What is stress?
Stress often starts in your head with a worry or a fear, but those feelings of anxiety or perhaps even panic, don’t stay there. When you feel stressed, your body ramps up production of stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. This triggers the start of the stress response. Like a snowball rolling down a mountain, it gains traction and speed until you are ready for the proverbial attack.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, causing your heart to beat faster and ultimately raising your blood pressure. Your brain communicates with your gut, sending news that you are stressed and tells it to put digestion on the back burner until you get out of the immediate threat.
Have you ever been nervous/stressed about a big examination or work presentation? How do you feel? Do your hands get sweaty, stomach gets upset, can you feel your heart beat? These are all normal responses to stress and can be quite beneficial in short term moments to get you through that period. But things can get messy when you feel stressed out all or most of the time.
What happens when you are chronically stressed? If you lost your job, or can’t pay your bills, or are in an unhealthy relationship? You start producing these hormones far too often and your stress response becomes imbalanced. It doesn’t shut off. Your immune system suffers as a result and your gene expression (epigenetics) changes at a rapid rate.
Stress triggers low-grade inflammation and over time can cause an array of symptoms. Your blood pressure starts staying up, your asthma flares up, you keep getting sick. That cut on your arm just doesn’t seem to heal. You have trouble sleeping and you feel ‘burnt out’. You start gaining weight and have digestive issues. Your sex drive starts to diminish.
Stress clearly affects your whole body and can lead to many different common health conditions if not addressed.
Stress and the gut:
As I mentioned earlier, stress has a big impact on the gut. It decreases nutrient absorption, lowers oxygen available to your gut and reduces blood flow to this organ which is needed. Your gut and brain are in constant communication. We have talked about how 70% of your immune system lives in the wall of your GI tract. When we are stressed, bad bugs in your gut can leak through and communicate directly with the brain, causing changes in mood. So, your immune system is weakened, you are not absorbing nutrients well, and your ‘weak gut’ is literally changing your mood.
Your adrenal glands are each no bigger than a walnut and weigh less than a grape, yet they are responsible for one of the most important functions in your body- managing your stress. When these glands are overtaxed, a condition known as adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion sets in. One tell-tale sign of adrenal burnout is feeling chronically fatigued. Symptoms of this again are: sleep disorders, weight gain, fatigue and depression.
It is estimated that 80% of adults experience adrenal fatigue during their lifetime, yet it is open of the most under-diagnosed illnesses in the U.S. You can test your adrenals a few different ways. You can check the rise/fall of cortisol through saliva or urine multiple times throughout the day. Cortisol should peak in the AM upon waking and decrease as the day progresses. That normal fall of cortisol is what makes you feel ready for bed at the end of the day. But many are waking up with reduced cortisol levels, which results in feeling tired/exhausted even though you just woke up. And many are going to bed with dramatically high levels of cortisol, making it impossible to shut down your brain and fall asleep.
Most primary physicians want to rule out the ‘big/bad/ugly’. They generally test for Cushing/Addison’s diseases which are severe adrenal conditions. But generally, adrenal ‘function’ isn’t tested. Our medical system fixes big issues and gets out rather than creating optimal function. We test for ‘optimal function’.
Another way of testing is through hair analysis. Certain ratios of mineral can also be strongly suggestive of adrenal function. Specifically sodium to magnesium ratio.
We have a questionnaire that gives us a general idea of our patients perceived stress and stress response. Everyone responds to a stressful situation differently, it is not up to us to judge what qualifies as stress in someone’s life.
There are 3 main causes for adrenal fatigue/dysfunction
Another common hormonal cause of adrenal fatigue is hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid. What is interesting about the thyroid and adrenal connection is that as cortisol levels go up, one of the normal body mechanisms is to downregulate the thyroid. So most people with high cortisol are going to have lower than ideal thyroid hormone levels. 90% of the time, fixing the adrenals is enough to restore thyroid function.
Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands and helps convert amino acids to glucose for energy. It regulates the balance between energy for usage and energy for storage. It counteracts inflammation and allergies and prevents the loss of sodium in the urine, thus helping to maintain blood pressure. If we have excess cortisol (or long term stress response), our cells can become desensitized to glucose and our blood sugar levels increase. Our immune cells diminish and lymphatic tissue starts to shrink.
We can maintain proper adrenal function and cortisol release by:
If you are hungry, you have already allowed yourself to run out of fuel which places additional stress on the adrenal glands.
Eating good quality fats should be part of each meal in order to help control the rate of entry of glucose (blood sugar) into the bloodstream.
Sleep, rest and recover
Physical repair takes place from 10PM-2AM
Psychic regeneration occurs from 2AM-6AM
Ideal circumstances, bedtime is 9-10PM
Only if tested and recommended
Stage 1 or 2 adrenal fatigue only, ideally exercises before 2PM
Moderate exercises can reduce excess cortisol
Helps you slow down
Relaxes tense muscles
Calms the adrenal response
Find triggers to remember
Walking through a door, send/receive a text message
Reduce work-related stress
Meditation and relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation
Supplementation if needed
Non-toxic and normalizes the bodies response to stress
Ashwagandha, holy basil, licorice
Asian ginseng, schisandra
American ginseng, rhodiola
Pantothenic acid (B5)
Often called the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin
Required for proper neurotransmitter and hormone production
Energy production and conversion of tryptophan into serotonin.
“A 90 year old man was asked to what he attributed his longevity and health:
‘I recon’, he said, ‘It’s because most night I went to bed and slept, when I should have stayed up and worried.’”
Have you heard of Pregnenolone? No? Read on.
Pregnenolone, a hormone produced mainly in your adrenal glands from its precursor, cholesterol. It makes nearly all other steroid hormones, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens and cortisol. This is why adrenal function plays a role in hormone imbalances.
It naturally peaks during our youth and begins a long, slow decline with age. By 75y/o our bodies produce 60% less Pregnenolone than the levels produced in our mid-thirties. Because of this, it can be used as a biomarker for aging. Just like counting the rings on a tree to depict its age, measuring Pregnenolone at any given point of a person's life it is possible to make an educated guess as to his/her age.
As we age, overall our hormones begin to decline. We start to experience physical and mental decline - loss of energy and memory, visual and hearing impairments, arthritis, CVD and sexual decline. Supplementing with small amounts of these neuro-hormones have been shown to slow these age-related processes and improve ones quality of life.
History of Pregnenolone:
Research and usage on Pregnenolone dates back into the 1930s. Human studies were performed in the 1940s on factory workers to test the effect of anti-fatigability and autoimmune disorders like RA. The results were successful and improvements were noted! They found that Pregnenolone encased motivation and long-term memory. Job performances increased. Pregnenolone proved to be effective and safe but it was discarded when Merck introduced a pharmaceutical agent-cortisone. Cortisone was announced to be a cure-all for RA back in 1949.
Soon after cortisone and cortisol came to use, the synthetic steroid hormones dexamethasone and later prednisone were introduced. These steroids are hundreds of times more powerful than Pregnenolone and because they could be patented, it was more politically and economically advantageous for pharmaceutical companies to promote these drugs rather than Pregnenolone. Patients and doctors preferred the quick fix. However, these steroidal compounds proved to have serious downsides, including: compromising the immune system and inducing osteoporosis, among others.
Even though cortisone and cortisol are stress hormones that are natural to the body, they continue to be administered in pharmacological doses rather than natural occurring amounts. All research was halted on Pregnenolone once these hormones were patented.
Some people assume that chiropractors “just crack joints” and only fix neck or back pain. But your body is an integrated system of nerves, cells, and chemicals. If one aspect is out of balance, it can wreak havoc on the body. At Brown Family Chiropractic, we are also trained to provide nutritional counseling to help the body heal, reduce inflammation, reduce pain, improve digestion, improve nutrient absorption and overall wellness in the body.
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