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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Natural Cures for Stress and Sleep Problems



Stress causes a vicious cycle that affects our well-being. Stress causes us to feel uprooted and ungrounded, which causes us to feel more stress and the cycle continues. Stress causes us to disconnect from what is important in our daily lives such as proper diet, exercise and sleep. When we are stressed, we are less likely to take care of our emotional and spiritual health as well.
I can't think of anyone that I know who doesn't have stress. Unless you are an extremely enlightened person or a Buddhist monk, you have stress. It is a natural part of our existence as humans on earth. We have work stress, or no-work stress, family stress, health stress, wealth stress or lack of wealth stress, stress, stress, stress. So we all have it, but it's what we do with it that makes all the difference. Studies show that if we have an outlet for stress, the deleterious effects of it are less than if we just store it. In the book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, the author Robert Sapolski talks about an experiment done on rats to test their stress levels. Two groups of rats were given shocks. One group was allowed to gnaw on some wood and the other was not. Guess what? The rats that were able to gnaw and had an outlet for stress formed less ulcers compared to the other group with no outlet.
Stress has to be the number one cause of illness today. Stress is toxic. Stress has been studied extensively and is known to have certain physiological effects on the body. The following is a very simplified breakdown of the bodily effects of stress.
Stress causes part of the autonomic (automatic) nervous system to go into overdrive. This is called the sympathetic nervous system and causes:
• Increased respiration
• Increased heart rate
• Increased blood flow to the internal organs
• Increased blood pressure
• Decreased digestion in the small intestine
• Increased motility in large intestine
The sympathetic drive is also known as the Fight or Flight Response. It is a survival mechanism that allows the body to react to what it perceives as danger. The reaction in most animals is to run away from the stress. What is interesting is that even our everyday, non-threatening stressors can cause the same physiological mechanisms to fall into place, just as if we were being chased by a hungry shark.
Hans Selye, MD, PhD, was the father of the concept of stress and its physiological effects on the body. He developed the classification of the stress response and named it the General Adaptation Syndrome or GAS. Arousal is the first stage of the stress response. This is when the body prepares to fight. There is an increase in adrenalin and noradrenalin and cortisol that are secreted by the adrenal glands. The next stage is the adaptation stage when the body secretes sustained high levels of cortisol and alarm molecules. In this stage there is altered glucose tolerance, blood pressure irregularities, thyroid and sex hormone changes. The final stage is exhaustion, when the cortisol levels drop, immunity is compromised and chronic disease sets in.
What is common in today's society is that we push ourselves for prolonged periods of time and usually have the energy to get whatever it is we are working on accomplished. However, when it is our down time or Christmas holidays it is then that we get sick. This is a beautiful example of the GAS. The stress of a project keeps our cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrin secretion high and in the adaptation stage. When the project is finished, we reach exhaustion and can get sick because our hormone secretion will not longer sustain our needs.
Stress Causes Illness and it has been scientifically proven that stress hormones alter the normal functioning of various body systems. Stress depletes the immune system, hinders proper digestion and alters the blood sugar. This can lead to serious diseases such as heart disease, cancer, colitis, Crohn's disease and diabetes.
Chronic stress depletes our immune system. High levels of cortisol lower T-killer cells, halts the maturing of white blood cells and can even kill white blood cells directly. High cortisol is a protective mechanism in times of acute stress. If you were about to be ravaged by a hungry bear, your bodies first instinct would not be to fight off the bacteria that you just encountered from swimming in the polluted lake. The body would use all its energy to get your body moving to get out of there, and fast. However, if the stress is prolonged and chronic, the elevated cortisol levels suppressing the immune system become more of a problem.
In order to digest food properly, our systems need to be in the relaxed mode or parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. In this state, we secrete the enzymes necessary for digestion. For this reason, it is not advisable to eat on the run, in our cars, standing up, during heated family discussions or in loud, chaotic atmospheres. We need to become more conscious of our food as nourishment and take the time and effort to create soothing atmospheres in which to eat and digest.
I always ask patients with digestive problems the circumstances in which they eat their meals. I am usually not surprised to find that most of them eat on the run. By slowing down and taking the proper time to enjoy meals, these patients often improve their digestion without taking any remedies at all. This is a great example of one of the principles of naturopathic medicine I mentioned in the introduction. By treating the root cause of disease the symptoms will clear. If these patients just took digestive enzymes to improve their digestion, sure their digestion would improve, yet it would only be a band-aid on the original problem being dysregulation of enzyme secretion due to stress.
High cortisol levels due to stress make it more difficult for the body to maintain blood glucose levels. Insulin receptor sites on cell walls become resistant to insulin when cortisol is high. This is called insulin resistance. The body reacts to too much glucose in the blood by secreting more insulin. This eventually leads to type II diabetes if not controlled. A yo-yo scenario can occurs in which one may be constantly munching on food to maintain their blood sugar. This of course can lead to weight gain, causing more stress!
In order to decrease stress levels, it is important to take a break from the everyday stressors and do something healthy such as exercise, yoga, meditation and/or deep breathing exercises, everyday. It is critical to be proactive about our stress, to alleviate the likelihood of manifesting serious diseases.
I formulated VitaTree Stress and Sleep Formula to help the nervous system decrease its sensitivity to stress. The formula is unique in that it is non sedating and helps to take the strain off of a stressed individual's system, without being addictive or habit-forming like so many of the conventional drugs for stress. The Stress and Sleep Formula also helps anxiety and panic attacks, nervousness and insomnia. For more information visit
Dr. Janine Bowring is a naturopathic doctor and author of The Healthy Millionaire-The Secret to Manifesting Health and Wealth.
She is the formulator of VitaTree Nutritionals, a whole food supplement company.
For more information visit
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