Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Think You Know Stress?

Everyone knows about stress, but do you know the real damage caused by stress?

According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 90% of all illness, mental and physical, is caused or aggravated by stress.

We've all heard the list of big stresses: death of a loved one, divorce, money problems, moving, etc. Yet just about anything can create stress in our bodies, such as:
- eating late at night
- staying up late
- watching too much TV
- a strained or no relationship
- eating the wrong food
- excessive exercise
- frustration
- pollution
- noise
- most diets
- even vacations!
Almost anything can induce the body's stress reaction if we don't receive that event in the right way at the right time and in the proper amount.

Dr Hans Selye won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on stress. He defines stress as "a psycho-physiological (mind-body) event that takes place when our system is overwhelmed by an experience: physical, mental or emotional."

Stress is our mind/body reaction to the event, not the event itself.

The diseases and health conditions most associated with chronic stress are:
- high blood pressure
- diabetes
- heart disease
- auto-immune diseases (colitis, IBS, etc.)
- ulcers
- cancer
- pain inflammation
- weight gain
- insomnia
- anxiety
- depression
- tension
- sexual dysfunction
Stress also accelerates the aging process and causes the skin to wrinkle.

Stress causes a cascade of neuro-chemical reactions known as the "fight or flight response".
First, the stress hormones Cortisol, Epinephrine and Norepinephrine are released by the adrenals. The pituitary gland releases more hormones, and the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (the part you have no direct control over) revs up.

Cortisol, when elevated, raises blood sugar for increased energy. If we don't use all this released energy "fighting or fleeing", the excess blood sugar stores as fat -- especially around the mid-section. Studies have found that women with high levels of body fat accumulating at their waist also have high levels of cortisol in their systems due to elevated stress levels. Up and down swings of blood sugar due to cortisol also promote food cravings and bad diet, which can turn simple weight problems into diabetes.

Elevated blood sugar can also cause and inflammatory repose, often without visible manifestation until later when arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer's or heart disease appear.

In short, the chemistry of stress needs some balance....naturally.

Tomorrow we'll discuss the benefits of Holy Basil, our favorite herbal stress reducer.


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