Stress (pt. 2)

Aldosterone, the mineral hormone

Aldosterone is a mineral corticoid that is made in the part of the adrenal glands called the cortex. It is the major hormone controlling mineral and salt levels, especially sodium and potassium, and consequently, fluid balance within our bloodstream. It goes up when we are under stress. When it is high, aldosterone releases minerals from cells and moves them into the blood. As minerals are pulled into the blood they attract water, water and minerals are then excreted through the kidneys which causes the volume of the blood to increase causing high blood pressure. This can cause loss of minerals (electrolytes) and loss of electrolytes can cause salt cravings. This loss of precious electrolytes is one of the side effects stress has in the body which affect the heart directly. If you are on a low salt diet, the problem is exacerbated even more. James Wilson N.D., D.C., Ph. D. recommends to take kelp to replenish the sodium and potassium levels in the body. Kelp, he says, contains both potassium and sodium in the right proportions in an easily assimilated form. The ‘Heart and Body Extract’ has kelp as one of its active ingredients which makes it a great way to replenish these two electrolytes when you are under stress.
Aldosterone is a very powerful hormone and it only takes a little bit of this hormone to raise blood pressure significantly. A common medical strategy for lowering blood pressure is blocking the body’s aldosterone with ACE inhibitors. But Ben Fuchs believes there are toxic side effects with these kinds of drugs, and he believes we can control our blood pressure ourselves (we will discuss later on how).
When you are under chronic fatigue the body releases a lot of this hormone aldosterone so you can become deficient in it. This is what is called adrenal fatigue, which causes the opposite effect, low blood pressure or hypotension and dizziness. Aldosterone is not only made in the adrenal glands but also on the skin, so stress can show on our skin in the form of puffiness (because the body retains more water), oiliness, dark spots (hyperpigmentation), skin will age faster and wrinkle more.

The youth, beauty and fertility hormones

When we are under too much stress, our adrenals are working overtime to make the stress hormones cortisol and aldosterone and therefore they are not making these youth and repair hormones. This means the body can survive under stress but it will not repair itself, we will age faster and lose our youthful appearance.
The youth and fertility hormones are testosterone, progesterone, estrogen and DHEA. All of them drop as we age but also with stress. They have the important job of helping to balance cortisol by limiting its possible detrimental effects on cells and act as hormonal antioxidants. A drop in these sex hormones accounts for many degenerative processes of aging more than anything else. With age, cortisol levels remain steady while testosterone and DHEA diminish.

DHEA is a steroid hormone that is a precursor to eighteen different other hormones in the body. It is critical for health as evidenced by its effects in the body: increased life span, reduced body fat, increased immunity, energy and well being, improved sleep patterns, ability to relax and therefore ability to improve hypertension and degenerative diseases. Its levels naturally drop with age but stress makes it drop even more. Studies have shown, Stephen Sinatra explains, that low levels of DHEA cause a higher risk of heart attacks for men under 50. Both men and women therefore can benefit from supplementation. However, a low dose of 10 mg for women and 20 or 25 mg for men 4-5 days a week is recommended and not higher as DHEA can have a testosterone increasing effect and cause facial hair, deepening of the voice, oily skin, etc. As with any hormone, caution is the key because hormones are very potent substances in the body. Dr Sinatra recommends it for those patients that complain of exhaustion which can be of itself a risk for heart disease. He even recommends it for those people with allergies as these can burden and depress the immune system.

Low blood sugar as a stress factor

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and adrenal fatigue go together. A low level of glucose can cause sugar cravings which can be explained from a physiological point of view as follows: when the adrenals are fatigued the levels of cortisol are low, this prevents the body from getting glucose for energy. This is further complicated because when we are under stress cells need more energy so there is more insulin. Insulin opens up the cells’ wall membranes to take in more glucose so more energy is available to cells. Without enough cortisol though, fats, protein and carbohydrates cannot be converted into glucose for energy. The increased demand for energy cannot be met and low blood sugar is the end result.
Stress and adrenal fatigue are a real bad combination, even the smallest of stresses increase the demand for energy but the overtaxed adrenals cannot provide enough cortisol to produce this energy. Adrenal fatigue causes thinking to be confused and muscles to be weak, so the body could not ‘fight or flee’ in a real danger situation. In times of increased stress this can lead to death. In today’s society people tackle this low blood sugar situation by eating something sweet, which helps temporarily but then plunges the body back into low blood sugar, not realizing that low blood sugar is a major stress to the body that further drains the adrenals, throws cortisol and insulin levels into turmoil as well as the nervous system and the entire homeostasis of the body. Low blood sugar usually occurs around 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3-4 p.m., not accidentally work breaks are scheduled at these times. The author James Wilson asserts “we have a nation of hypoglycemics. 60% of people suffering from hypoglycemia go on to become diabetics” Hypoglycemia without the proper diet high in fats and protein, encourages overeating when food is available. If you are hypoglycemic and are under stress it would be a great idea to increase your intake of good fats and protein to keep energy levels steady.
I don’t recommend anything unless I have tried it myself. Being hypothyroid and having some episodes of hypoglycemia, I wanted to see how the cayenne in the Heart and Body Extract would help me with low blood sugar. I found out it has a sustained energy effect and keeps the blood sugar from dropping too low.

Stress cells in the digestive system

According to Ben Fuchs, stress cells are located in our digestive system. Because the digestive system is the port of entry of foreign invaders (food) it carefully watches for potential poisons. Eating in itself, even if it’s healthy food, is treated by the body as a suspicious invader and is a cause of stress. Food will obviously be more a cause of stress when is the wrong food, and a stress response always follows: sweating, cramping, headache, nausea, etc.
This is why it is so important to watch what we eat. We need to both remove the offenders from our diet and increase the number of high quality foods we consume. Being undernourished is a stress by itself. A good nutritional supplement program is one of the best ways to reduce the body’s sympathetic stress response. High calorie, processed foods are particularly burdensome. A balanced diet can help you fight stress, specially the B vitamins. The ‘Female Balance Extract’ and the ‘Male Virility Extract’ from Healthy Hearts Club have a high dose of the B vitamins. Similarly, the ‘Detoxifier Extract’ is a great combination of herbs that can be used to purify the blood by eliminating toxins and therefore eliminating stressors for the body.
Avoid foods that aggravate stress like sugar, fried foods, refined and processed foods, eat fresh and unprocessed foods, eat sprouts and fermented foods, keep your colon clean by drinking enough water and eating enough fiber rich foods. Coffee, soda pops and junk foods of all kinds, white rice, flour they all increase body acids and deplete the body of minerals so they should be avoided. Similarly alcohol and smoking should be avoided.
What I think is important to understand about stress is that when we are under stress our bodies run through nutrients a lot faster, specially the B vitamins, but also iodine. Under stress we need to support our body even more than in regular circumstances. Poor diet is a stress in itself and reduces the adrenals’ ability to respond to stress. Poor diet can continually drain the adrenals or prevent them from recuperating properly after a trauma. High doses of vitamin C in divided doses and 50 mg a day of zinc picolinate are great for the adrenals too.
The ‘Stress Extract’ from The Healthy Hearts Club is a wonderful combination of herbs that have been proven for centuries to help you relax. It contains mistletoe which, as we have seen, is not only relaxing but anti-cancer. It also contains valerian which soothes the nerves, quiets heart palpitations, relaxes muscles, relieves anxiety, eases hypertension, calms hyperactivity, insomnia, depression, diabetes and cools inflammation. Valerian root targets the higher brain centers, suppressing and regulating the autonomic nervous system. It slows the heart rate while increasing the power of each beat, making the action of the heart more efficient and less strained. It regulates the heart beat so it can be used for heart palpitations.

Relax, you are in control

Since we might not always be able to change our circumstances, changing how we perceive our stressors and learning to relax can be critical to our health. Herbert Benson, MD, coined the term the ‘relaxation response’, referring to a set of specific internal changes that occur when your mind and body are calm. The body, he said, can shift from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system just by choosing an activity that you enjoy: breathing, heart rate and oxygen consumption slow down, muscles relax, the brain generates slower alpha waves and blood pressure drops. The adrenals stop being stimulated so they can rest and the tissues of our body become less sensitive to stress hormones secreted by your adrenal glands. Every part of your body has a chance to return to normal and recuperate instead of being constantly on red alert.
Spending 60 seconds a day practicing deep breathing can be particularly helpful in turning on the “rest and digest” nervous system. Deep breathing is also great for relaxing and slowing down the heart. When we are stressed we tend to breath shallow and fast, and this increases the heart rate and blood pressure. Moderate exercise is a great stress reliever too.
The ‘Heart and Body Extract’ will help you by relaxing you and keeping the blood moving, it will also strengthen your immune system.
James A Wilson recommends reframing, which is changing how you see something so you can change how your body responds to it. This is one of the most effective ways to lessen the stressful effects of an unavoidable difficult situation he says, this allows you to adapt yourself to the situation for the better.
To sum up, stress if left untreated can become a dangerous downward spiral, stresses can accumulate even if they are different in nature. Learning how to manage stress can add years to your life and save your life.

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Stress (pt. 1)

Stress is part of our everyday life, none of us can escape it. A newborn learns quickly how stressing hunger can be and adapts to it by crying. We are no different than that baby, we also need to hear our body’s cries and nurture it like we would a small baby. The only difference is that the baby cannot help himself, but we can. In the case of stress, it might be a question of knowing ourselves first to be able to know our body. According to the observations made by reknown cardiologist Stephen Sinatra many times stress is linked to certain personality traits. He explains how most of his cardiac patients had certain personality traits like thinking everything needs to be done instantly, striving to reach unrealistic goals, strong emotions like anger, sadness, emotional pain, etc. What is important to understand about stress is that is the root cause of every degenerative disease there is, and many of us don’t do anything to change until the disease is present.
But what is stress and how does it manifest itself in the body? Bernard Jensen in his book “Developing a New Heart” defines stress as pressure caused by our reaction to disturbing situations. He explains the health of our heart is intimately related to how well we handle our emotional responses to the events we encounter in life. He says stress is dangerous because it is invisible so it can creep on us without warning. Stress can reach the point of heart attack that is not caused by the gradual progression of heart disease but by the shock of bad news. Stress can also build up slowly and become a small but constant drip till it becomes chronic. A good example are workaholics, who have three times higher the risk of a heart attack.

The nervous system

According to pharmacist Ben Fuchs we have two nervous systems:

  1. The “fight or flight” nervous system, also technically known as the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). It directs energy into the activities that keep us alive in emergency and life-threatening situations”. Almost any degenerative disease can follow long-term activation of the sympathetic nervous system. An example of this is cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure and blood clotting. Most of us spend a large amount of time in fight or flight mode.
  2. The second, called the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is involved with more long-term activities. The PNS is sometimes called the “ rest and digest” system and the more time we spend in this parasympathetic state, the longer we will be alive and healthy. This is especially true if we’re dealing with a major crisis like cancer or heart disease.

Stress related diseases include stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, colitis, atherosclerosis, asthma, arthritis, skin problems, irritable bowel syndrome, heart attack and stroke. The feelings we have toward the stressful event trigger responses in the brain, nervous system and endocrine system. Chronic stress overstimulates glands and organs in the body, especially the heart. This state invites disease and lowers immunity, so we are more vulnerable to other stresses. According to Dr. R. C Rocine, worry is even linked to heart problems, worry he said can ‘eat up the heart and depress circulation’. Despite this, stress is important, it helps us stay alive and stimulates us to higher levels of performance. The problem with stress is that it is destructive inside of us if we don’t handle it properly. A constant ‘internalized or bottled up fight or flight response is very destructive’. Some signs that stress is reaching dangerous levels can be nervousness, rapid heartbeat, sleeplessness, etc.
We could say there are different types of stress like emotional or spiritual stress, then there is physical stress, but in all cases stress is a preprogrammed and unconscious physical response that includes physical and chemical changes. What happens when we are under stress is our nervous system goes into overdrive, flooding our body with stress chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals produce a sharp rise in blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen consumption and blood flow to muscles, all aimed to allow us to fight or flee the situation, whichever is best. These physical changes include:
Blood shunted away from certain areas like:

  1. Extremities, then directed to the core of the body.
  2. Gastrointestinal system: in a stressful situation our body thinks it is more important to get ready to fight or run and it shuts down digestion, which is not perceived to the body as immediately life saving.
  3. Capillaries of the skin: By constricting the blood vessels the possibility of bleeding is reduced in the case of injury. The blood tends to clot also to keep us from bleeding to death in a dangerous situation.

The body also shuts down urine production which in turn increases blood volume, increasing blood pressure.
Blood is then moved to other parts of the body:

  1. Eyes for visual acuity.
  2. Brain for mental clarity and decision making.
  3. The heart to increase the volume of blood ejected with each heartbeat, therefore increasing blood pressure and heart rate.
  4. The liver, to mobilize glucose for energy
  5. The bronchials, to dilate and get more oxygen into the lungs.
    It is important to notice that all these physical reactions happen in the body regardless of the cause of the stress: running from a tiger that wants to eat us, bills piling up, a demanding job, etc, etc. While it would be wise to get motivated in such a way to run from a fierce tiger that wants to eat us, it is not wise to keep our nervous system in fight or flight mode 24/7 and yet most of us live this way.

Not everyone responds to stress the same way, it all depends on how our mind and our emotions interpret the stress. Some doctors will approach this by saying, ‘it is all in your head’, and can we blame them? after all stress is our choice, there is nothing a doctor can do about our choices.

The adrenal glands and stress

According to pharmacist Ben Fuchs, hormones and enzymes are among the most important chemicals the body makes. Hormones turn on and off the stress response, they are in this sense like a switch that starts activity in the cells of the adrenal glands (our stress glands).
Since the adrenal glands are our stress glands and help us handle stress they are very important for heart health. The adrenal hormones according to James L Wilson, N.D., D.C., Ph. D., in his book “Adrenal fatigue” “influence all of the major physiological processes in the body, they closely affect the utilization of carbohydrates and fats, the conversion of fats and proteins into energy, the distribution of stored fat (especially around your waist), normal blood sugar regulation and proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function. The protective activity of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant hormones secreted by the adrenals helps to minimize negative and allergic reaction to alcohol, drugs, foods and environmental allergen. Even your propensity to develop certain kinds of diseases and your ability to respond to chronic illness is influenced significantly by the adrenal glands. The more chronic the illness, the more critical the adrenal response becomes. You cannot live without your adrenal hormones and how well you live depends a great deal on how well your adrenal glands function”.
He explains healthy adrenals secrete minute yet precise and balanced amounts of steroid hormones. But because they are designed to be so very responsive to changes in your inner physical emotional and psychological environment any number of factors can interfere with this finely tuned balance. All of the different types of stress: physical, emotional, psychological, environmental, infections, environmental toxins, poor diet, an abscessed tooth, or a combination of these can occur simultaneously, accumulate or become chronic. The adrenals then have no opportunity to fully recover, adrenal fatigue is usually the result. This also means that too much physical, emotional, environmental and or psychological stress can deplete your adrenals causing a decrease in the output of adrenal hormones particularly cortisol.
The demands of everyday life are putting a great load in our adrenals, many people live with adrenal fatigue without knowing they have it. The heart is affected greatly by this. We need to understand how to help our heart by giving our adrenals the opportunity to recover.
This leads us to the next point, the adrenal glands release several stress hormones, namely cortisol, adrenaline, youth and fertility, serotonin and aldosterone among others. We will focus on the ones that affect heart health directly.

Cortisol, our energy hormone

Cortisol controls the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose within a narrow optimal range and keep it there even under stressful situations. Although secreted by the adrenals, cortisol is regulated from the brain. Cortisol is responsible for many of the life sustaining functions attributed to the adrenal glands. Cortisol levels raise up during the day, with its highest around 8 a.m. and lowest at 4 p.m. This rising cortisol is what helps us wake up in the morning. The rise and decrease of cortisol is not uniform but has little peaks, for example a little snack will increase cortisol levels. Exercise has a similar effect as that snack in raising the cortisol levels. For people with adrenal fatigue the cortisol levels can be more irregular than usual even unpredictable.

Cortisol will raise in times of stress to protect the body against stress in many different ways:

  • Cortisol keeps blood sugar in balance. It does this by converting fats into fatty acids and proteins into peptides, both of which are converted into energy in the form of blood glucose. The body uses this glucose as its preferred form of energy and needs constant glucose levels through the day. Cortisol and insulin work together, cortisol ensures there is glucose available for energy, insulin unlocks the cell membranes to let glucose into the cells. When we are under stress there is more demand on the different tissues of the body so more glucose is needed for energy. When the person has adrenal fatigue, the cortisol levels are going to be lower than in healthy people, thereby the importance of having a balanced diet high in fats and protein.
  • Cortisol is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Anytime we have redness or swelling in the body or auto-immunity, whether from a mosquito bite or an allergen, cortisol is dispatched to the area. The medical approach to any auto-immune disease or inflammation is to administer a corticosteroid, which imitates the work of cortisol but they come with many side effects.
  • Cortisol affects the cells that participate in immune reactions and inflammatory reactions, especially white blood cells: lymphocytes, natural killer cells, macrophages, etc. These white blood cells gather in defense of the body at places of injury or invasion and flood the area with some very powerful chemicals to attack the invaders. These chemicals are so powerful they can create redness and swelling. Cortisol keeps the white blood cells from attaching themselves to the area and releasing their chemicals and also controls the number of lymphocytes and other white blood cells so there are not too many circulating in the area. This prevents an overstimulation of the immune response, controls irritation and tissue destruction where white blood cells gather. Cortisol also prevents lymphocytes from multiplying. This is so important because when our cortisol is low, like when our immune system is suppressed because we are under stress or taking corticosteroids, the lymphocytes can multiply out of control and this means, more redness and swelling making the inflamed area need more time to return to normal. In other words, more stress means more inflammation!
  • Cortisol has complex and opposing effects in the cardiovascular system. It contracts the walls of the arteries thus regulating blood pressure. People with low cortisol have low blood pressure. Cortisol also regulates sodium and potassium in the heart cells and increases the strength of contraction of the heart muscle. Cortisol also tends to raise blood pressure but this hypertensive effect is moderated by calcium and magnesium. These two minerals are needed to keep the heart muscles from cramping when they contract thus keeping the heart beating smoothly, they also relax the walls of the arteries, counteracting the increase in smooth muscle contraction produced by cortisol.
  • Cortisol influences behavior, mood, excitability even electrical activity of neurons. In the case of excessive or deficient cortisol there can be behavioral changes and sleep disorders. Adrenal fatigue involves moodiness, decreased tolerance, clarity of thought and memory because of either too much or too little cortisol. The right amount is needed for proper function during stress.
  • In times of stress the need for cortisol increases. If enough is not made as is the case of adrenal fatigue, the person cannot properly adapt to stress.
    Under normal circumstances cortisol has the important role of helping the different organs so they can respond when called to action. When stress is present cortisol must at the same time provide more blood glucose, mobilize fats and proteins for a back up source of glucose and modify immune reactions, heartbeat, blood pressure, brain alertness and nervous systems responsiveness. Without cortisol maintaining your body under stress this is nearly impossible.