin on genetics and how much of this is just an easy scape goat designed to make us feel better about the fact that we didn’t look after ourselves very well.
You can tell me all you like that it’s “your genes”. However, you and I are not qualified enough to make that decision unless you provide me some evidence of your genetic code. Until that time, I’ll use what I know about the environment our genes live in to help you get well again.
This statement on the genetic environment brings me to the topic of stress.
Here is an explanation I posted on Facebook about stress
Imagine a wrecking ball about to get to work on a large building. As the ball hits the building it causes stress fractures, eventually these get so great that the building falls. What the wrecking ball is doing is adding a stressor to the building, it is literally trying to knock the building out of homeostasis (balance).
This is what stress is. It is a load/force/pressure added to something. This something will be affected accordingly by the load, and the something...will do something.
Here are 2 examples:
- My husband leaves me (the load). I (the something) stop eating and get angry because I suspect he is cheating on me. I throw all his stuff out on the road and burn it (the something, doing something)
- A lion comes running into my office (the load). I (the something) get a fright and my heart starts to race and I sweat. I’m too petrified to even run. (the something, doing something)
YOUR GENES LIVE IN YOUR CELLS
Duh. Really? No, I mean really, did you realise this? Think of your genes like little plants and the garden/soil is your cells. Join a whole bunch of cells together, and let’s call that, um...the planet.
If you don’t water your plants, what happens? They die of course. Similarly, if the soil is poor, or if there is no sun around the planet, or the atmosphere suddenly becomes 40% Sulphur gas then the plants will grow or die according to the environment.
This is the same with your genes. We are all susceptible to genetic problems, but there are things that will determine whether these things will be a problem or not.
Which brings us back to stress
STRESS IS THE ENVIRONMENT YOU LIVE IN
Everything that goes into your body affects your cells. The book Biology of Belief explains how even our thoughts affect our cells. Everything we come into contact with has the ability to raise our stress hormones. There are 4 main types of stress: chemical, physical, emotional, internal.
WHETHER YOU GET ILL OR NOT IS DOWN TO HOW WELL YOU TOLERATE STRESS
When we are under stress, the hormone Cortisol is secreted in larger volumes than its normal daily output. How we perceive stress emotionally and biologically will determine how much cortisol and how long the cortisol is elevated for.
Some people can just take a thrashing, while others just don’t have that tolerance to stress.
Tolerance to stress is influenced by a number of factors, including genetic make up, presence of other stressors (ie a poor diet will make it harder to cope with other stress), internal stressors (blood glucose issues, gut parasites, constipation etc), our upbringing and learned behaviours around stress, the amount of stress we have put ourselves under and how well we dissipate any stress that we encounter.
HOW THE HEALTH ISSUES START TO OCCUR
In long term chronic stress, if Cortisol is left elevated for too long it starts to upset the key steroid hormone balance by “stealing” the hormone pregnenalone for its use. When that happens, we end up with things like low DHEA, Estrogens, Testosterone and a host of other hormone imbalances.
It is the Cortisol : DHEA ratio that largely affects the health of our body. These two hormones are responsible for things like: thyroid function, mucosal surface integrity (the gut), carbohydrate & fat metabolism, immune regulation, detoxification capability, memory, learning, mood regulation, sleep control, body weight controls....and more.
We also have to consider the immune activity and inflammation that goes on in the body under these conditions. Inflammation is an internal stressor, and as we know chronic inflammation in arteries is the main cause of cardiovascular disease.
Our cells are precious and when they start to function incorrectly, then WE function incorrectly.
The health issues that we are talking about, are the most common things that pop up: IBS, High Cholesterol, Heart Disease, Cancer, Migranes, Endometriosis, Constipation, Depression, Fertility issues...
We also commonly see things like bloating, fatigue, difficulty in improving fitness and losing weight.
We saw quite a rise in cancer diagnoses in Christchurch post-quake. Is this a not so funny co-incidence, or a result of intense and prolonged periods of stress?
These things weren’t prevalent 100-200 years ago. Neither was the stress load that we have today.
Sure, our fathers father may have had heart disease, but that’s not a life sentence for you if you get to work on altering the environment that your DNA lives in, and reducing the amount of stressors coming into the body.
EXAMPLES OF STRESSORS
- CHEMICAL: Processed foods, poor food quality, shampoos, deoderents etc, spray devices in houses, plastics, car fumes, mercury fillings, environmental chemical output...
- PHYSICAL: Injuries, musculoskeletal problems, postural misalignments...
- EMOTIONAL: Grief, relationships, finances, self worth...
- INTERNAL: Blood sugar issues, parasites/worms, detoxification issues, hormone imbalances
A bit of tough love to finish. You can blame your genetics all you like, but if you're not doing anything to help the genetic environment by managing your health and stress, then you're just making excuses.