June 30th, 2017 - Brian Maguire

The management of physical, chemical, and emotional stress is of vital importance for keeping pH levels in check, and thus, overall health!

Stress is a normal reaction of the body that alerts you to danger. Like when your neighbor’s aggressive pit bull escapes from their yard and charges in your direction. This is a normal innate necessary response, that allows you to run like heck and jump the fence saving you from potential physical harm. However, unlike our ancestors that had some interaction with wild animals, most modern day stressors can be incessantly persistent and of a different nature. Juggling finances, children, marriages, relationships, jobs, cleaning, school, pets, social media, e-mails, phone calls, work and family functions, the to do list never seems to end!

Feeling continuously burdened and overwhelmed by every day multi-tasking stressors and emotional distress can take a great toll on the body. At a certain point the stress can become chronic and physically damaging.

Chronic stress can place tremendous strain on the immune system. It can quite literally deteriorate the body, causing sickness or enhancing the symptoms of pre-existing conditions. Stress has been linked directly to digestive, as well as mental and emotional disorders like depression and anxiety, as the gut and brain are intimately connected. Add to that respiratory disruption, cardiovascular issues, headaches, infections, arthritis, sexual dysfunctions, adrenal fatigue, obesity, and many more.

Besides making you ill, immediate negative consequences of persistent stress can influence your appetite and dietary preferences. Sometimes stress can diminish your desire for food, but often times it increases your cravings. Even though nutrient-dense foods are your best choice when stressed out to minimize the impact, people usually opt for comfort foods. Often times these food choices are high in unhealthy fats and insulin spiking refined carbohydrates, like fast foods, pizza, or ice cream.

Dr. Frank Lipman, an expert in the fields of Integrative and Functional Medicine and author of ‘Total Renewal; 7 Key Steps to Resilience, and Vitality’ and ‘Long Term Health and Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again conveys, “When we’re stressed or eat too many sugary foods, however, our bodies produce excess amounts of acid, upsetting its balance, causing fatigue, mood swings, depression and, in extreme cases clinical acidosis.” Again, stress can initiate a vicious cycle, with stress leading to poor dietary choices, allowing you to gain unwanted fat. These poor choices and their ill effects add even more stress to the body, spiking cortisol levels, hampering your ability to manage stress further, and crippling your overall sense of well-being.

Unresolved incessant stress is no joke, and can disrupt hormonal levels with severe consequences. One of the major hormones affected is CORTISOL, a primary stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands that is involved in the bodies fight or flight reaction. Adrenaline is another stress hormone that works alongside cortisol. Adrenaline kicks in initially in the short term, and then cortisol takes over. These hormones are needed for survival, like engaging in or escaping a threat, basically keeping the body in balance from acute forms of stress like fear, physical trauma, and intense physical exertion. Adrenaline binds to heart cell receptor sites, increasing heart rate and respiration. Cortisol then binds to fat, liver, and pancreas cell receptors raising the level of glucose needed for your muscles. It also impedes other systems that aren’t in immediate urgency temporarily, like digestion, reproduction, and the immune system, to reserve much needed energy.

With that being said, these hormones should not be used unnecessarily. Cortisol is a highly anti-inflammatory agent which is great when necessary, but when OVERUSED it can produce many adverse effects and eventually becomes depleted.  As many of you know, when you develop painful inflammation from a past injury, or just overuse from work or a sport, you may ask the doctor for a cortisol shot to alleviate the pain and allow for healing time. Even though patients may make requests, the doctor won’t administer these shots often because they don’t want to diminish the person’s natural production of this very important hormone.

When there is chronic acidic inflammation in the body often resulting from leaky gut syndrome, conditions like fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, IBS, and many others, the continuous liberation of cortisol is triggered. This eventually leads to cortisol’s depletion along with your bodies inability to handle stress at all like with adrenal fatigue syndrome.

Remember, we said cortisol temporarily diverts blood away from the digestive tract to prepare for a potentially dangerous situation, but in this case it’s the chronic inflammation that is keeping cortisol elevated. This poses a serious problem because the intestinal lining is supposed to replace itself every few days, and when cortisol levels remain high from chronic inflammatory conditions and divert blood away from the digestive track the intestinal lining will not be able to regenerate and repair properly. Not only can this situation initiate digestive disorders, but it prevents existing digestive disorders from being healed. Besides intestinal disturbances, chronically high cortisol levels suppress the immune system making healing from digestive or any other chronic conditions a near impossible task!

When stress is not managed properly, cortisol is secreted in excess. Subsequently, constant high cortisol levels throw other hormones off balance. For instance, progesterone and thyroxin levels decrease, while headaches, moodiness, weight gain, depression, and infertility increase. Blood sugar levels increase as well, and often remain high as cortisol blocks insulin from allowing glucose to enter the cell. Now, besides cortisol, there is too much blood sugar and insulin floating around in the blood having an acidic inflammatory effect on tissues throughout the body, especially the kidneys and the heart. If you were escaping a threat, or physically stressed like with intense resistance training, then the body would exhibit a normal temporary acute cortisol response to deal with the situation at hand. The blood sugar would be used up from physical exertion so there would be no high blood sugar and no high blood insulin.

It’s when these hormones are stimulated haphazardly like with constant worrying and emotional distress, chronic systemic inflammation from an illness or injury, environmental toxins, the wrong type of fats, or too much sugar, that digestive, reproductive, heart, kidney, and immune issues persist. Overtime, when ignored, this catabolic disturbance will promote disease and age the body much more rapidly.

Furthermore, stress can lead to bone loss by changing our internal pH. “As we become more acidic, our body takes minerals out of our bone-bank-account to alkalize our cells and blood,” “per Liz Lipski, PhD, Clinical Nutrition & Holistic Nutrition Certified, and author of Digestive Wellness, Leaky Gut Syndrome, & Digestive Wellness for Children.

Also, DHEA, the anti-aging “mother of all hormones” drops to low levels as cortisol antagonizes DHEA. When cortisol stays up, DHEA goes down. Eventually cortisol and DHEA levels drop too low like with adrenal fatigue. Consequently, all metabolic function is negatively affected, and at the very least more fat will get stored, resulting in weight gain or making it extremely difficult to lose excess body fat. These stress induced imbalances throw off sex hormones, suppressing libido and reproduction, and leave you susceptible to diseases of all kinds!

There is a distinct connection between stress, cortisol, and intestinal health. Both physical and emotional stress can ulcerate the stomach, inflame the intestines, and lead to poor digestion and assimilation of nutrients causing intestinal dysbiosis (bloating, gas, diarrhea,) nutrient deficiencies, a drop in energy levels, leaky gut, Crohn’s, Diverticulitis, Ulcerative colitis, IBS, and Colon cancer. All of these conditions are exasperated by elevated levels of stress.

In one Irish study, the researchers reinforced the clear connection between stress, cortisol, inflammation, and intestinal disease, in particular IBS. The study involved 151 subjects that increased cortisol and inflammatory cytokines such as IL6 and IL8 in both IBS with diarrhea, and IBS with constipation.

In another study, scientists in Hong Kong have shown that being optimistic lowers cortisol levels and decreases perception of pain as opposed to negative thoughts and pessimism that increase cortisol. Take wild salmon for instance, they swim thousands of miles upstream, spawn, and die shortly after. Even though not human, a salmon’s short life exemplifies the cortisol, stress, inflammatory, aging connection. If you were to examine the salmons physical condition after this chronic stressful event you would see that they develop stomach ulcers, and poor immunity leaving them with unhealed wounds and vulnerable to infection.

In general, older individuals are more adversely affected than younger when this hormone gets out of whack from stress. When the cortisol levels of a young person are measured under stressful situations, they increase quickly, but drop back to normal a few hours after the stress dissipates. At the same time, when cortisol levels in certain older people are observed, the levels go up rapidly during the initial stress but may not return to a more normal range for days.

A study in Finland found that older teachers average age 54 had much higher cortisol levels and elevated blood pressure compared to the younger teachers average age 31. Researchers concluded that the older teachers could not recover from job stress like the young teachers could. Both the younger and older teachers had high cortisol levels at work, but only the younger teachers were showing reduced cortisol levels after work.

In certain cases, when cortisol levels are continuously spiked it taxes the adrenal glands and adrenal fatigue can set in. At this stage cortisol levels can drop pretty low and hormone levels can shift, so you have more energy in the nighttime and can’t get out of bed in the morning. Large amounts of cortisol are TOXIC to the body when they circulate for extensive periods of time. The consequences of accumulating too much cortisol in the body can involve aging skin, hypertension, rapid weight gain as the adrenals are directly tied to the thyroid, decreased muscle mass, and weakened immunity. Excessive cortisol production can manifest into anxiety and depression following turbulent mood swings. Our brain cells are very sensitive to this hormone, so when cortisol is circulating at high levels neurons die prematurely.

Chapter 6 in the “The Cortisol Connection: Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health, states “Italian researchers have shown that the older we get, the more cortisol we have, and the worse memory. These researchers have indicated that the cortisol/age/memory relationship is largely due to cortisol’s tendency to SHRINK an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which has a high level of cortisol receptors and is involved in memory. Not only did levels of cortisol in the research subjects grow higher with age, but levels of testosterone fell, leading to a “double-whammy” detrimental effect on brain function with age.

British researchers from the Birmingham University Medical School have also shown that as cortisol levels go up and testosterone levels fall with age and stress, immune function also falls, leading to an increase in infection rates in stressed elderly people.” -The Cortisol Connection by Shawn M. Talbott

On the contrary, individuals expressing extremely low levels of cortisol in an adrenal fatigue state are likely to experience issues such as dizziness, weight loss, fatigue, and dark circles under the eyes. Low oxygen levels not only bring on fatigue, but this acidic low pH situation leaves you more susceptible to bacterial infections, viruses, mold, and a host of diseases like oxygen deprived acidic cancer!

Both too low and too high cortisol levels destroy the body in both similar and different ways. The excessive release, or the lack of anti-inflammatory, stress managing hormone cortisol increases acidity and dis-equilibrate pH levels. Many experts believe that acidosis within the body is like a “descending spiral of stress.” Acidity causes inflammation, inflammation causes pain, pain causes stress, and stress causes more acidity. It’s a vicious cycle indeed!

Stress can be experienced both emotionally and physically. Emotional stress is exhibited in fear, worry, anger, guilt, depression and anxiety, and can materialize through many stressors like problematic TOXIC relationships, draining jobs, child rearing, traffic, moving, test taking, financial crisis, caretaking, mental disorders like NPD (narcissistic personality disorder), etc. Pent up, stored, unresolved negative emotions from past experiences can compound and exacerbate current emotional distress exponentially through uncontrollable impulses. This is a very common issue most individuals are completely unaware of that can be crippling both emotionally and physically.

Oftentimes stress is negatively perceived unnecessary stress, and can be avoided or limited with an attitude of gratitude and proper self-awareness management skills, and gradually dealing with stored emotional distress from the past in practical ways. Developing a more conscious minded approach towards life by applying mindfulness in moment to moment thoughts, words, and actions is a Godsend. Practicing meditation, yoga, and conscious eating, or Holistic self-management, can all have a profoundly beneficial effect on your overall health and wellness as you learn how to remain in the present moment. Consciousness is often enhanced or initiated through traumatic eye opening experiences that force you to take a good look at yourself, like following the loss of a loved one, child birth, near death experiences, or overcoming deadly food or drug addictions. Nonetheless, practice is a prerequisite for maintenance and internal soul growth, just as regular exercise is necessary for organ systems and external preservation.

On the other hand, physical stress can result from lack of sleep, poor nutrition, long work hours, pain from inflammatory acidotic conditions, chronic disease, low blood sugar, prescription drugs, over-training, injuries, and environmental toxins. Emotional stress exacerbates these conditions a great deal. No one is exempt from experiencing stress on a daily or even hourly basis, but it’s how you PERCEIVE and manage it that makes all the difference. Remember that emotional stress starts in the mind … your perception of the circumstances that befall on you influences excess cortisol production and is what leads to physical stress symptoms.

The right conscious mindset, a pH balanced anti-inflammatory diet, proper cleansing, along with healthy activities that help you keep stress levels in check, are all essential components of health and wellness, and should be practiced on a consistent basis if you want permanent anti-aging results!