As practitioners, we all know by now the definition of stress and how it can lay the foundations to many conditions, which range from headaches/migraines, digestive discomfort, constipation and/or diarrhoea, to more serious conditions like poor memory, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, or life-altering like dementia, Alzheimer's, autoimmunity, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity.(1)
We often consider stress to be related to anxiety, overwhelming work demands, social and economic instability, but the biggest growing concern today is social isolation.(2,3) Traumatic experiences, which may have occurred during childhood, can play a decisive role in the progression of disease. Early life events (and chronic stress) are shown to bring structural remodelling to the amygdala (involved in emotional reactivity, the fear centre), prefrontal cortex (regulates thoughts, actions and emotions; the brain region most sensitive to stress), and the hippocampus (involved in learning and memory), which in turn alters behavioural and physiological responses. Physiological changes in brain structure and function can impair the HPA axis and make a person more susceptible to stress.(4,5,6)
Negative inner-conversations and rumination are key perpetrators of stress and disease.
Digital dementia, brought by overstimulation of technology and a sedentary lifestyle, is increasing in the younger population (spending long hours in front of screens every day), thus leading to social inadequacy and profoundly making a young person hypersensitive to stressors.
It is undeniable — and we see it in practice everyday —, the relationship between stress and ill-health is extremely complex and often multilayered. All of our clients/patients complain about stress or stress-related issues in a way or another. What is really puzzling is how ongoing stress affects clients/patients in their everyday life. While some are able to cope with huge amount of stress, strive and achieve greatness, others break at the tiniest inconvenience to their routine.
There is a growing body of evidence that bring light on stress susceptibility and genetics seems to plays a strong part, making a person more sensitive and susceptible to stress.
Chronic stress raises the risk of infections, since it exerts an immunosuppressive effect, disturbing the natural capability of the immune system to react efficiently.(7,8) It also increases the release of histamine, disturbs the gut microflora, their metabolites, which include histamine; a great concern for people with asthma.(9) Acting as an excitatory neurotransmitter, histamine can affect emotions and behaviour and disrupt the circadian rhythm. High histamine can cause headaches (may appear after ingesting fermented foods, a sign of histamine overload). Excessive histamine can become neurotoxic and provoke change to the blood-brain barrier and immune function, thus participating in the development of Alzheimer’s.(10) So is excess ammonia(11,12), another byproduct of some gut bacteria(13); also resulting from the breakdown of protein (think paleo diet, protein-based replacement meals, malnourishment/starvation, and over-exercising). Other metabolites include alcohol, the second cause of alcohol liver disease, after actual alcohol consumption.(14,15)
The affect of stress on the microbiota can also lead to diabetes.
This is accentuated by poor-sugar management and insulin dysfunction. The energy rollercoaster a stressed person jumps on everyday inevitably leads to disease on the long term. Together with a sedentary lifestyle and a nutrient-poor, sugar-based diet, void of fibre, the predictability of disease increases exponentially.
Sugar and high levels of stress hormones may intensify the severity and the duration of pain by raising inflammation markers, a combination worth bearing in mind for clients/patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation is stress for the body and is often the main culprit in disease progression and stress a key player in inflammatory processes.(16)
Digestion and enzyme production (to digest our food and detoxify toxins) are greatly reduced under chronic stress, while the demand increases. Reduced motility often leads to gut discomfort, pain, and toxin accumulation, negatively impacting on the detoxification of hormones, especially oestrogen, which may re-enter circulation from the colon.
Hormone balance is a key issue because of the “pregnenolone steal”, which is shunting all cholesterol towards the production of stress hormones and less is available for the production of sex hormones. Thyroid hormone disruption also results from high level of stress hormones in the bloodstream. Hypercortisolemia interfere with T4-to-T3 conversion and cellular uptake of thyroid hormone, contributing to metabolic dysfunction and eventually, Hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism increases cortisol levels creating a vicious circle.
Malnourishment (deficiencies) can increase the susceptibility to stress, contribute to anxiety and depression, and prevent natural healing and repair. During heightened periods of stress, the body requires ample amounts of vitamin C, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium. Stores may quickly become depleted, which may be exacerbated by a nutrient-poor diet.
Stress hormones affect insulin sensitivity since their main role is to raise blood sugar and blood pressure so that muscle fibres can receive an immediate rush of nutrients, to run away from danger or fight. The “flight-or-fight” mode is thus activated. On the long run, this leads to imbalances in blood sugar, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Sleep is also deeply affected and clients/patients may find waking up in the morning rather difficult. Drinking coffee as a fight-back mechanism only activates the sympathetic nervous system even further and keeps that person locked in a state of “fight-or-flight” (by keeping cortisol levels high).
We are constantly bombarded by external stressors and it may not be felt in the same way than other stressors but the symptoms are real and very often debilitating. EMFs are the biggest stressors affecting our health today and with the growing spread of 5G, there is little the body is equipped with to deal with the extreme level of radiation. It is, therefore, crucial to consider EMF exposure in your clients/patients’ unresolved health issues and to help them take preventative action.
It is often missed out but professional athletes and people exercising intensively are also more prone to stress-related conditions due to the impact on gut function, the microbiome, and motility, very often in combination with a protein overload.
To help clients/patients become more resilient to stress, we must look deep into their eating habits and lifestyle factors and help them identify and address problematic areas. If trauma is at the root of dysfunction, it is important to support our clients/patients and refer them to the appropriate forms of therapy.
Improving digestive capabilities and absorption, restoring a symbiotic milieu and reduce the levels of toxic metabolites (released in the gut and in the bloodstream) may be the first line of defence. Recent research shows that prebiotics are more efficient than probiotics alone to improve the terrain. Linseeds may help restore bacterial populations and promote the release of short-chains fatty acids; ameliorate alcohol liver disease and reduce inflammation.(17) Recommending prebiotic fibres (GOS, FOS, and XOS), as part of diet recommendations, can help clients/patients shift their gut microflora; however, symptoms may worsen first (e.g. gastrointestinal distention and pain), because prebiotic fibres also feed gas- producing pathogenic bacteria. When balance is re-established, gas production will be greatly reduced.
Daily physical activity, hydration and regular bowel movements are crucial, which help prevent stagnation, let it be of waste or of thoughts.
We need to move to make things move.
1 Salleh M. R. (2008). Life event, stress and illness. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences. 15(4), pp. 9–18.
2 Snyder-Mackler, N. et al. (2019). Social status alters chromatin accessibility and the gene regulatory response to glucocorticoid
stimulation in rhesus macaques. PNAS. 116, pp. 1219–1228.
3 Lea AJ, et al. (2018) Dominance rank-associated gene expression is widespread, sex-specific, and a precursor to high social status in
wild male baboons. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 10.1073/pnas.1811967115.
4 McEwen, BS. (2009). The Brain is the Central Organ of Stress and Adaptation. Neuroimage. 47 (3), pp. 911–913.
5 Arnsten, AF. (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience. 10(6), pp. 410–422. doi:10.1038/nrn2648
6 Pagliaccio, D. et al. (2015). Amygdala functional connectivity, HPA axis genetic variation, and life stress in children and relations to anxiety and emotion regulation. Journal of abnormal psychology. 124(4), pp. 817–833. doi:10.1037/abn0000094
7 Williams, C. Katirai, M (2018) The Relationship Between Sense of Coherence and Rumination. Journal of Public Health Issues and Practices. 2(110). doi: http://dx.doi.org/jphip/2018/110.
8 Segerstrom, SC. Miller, GE. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological bulletin. 130(4), pp. 601–630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601
9 Cohen, S. et al. (2002). Reactivity and vulnerability to stress-associated risk for upper respiratory illness. Psychosomatic medicine. 64(2), pp. 302-10.
10 Hough, LB. (1999). Histamine actions in the central nervous system. In: Siegel, GJ. Agranoff, BW. Albers, RW. et al. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven. Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ books/NBK28245/.
11 Walker, V. (2014). Ammonia metabolism and hyperammonemic disorders. Advances in clinical chemistry. 67, pp. 73–150.
12 Adlimoghaddam, A. Sabbir, MG. Albensi, BC. (2016). Ammonia as a Potential Neurotoxic Factor in Alzheimer's Disease. Frontiers in
Molecular Neuroscience. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnmol.2016.00057.
13 Vince, AJ. Burridge, SM. (1980). Ammonia production by intestinal bacteria: the effects of lactose, lactulose and glucose. Journal of
medical microbiology. 13 (2), pp. 177–191.
14 Cassard, AM. Ciocan, D. (2018). Microbiota, a key player in alcoholic liver disease. Clinical and molecular hepatology. 24(2), pp. 100–
15 Szabo, G. (2015). Gut–Liver Axis in Alcoholic Liver Disease. Gastroenterology. 148(1), pp.30-36.
16 Friesen, CN. Hofmann, HA. (2019). Molecular origins and outcomes of status and stress in primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116(4), pp, 1081–1083. doi:10.1073/pnas.1819472116.
17 Zhang, X. et al. (2017). Flaxseed oil ameliorates alcoholic liver disease via anti-inflammation and modulating gut microbiota in mice. Lipids in Health and Disease. 16(1), 44. doi: 10.1186/s12944-017-0431-8.
Registered Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist, Iridologist, Lecturer, NLP practitioner and Personal Performance Coach.