We've been focusing on how stress affects you, and how to support your adrenals to make sure your stress response is as healthy as it can be. Naturopath David Wang shares his insight to this topic with us. Read on for an expert approach!
Summer was filled with time off for sun, fun, rest and relaxation. Typically after the Labour Day weekend, everyone goes back to work or school and all of a sudden I start seeing patients coming in droves with fatigue, exhaustion, colds, flus, and so on… all of which are symptoms of stress and the inability to cope.
Stress affects everyone, and yet it is the most underdiagnosed and unproclaimed epidemic condition in the world! In the doctor’s office, 75% to 95% of all medical conditions are attributed to stress. In the workplace, the cost of stress is estimated at $300B per year in the U.S. according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Chronic stress can result from physical causes such as cold, noise, trauma, burns, malnutrition, exercise and surgery, or can result from psychological stressors such as worry and anxiety about finances, family, career, deadlines, interviews, exams and so on. Stress symptoms can include fatigue, exhaustion, slow metabolism, weight gain, low mood, depression, pain, inflammation, frequent colds or flus, infertility, insomnia, anxiety, worry and panic attacks. These conditions can certainly set the stage for cardiovascular events and cancers, two of the most common causes of death in North America.
Chronic stress does not just affect your mind and spirit, but it can also profoundly affect your physical body. Chronic stress initially depletes adrenal glands of their cortisone and in turn less cortisol is released into the blood. Cortisol is necessary to maintain metabolism and is secreted in larger quantities during times of stress in order to mobilize blood sugar, the energy sources needed for the response. When the adrenal glands are depleted, the thyroid gland will work harder to make up for the lack of energy. As chronic stress continues, the thyroid gland will eventually become depleted as well and lead to symptoms of hair loss, weight gain, and cold extremities. About half of all my patients with adrenal depletion will have a compromised thyroid condition. Anyone who has gone through a major life changing event such as losing a loved one, separation or divorce, having children, losing a job, or moving to another country could potentially have adrenal depletion problems. Many times this is in combination with thyroid depletion. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar?
Often, MDs will treat the thyroid gland when it’s become deficient, and fail to recognize that the original cause is adrenal deficiency, stressors or the inability to cope. The adrenal-thyroid connection has been established in studies and in my practice. Many do well with a dual-glandular support program, and nutritional support along with lifestyle management strategies.
What is key in restoring adrenal and thyroid depletion problems is the importance of nutritional support including B vitamins and Vitamin C from organic whole foods. This is because the body only recognizes, absorbs, and assimilates nutrients that are made by nature. Only foods that are grown from the ground provide nutrients that are recognized by the body and supported by the required cofactors including minerals, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids and phytonutrients in order to ensure assimilation. In addition, these restorative nutrients are bound naturally with proteins, carbohydrates and fats that your body recognizes and can then absorb readily.
On the contrary, synthetic nutrients are isolated compounds made by drug companies. For example, B vitamins are typically made from toxic chemicals including petroleum by-products, coal-tar derivatives, formaldehyde, acetone and cyanide. This why they often made my patients feel sick in the early part of my practice.
During times of stress, it is important to eat wholesome foods regularly. Maintaining your blood sugar is paramount to reducing your cortisol level, since low blood sugar is one of the key triggers for cortisol release. Therefore, eating meals with complex carbohydrates, proteins and essential fatty acids from whole foods, and not from processed or packaged foods, will feel better for your body. Eating regularly means eating every 3 to 4 waking hours. Feeding your body good fuel regularly will also help to maintain your blood sugar level. This means that most people need to get into the habit of eating a good snack at 3 pm when this transient low blood sugar state could potentially cause more cortisol release. A good idea would be to eat some organic nuts and seeds along with an apple or pear for a snack.
On the contrary, if you were to skip meals (because you forget to eat or you’re trying to lose weight), blood sugar drops and this triggers a cortisol release, which means that your next meal will be packed away around your waist rather than being used. This is because your body senses the stress of starvation and will store away the food as fat in the event that there’s another bout of starvation. Remember that if you’re trying to fuel your body properly to get through your day or to lose weight, you need to eat good food regularly!
Generally speaking, eating primarily a plant-based diet will offer more support by way of preventing diseases and being more easily digestible, and it will also alkalize the body. This means that it will get more oxygen to the tissues, and reduce tension in your muscles. Eating more organic food also makes sense due to the increase in oxidation from stress reactions. A recent study shows that organic foods have more antioxidants, are less toxic and have more phytonutrients.
In addition to pushing themselves, those on the verge of adrenal collapse will also often consume artificial energy-boosters like sugary snacks and caffeinated beverages. These "vices" cause sugar surges followed shortly by sugar crashes that can worsen their adrenal status. Coffees and caffeinated beverages can further deplete your adrenals by stimulating the release of already depleted cortisol level.
As our society becomes busier and our lives more demanding, people are forgetting to relax. Many feel that they do not have time to rest, so they continue to push themselves not realizing that their bodies work on natural cycles of being energized and relaxed, using up (catabolism) and restoring (anabolism). People who are heading toward a nervous breakdown or burnout often feel that the demands on their lives are increasing, and thus they feel that they must work even harder. This is because relative to their low adrenal reserves, their work and stressors seem to be mounting. Instead of slowing down, they take on more stress and in turn cause even further depletion.
Chronically stressed individuals are not taking the time to be present, breathe deeply, relax, meditate, and slow down before eating - nor are they getting an adequate amount of sleep. What I recommend to my patients is to pay close attention to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. The natural rise in cortisol during the day should be matched with exercise and work while the natural dip in cortisol level in the evening should correspond to a period of rest and relaxation. After dinner, everyone should take a least an hour of “me” time for a relaxing walk, meditation, light reading, listening to relaxing music, hatha yoga or taking a hot bath before bed. Oh yes, unfortunately this does mean putting away your electronic equipment, not watching TV and no more emails or social media messaging for at least an hour before bedtime!
The importance of maintaining proper circadian rhythm cannot be overstated. During daylight savings time, when we lose or gain one hour of daylight, there is an increase in health risk associated with this change in our sleep-wake cycle. Car accidents increase by 8%, workplace accidents increase by 6% and heart attacks increase by 10%. Studies have also shown that people who do shift work experience increased risks to Type 2 diabetes by 50%, heart attacks by 23%, coronary events by 24%, stroke by 5% and also increased risks to depression, gastric ulcers, infertility and cancer.
It’s important to lead a purposeful life and to achieve your professional and personal goals. But if you find that your desire turns into an obsession, or that your goals and desires turn into anxiety and worry then you need to find your balance. According to Eastern philosophy, suffering comes from deep-rooted mental issues that stem from cravings and aversions. Finding your center is key to reducing your tension. Being equanimous means to neither crave and cling nor to be averse or be anxious about something or someone. Adopting a new attitude of letting go, accepting what is, being in the here and now will reduce your cortisol levels and spare your adrenal glands.
Top Twelve Do’s and Don’ts for Adrenal Support and Coping with Stress
|Take organic pure food supplements (Vit B’s and C)||Take synthetic supplements that may be toxic|
|Be aware of breathing and breathe!||Hold your breath and being tense|
|Exercise in the morning||Exercise in the evening or night-time|
|Stay focused on one task at a time||Multi-task all day at work and home|
|Relax in the evening with yoga, bath, reading, etc.||Work, email, or watch TV in evenings|
|Engage in creative activities like art, music in evening||Think or always being busy in the evenings|
|Have regular sleep-wake cycle & get a full night's sleep||Work irregular shifts, late night socials & reduce sleep|
|Give thanks and relax before eating “slow foods”||Rush and work through your meals, eat “fast foods”|
|Eat balanced meals and regularly||Skip meals or consume sugars & coffees|
|Say “No” to some things and set boundaries||Say “yes” to everything and over commit|
|Incorporate more breaks, laughter, and be happy||Work overtime at dead-end job, being sad & depressed|
|Stay balanced and be present||Over-reacting, obsessing over desires or being anxious|
In my practice, when patients follow these simple steps and take the right food supplements, about 80% of them experience significant improvements within 30 days! Can you imagine having more energy and focus, better metabolism, weight loss, improved mood, coming off of antidepressants, reduced inflammation, stronger immunity, and happiness?
Find out more about how you can restore your energy, metabolism, and mood, and also reduce inflammation, infections and anxiety by attending one of my upcoming lectures offered at Goodness Me! Or, check out their great guide on Conquering Stress & Adrenal Fatigue Naturally, with recipes, tips and tools, a quiz, and much more.
Dr. David Wang ND is the past president of the BC Naturopathic Association, and founder of the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine. He currently teaches at the Boucher Institute and offers seminars across Canada. Dr. David also maintains a practice in Burnaby, BC. www.vancouverholistichealth.com , www.pranin.com
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