Stress Management and Adrenal Fatigue

When the intensity and frequency of stress in daily life exceeds a person’s threshold capacity for coping, things start to break down. Irritability, nervousness, and fatigue may set in. Blood pressure may be too high or too low. There may be cravings for sweet, salty or fatty foods. The person may experience more frequent or more severe infections such as colds. These symptoms can be the result of changes in adrenal function.

The Impact Of Stress On Adrenal Function
The adrenals are small glands located above the kidneys. They are part of a complex system of hormone-producing glands, and are responsible for hormones that regulate the amount of water in our bodies, our response to stress and inflammation, blood pressure, sexual function, blood sugar, sleep and more. The adrenal glands work like shock absorbers to help us adapt to stress. They do this by secreting substances like adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol which prepare our bodies to deal with the effects of stress.

Adrenal fatigue can occur when chronic stress results in a gradual deterioration in the functioning of the adrenal glands. It is also known as hypoadrenia. When the glands become exhausted, a condition known as Addison’s Disease results. Main stream medicine focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of this endpoint, rather than on the sliding scale of diminished function which precedes it. Unless the adrenal glands function in an all-or-nothing fashion, it is unlikely that the marked state of failure that characterizes Addison’s Disease would not have milder degrees of dysfunction preceding it.

The Consequences of Stress “Addiction”

Adrenal Fatigue: Signs and Symptoms
When the functioning of the adrenal glands begins to decline, they may secrete hormones in a more erratic fashion; although the trend will be toward secreting less hormone, there may be transient instances when they secrete too much. As a result, some of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be conflicting. For example, blood pressure may be too low or too high. Here is a list of some of the things which can occur:

  • waking up fatigued after a normal period of sleep
  • generalized fatigue
  • insomnia
  • restlessness
  • anxiety, nervousness
  • tendency to startle
  • cravings for salt, sugar or fatty foods, possible changes in weight
  • feeling light-headed after a change in position, e.g. moving from a seated position to a standing one
  • increased susceptibility to infection
  • increased use of tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, sugar

Other conditions that may be linked to adrenal fatigue include:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • muscle weakness or back pain
  • inflammation
  • headaches
  • blood sugar problems
  • behaviour problems
  • memory problems

When To Seek Help
If you do not have the signs, symptoms or conditions associated with adrenal fatigue but are in the midst of a stressful period, ensure you are managing your stress proactively. This article on stress management provides some ideas about how to do that.

If you’ve developed symptoms, it’s time to see a naturopathic doctor. The long term consequences of adrenal fatigue can have a serious impact on your health and quality of life, so do yourself a favour and invest in your health. Your body will reward you with renewed vitality.

Stress Management: Stress Addiction

Are You Addicted To Stress?

Stress is a fact of everyday life that can have more of an impact than we realize. Stress changes the chemistry of our bodies in ways that can have long term significance. This article looks at the physical changes induced by stress that can lead to stress “addiction” as well as the long term consequences of chronic stress.


The Normal Response To Stress
Our bodies have very complicated regulatory systems that rely on the interaction of messenger chemicals such as neurotransmitters and hormones. Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by the nervous system that facilitate the transmission of an impulse across a junction between nerves or between a nerve and its target tissue. Hormones are substances, secreted by a variety of glands, that travel through the blood stream to trigger specific activities by the tissues that are sensitive to them.When we experience a stress, it doesn’t matter whether the stressor is real or imagined, physical or psychological; our bodies respond in the same manner.The perception of stress causes a region of the brain, the locus coeruleus, to increase its production of the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine (NE) or noradrenaline. When the locus coeruleus is activated in this way, it stimulates a group of hormone-secreting glands: the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the adrenals. The adrenal glands secrete higher levels of NE and the hormone, cortisol.

The locus coeruleus also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system. We go on alert, feel “wired”, and are unable to relax and digest food properly as a result.

NE raises the heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar to prepare us for the “fight or flight” response. Cortisol has a broader range of action; it does the following:

  • mobilizes and replenishes energy stores by causing blood sugar to increase and fat to be deposited in specific areas such as the abdomen
  • increases arousal and vigilance
  • focuses attention and improves memory
  • inhibits growth, reproductive and immune system functions.

All of these changes help us to get through the rough times; they are adaptive in a positive way for short periods.

The Response To Chronic Stress
When stress is not relieved, our bodies continue to adapt to what they perceive as the “new normal”. If the new normal continues for a long time, these adaptations become problematic. Here’s why.

NE and cortisol have buddied up to change the amount of glucose in the blood stream and cortisol alters the amount and manner of fat being deposited. These changes can predispose us to conditions like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

NE on its own will keep the heart rate and blood pressure elevated; these are also risk factors for cardiovascular illness.

The dual action of NE on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems keeps us from relaxing; sleep and digestion suffer as a result. When sleep and digestion become disordered over sustained periods of time, additional maladaptive hormonal changes may occur.

Cortisol suppresses the activity of the immune system, making us vulnerable to infections and abnormal cell growths such as cancer.

How Chronic Stress Can Be Like An Addiction
Our bodies are “programmed” to operate within certain parameters. When the parameters are normal, good health results. When the parameters become shifted because of unrelieved stress, illness will eventually occur.

The parameter shift causes our bodies to perceive a new “normal”, like a thermostat that has been reset to keep the temperature in a building at a new level. Over time, the tissues that are being activated by the effects of NE and cortisol increase the number of receptor sites for the messenger chemicals. The tissues become accustomed to a higher level of stimulation.

When the level of stimulation falls, we feel “off”. The amount of messenger chemical stimulation is no longer in the range the target tissues have adjusted to. We don’t want to feel off, so we change our behaviour in a way that brings our stress level back into the range that will result in the messenger chemicals being secreted in the amount that feels normal to us.

We can do this by taking in stimulants like nicotine and caffeine or by engaging in thrill-seeking, high risk behaviour. If life isn’t bringing us too many thrills, we create substitute pressures with excess work, or relationship conflicts, or increase our sensitivity to these by increasing our level of fatigue through inadequate rest and sleep.

Like any addiction, the inevitable result of these stress-promoting behaviours is a long term impairment of health as the negative effects of chronic stress take hold.

Chronic stress sometimes leads to a condition NDs call “adrenal fatigue”, which can be addressed through some simple steps for restoring a healthy balance.

If you think you could do a better job of managing your stress, check out this article for some tips and consider seeing an ND for ongoing guidance and support.

Flu: The Heroism of Prevention and Containment

Youtube on the Boob Tube.

Flu shot programs are available in most areas in Canada. If you don’t want to get the shot, you can still provide some protection to yourself and others through other means.

The great thing about non-vaccine methods of protection is that they are natural and not-specific to the type of disease-causing organism.  Although the information is presented here in the context of flu prevention, it can apply to other infectious illnesses too.

Today’s superbugs require super-vigilance.  Take some time during this year’s flu season to learn to be a new kind of superhero – the kind who protects his own health and others’.

What is flu?

Flu is more properly known as “influenza”, and is a serious respiratory illness caused by specific viruses.  Its symptoms include fever, chills, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, coughing, weakness, fatigue and, occasionally, nausea and vomiting.

The weakened state caused by the flu can predispose a person to other serious illnesses such as pneumonia.  It can be difficult to distinguish flu from a case of the common cold without doing a lab test but usually the flu is characterized by high fevers of sudden onset and extreme fatigue, symptoms that are less marked and less frequent with colds.

How do you get it?

The flu can be transmitted directly through exposure to contaminated droplets generated by a sneeze or cough.  It can be transmitted indirectly by handling an object that has become contaminated by these droplets, then touching your face, nose or mouth.

It takes more than mere exposure, though, to become ill.  There are also a number of “host factors” that have a big impact on whether or not you contract the flu. These include things such as:

  • hygiene practices
  • the status of your immune system
  • whether or not you smoke
  • your nutritional status

How do you  prevent it?

The two sets of factors that are involved in contracting the flu (transmission factors and host factors) are the things we want to influence in prevention.

You can break the transmission cycle by:

  • washing your hands with soap and warm water before eating, before and after touching your face/nose/mouth, after touching objects or surfaces that others have touched
  • disinfecting surfaces
  • sneezing/coughing into your sleeve rather than your hands or wearing a face mask if you have an infection
  • not sharing personal items such as eating utensils, tooth brushes
  • staying home if you are sick

You can influence host factors as follows:

  • with respect to hygiene, follow the instructions for breaking transmission
  • for immune system factors

– decrease the amount of sugar and processed foods you consume
– engage in regular, moderate exercise
– proactively manage your stress
– ensure you are getting adequate sleep

  • if you smoke, STOP.
  • enhance your nutritional status by ensuring adequacy in these areas:

– Vitamins C and D, and zinc
– hydration
– avoidance of CRAP (carbonated, refined, artificial, processed foods)
– consumption of protective foods such as garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric (in curry), cayenne pepper, honey, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, oysters, sesame and pumpkin seeds

If you become sick:

  • REST IN BED
  • stay hydrated
  • humidify your environment
  • eat soup – it provides lots of nutrition in a form that is easily digested

SEE YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU HAVE:

  • high fever (39C or greater) for more than 3 days
  • chest pain or significant difficulty breathing
  • a cough, congestion or a headache that won’t go away

I understand that many people feel they just can’t miss a day of work for any reason.  Going to work when you have an infection is not being heroic, it’s being idiotic.  Your co-workers do not want to share your germs.   When you look after yourself to avoid contracting an infection, and stay home when you become ill, you’re taking action to protect others too.  And that IS heroic.

Stress Management: Surviving, Striving, Thriving

We live in a stressed-out society. A little bit of stress can be challenging and motivating but too much leaves us feeling tense and exhausted. More importantly, high levels of chronic stress can have very serious impacts on health.

The Physical Effects of Stress
Stress makes us vulnerable to other illnesses. One thing stress does is depress the immune system which is involved in allergic response, response to infection and scavenging mutated cells. This means we become more susceptible to environmental/food sensitivities, infection and cancer.

Stress also causes an increase in a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol’s actions have long-term implications for health – it raises blood sugar and increases the storage of fat, especially on the abdomen, and these are risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.

To Go From Surviving To Thriving, Strive To Manage Your Stress Effectively
Clearly, we have to live with stress. But if we want to be healthy as well, we need to be proactive about bringing the stress in our lives into balance. We can do this by making conscious stress management part of our everyday lifestyles.

What is “stress management”? Stress management is the use of specific skills that help reduce the health impacts of negative stress by invoking the “relaxation response”. Some examples of stress management techniques are deep breathing, the use of mental imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation.

In striving to balance the effects of stress in your life, there are 2 key things to focus on:

  1. Learn to recognize how stress effects you
  2. Counter these effects with “stress-busters”

How Do You Know When You’re Stressed?
Here are some common symptoms:

  • Tired, can’t sleep
  • Worried, anxious, depressed, irritable, “spacey”
  • Aches and pains
  • Digestive issues: heartburn, indigestion, change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Increased use of cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, other substances
  • If you’re not sure what your symptoms are, ask someone who knows you well and start to observe yourself. You can’t deal with something you don’t know about.

Stress-Busters

  • Simplify your life – learn to say “No”
  • “Let go, and let God…” – learn to act on the things you can control and to accept those beyond your control.
  • Treat yourself – make a point of doing something enjoyable every day.
  • Exercise your sense of humour – it’s good for your perspective and good for you physically. Laughter can be the best medicine.
  • Exercise your body – nothing relieves the physical effects of stress as much as exercise, and a relaxing walk is a good way to start.
  • Eat well, sleep well – your physical resources are rapidly depleted when you’re stressed. Make sure you recharge.
  • Share your concerns and seek professional help when overwhelmed.
  • Learn to use relaxation techniques, such as mental imaging, progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing

Good Hydration: Water Quality

In North America, we take water quality for granted so it can be confusing to try to sort out how sources compare, such as bottled water and tap.

The Importance Of Water Quality

If you live in Ontario, you might remember the water quality fiasco that resulted in tragedy in Walkerton in 2000. Many people became ill due to E. coli infections sourced from contaminated water. Some people died.  This situation illustrated that access to clean water can affect community health in developed nations.

In the Walkerton case, the diligence needed to protect the water supply was undermined by a combination of under-funding and the incompetence of those responsible to oversee the community’s water safety.

Certainly, water safety is a huge concern because the quality of the water supply can easily be compromised.  As a result, we should bear this in mind when politicians begin to broadcast the need to make funding cuts in health care or environment monitoring. Water and food safety should never be targets for these kinds of cutbacks – there’s too much at risk.

The Ontario Ministry of Health provides guidance on a number of water safety issues pertaining to municipal and private (well) water sources here:

http://www.health.gov.on.ca/english/public/pub/pub_menus/pub_watersafe.html

Various programmes in place to protect regional water quality are outlined by the Ministry of the Environment here:

http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/environment/dwo/en/index.htm

In summary, these programmes require water to be periodically tested on about 158 parameters at various points from source to tap.  Water system operators take samples which are tested at provincially licensed labs.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if the programme in your community provides the rigorous level of oversight needed.

A tap flows with water.  Is water quality a concern with tap water?

Tap Versus Bottled Water

Bottled water is big business, about $100 billion globally.  During the past 20 years, there has been a surge in its popularity because of convenience and implied quality benefits.  However, more recently, we’re perceiving the disadvantages of relying on bottled water.

Sources for bottled water may be natural or drawn from a municipal system.  The water must be treated to ensure it complies with the regulatory standards for safety.  Treatment methods include

  • distillation,
  • filtration (absolute micron filtration, reverse osmosis filtration),
  • chlorination,
  • fluoridation
  • and  ozonation.

Most types of bottled water do not contain fluoride or chlorine.

Health and Safety Regulations

No matter treatment is used, bottled water in Canada must comply with safety regulations under the Food and Drugs Act.  You can view the content of the Act and its regulations here:

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/F-27/

Also, there are guidelines related to microbiological safety that apply.  These are on view here:

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/res-rech/analy-meth/microbio/volume1/index-eng.php

Standards, regulations and guidelines are intended to ensure bottled water is at least as safe as tap for common contaminants such as lead and potentially infectious microorganisms.

Unregulated Contaminants

However, there can be other sources of contamination, such as chemical contamination with bisphenol A (BPA). 

Medically, BPA is considered to be an “endocrine disruptor”. In other words, it mimics the activity of some hormones and can disturb normal hormonal balance. 

The hard plastic used to make sports water bottles may leach BPA. Most manufacturers supply their products in bottles that contain polyethylene terephthalate (PET, PETE) instead of BPA.

Are there concerns about PET?  In a word, yes.  Here is a study that showed the element antimony can leach from the PET in bottles into water when stored in places where the temperature was warm or hot.

In addition to the concerns about contamination from these bottles, there are also many concerns about environmental/ecological issues associated with

  • their production because water and petroleum are needed to make them,
  • and disposal since they’re only meant to be used once; phthalate contamination increases with repeated use.

Getting The Most From Your Water

Most adults need to drink at least 8 glasses of water daily, so convenient access to safe, good-tasting water is important.

I recommend that people rely on tap water as their main source.  Drink it straight from the tap or store it in a glass pitcher.  When on the go, take water with you in a stainless steel bottle.

Let tap sit at room temperature for a few hours before drinking it because most of the chlorine will off-gas from the water.

Use a filtration system on your tap water if you’re concerned about fluoride or other additives/contaminants.  There are many types of these; find one that suits your budget and lifestyle.