Healthy Routes Column: Preventing the Damaging Effects of Chronic Stress

You have heard of the “fight or flight” response, our body’s innate reaction meant to protect us from threats from predators or aggressors. Today we are in less danger of wolves and bears, although some of us have survived the charge of a cow protecting her newly born calf with an adrenaline fuelled flight. Less exciting but every bit as stressful are the multiple demands we face each day, such as shouldering a huge workload, making ends meet and taking care of our family. Your body treats these so-called minor hassles as threats. As a result, you may feel as if you’re constantly under assault.

As explained in the Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Stress Free Living, when you encounter a perceived threat — an angry cow snorts or a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.
The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities. But when stressors are always present, and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.
This puts you at increased risk for numerous health problems, including asthma attacks, anxiety, depression, Cardiovascular disease (including heart disease), high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks and stroke, obesity, diabetes and eating disorders, digestive problems (such as GERD), gastritis, ulcerative colitis and irritable colon, sleep problems, menstrual problems, sexual dysfunction and loss of sexual desire in both men and women, and hair problems (such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss), also memory and concentration impairment.

That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life. According to Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, Medical Director and Founder of the Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine, supplements are an easy, cost¬effective method of managing stress, as long as they are targeted at the right symptoms.

Insomnia — Losing sleep when stressed can wear down the immune system and worsen an already crabby mood. Instead of staring at the clock, look to supplements that help coax the mind to sleep, such as Magnesium, Melatonin, Valerian Root.

Headaches — Feverfew, B6. (The B vitamins get depleted in stressful conditions. B6 is best taken as a complex with the other B vitamins.)

Pain — to prevent stress ¬related muscle stiffness and tension Omega-3s, Curcumin, Willow bark and Boswellia.
Anger, Rage and Anxiety – Theanine, Phosphatidyl Serine, Taurine: These natural anxiolytics work to increase dopamine, relaxing the central nervous system.

Poor Immunity — Many patients find that in times of stress or shortly after that, they are frequently ill. Stress depletes essential nutrients, wearing down the immune system. Astragalus acts as an anti¬viral, helping to fight off winter coughs and colds.

Fatigue — Adaptogens increase the body’s natural resistance to stress. The following prevent worsening fatigue and improve energy: Rhodiola, Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng).

You can find all of the above-mentioned supplements at Neighbors Vitamin Shop. We also have formulations to address the effects of chronic stress from several of Canada’s most highly rated brands. Let us help you find the product most effective for your needs.

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