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IMG_0016_150x150.jpgHealing Chronic Stress: 11 ways to rebuild your reserves

As we look forward to the end of the semester for students and professors, the end of the fall program season for our activists and favorite nonprofits, and the beginning of the season’s shopping rush,  many of us are pushing ourselves to finish, finish, finish!…at the cost of our emotional and physical health. So what organ(s) are actually paying this cost? And how can we better support their functioning, regeneration and healing?

The key organs involved in initiating and maintaining our stress response are the adrenals, the walnut shaped organs just above our kidneys. When we’re in stress mode, our nervous system tells the adrenals to secrete hormones such as cortisol which suppress functions that aren’t necessary for our immediate survival (like digestion, immunity and libido) in favor of processes enabling us to fight or flee. These include increased heart rate, increased blood sugar, blood directed towards muscles and away from organs, and heightened senses. Over time, our over-taxed adrenals may either secrete too little or too much cortisol, leading to problems such as anxiety, tendency to catch colds, sleep disturbance, increased allergies, blood sugar problems or even infertility on one side of the spectrum; and decreasing attention span, fuzzy thinking, decreased productivity, fatigue, depression and weight problems on the other. Other stress-related conditions include overeating, insomnia, hypertension, headaches, asthma, hay fever, eczema, ulcers, and amenorrhea. As stress continues to wreak havoc on our bodies, accelerated aging, auto-immune conditions and even cancer can occur.

Impact on the Digestive Tract

Cortisol regulates the health of our gastrointestinal tract lining. Chronically elevated cortisol levels could lead to increased stomach acid, disruptions in the delicate lining and imbalances in the gut flora (the bacteria which lives in our gut and helps us to digest and process certain vitamins); abnormal immune reactions to certain foods; and “leaky gut” (when improperly digested food and other microbes enter the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on our detoxification mechanisms). That is how stress can lead to problems such as indigestion, food allergies, inflammation of the colon, and irritable bowel. Also, since a significant percentage of neurotransmitters are metabolized in the gut, this can result in fatigue, fuzzy thinking, difficulty concentrating, etc. The continued exposure to food allergens and improperly metabolized foods further taxes the adrenals. The system is self-perpetuating and our detoxification system is overwhelmed.

Fertility and Hormone Balancing

Pregnenelone is the primary precursor hormone from which all of the steroid hormones are made, including cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estradiol and more. If given the choice, the body will prioritize making cortisol from pregnenelone in order to survive, at the expense of making the other hormones. Hence, women, depending on their age, may experience menstrual irregularities, hot flashes or even infertility due to the impacts of the chronic stress response. In addition, the adrenals modulate the efficiency of the thyroid – the organ that regulates overall metabolism. Improving adrenal health may support the healing of many seemingly disparate symptoms.

How to Assess your Adrenal Health

Trained health care providers can functionally assess adrenal health during a physical exam, and can order inexpensive salivary lab tests to assess cortisol levels along with gut lining health. Tissue mineral analysis also uncovers the possibility of adrenal fatigue. Niu Health Chiropractic can support you in this process. And we can partner with you in releasing chronic neuroemotional stress patterns and improve your nervous system health to support your healing potential.

What can you do on an everyday level to support adrenal healing?

  • Walk barefoot on the beach or on the grass. This concept known as “earthing” or grounding, may restore the body’s natural electrical state, calms the nervous system, reduces inflammation, and improves circulation. The added sunshine is a boon to increasing natural vitamin D levels as well.
  • Do something pleasurable every day. Notice one small thing that you are grateful for each day. Use your mind as a powerful healing tool. Relax, breathe deeply, and think peaceful thoughts. New habits like self-reiki, foot massage/reflexology, periodic epsom salt baths/ocean soaks, or engaging in creative projects can give you the comforting boost you need to successfully self-soothe.
  • Sleep by 10pm and definitely before 11pm to maximize the function of our healing hormones and cellular restoration.
  • Exercise regularly, but be gentle with yourself while healing adrenal function. Exercise that is too vigorous during this time may be too taxing to the adrenals and to overall hormone health.
  • Minimize chemical stress. Reduce plastic, aluminum and mercury exposure. Drink filtered water, avoid adrenal stimulants like caffeine and chocolate. Avoid sugar, alcohol, white flour products, GMOs, food additives (nitrates, MSG, autolyzed yeast extract, food coloring, aspartame), hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, fried food, fruit drinks and carbonated drinks (especially diet sodas).
  • Keep your blood sugar levels constant – eat within 1 hour of waking, and eat a small meal or snack every 3-4 hours containing fat, protein and complex carbs (ie. vegetables). Have a small healthy snack before bedtime.
  • Avoid foods you are addicted to, foods you suspect an allergy or sensitivity to, foods that make you feel worse or cloud your thinking. Work with your holistic health care provider to find out your food sensitivities, to heal your digestive system, and for advice on how to detoxify.
  • That said, eat whole foods – foods such as kelp, Chinese yam, Chinese cabbage, parsnip, winter squash, sweet potato, kale, leek, scallion, mustard greens, carrots, lychee, pumpkin, cherry, chicken, lamb, low-toxin fish, almonds, cashews, walnuts, peas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts. Herbs include chives, garlic, cloves, basil, rosemary, angelica root, parsley, fennel, dill, anise, caraway, carob pod, cumin and cinnamon bark. 
  • Use quality celtic/himalayan sea salt. Opt for high quality whole food multivitamins to help you remineralize. Toss your vegetable oils in favor of high quality fats like avocado oil, organic olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, fish oil, sesame oil, etc.
  • Stop choosing to over-tire yourself. Just say no. Rest when you’re tired. Stop being hard or negative with yourself. Avoid worrying. Avoid energy suckers.
  • If you can’t change your work situation, change how you think about it. Do the best you can, practice self-compassion, and focus on the positive.

Healing takes time. See your chiropractor to get the support you need to let go of ingrained stress patterns, maximize your nervous system flow and rebuild healthy cells to regain your verve and resilience!

Yours in Health,

Dr. Chris T. Lipat, DC, Niu Health Chiropractic, Chiropractor in Honolulu, HI

Read more articles by Dr. Chris. See Reducing Chronic Inflammation Through Diet, The Total Stress Load Concept: Why Your Body May Not Be Healing Itself, Vagal Tone: at the Intersection of Chiropractic, Emotions and Nutrition, and Rebalancing Through Nutrition and the Healing Crisis.

Sources:

9. Adrenal Section,” Question by Question Guide to the NAQ, Dr. D. Weatherby.

Adrenal Imbalance: The Effects of High Stress and Cortisol Levels,” M. Pick, accessed Dec 14, 2011.

Chronic Stress and Hormonal Health,” Mar 31, 2011, Labrix.

Cortisol Testing for Adrenal Function,” Provider Data Sheet Rev 01.21.09, ZRT Laboratory.

Decreased Adrenal Function and Hypoglycemia,” J. Connor, LAc, Aug 2004.

Insiders Guide to Functional Diagnosis: Adrenals,” Dr. D. Weatherby. Downloaded Feb 7, 2011.

Earthing,” http://earthing.com

Managing Stress During the Holidays and Year Round,” Dr. N. Zabriskie, accessed Dec 15, 2011.

Most Common Cause of Fatigue That is Missed or Misdiagnosed by Doctors,” Dr. J. Mercola, Sep 5, 2009.