Stress, The Silent Killer

By Deanna Catalano, RPh

At a meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science last year, Esther Sternberg, a leading researcher on how the brain and immune-system are related, asked, “How many of you, in your heart of hearts, think stress makes you sick?”

“Everybody’s hand shot up without hesitation,” recalls Esther.

Three years ago, people hesitated. And five years ago, “I wouldn’t have dared to ask the question,” she further relates.

It’s been a long time coming, but the direct link between stress and illness is simply undeniable at this point.

According to Dr. James Balch, “Stress creates an excellent breeding ground for illness. “ And the data supports this: Researchers estimate that stress contributes to as much as 80% of all major illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, endocrine, and metabolic disease, as well as skin dis­orders and infectious ailments of all kinds. It is also estimated that 67% of all doctor visits are stress -oriented.

The American Heart Association’s statistics for 1996 state that, out of slightly over 60 million people suf­fering from some form of cardiovascular disease, 50 million of them are suffering from it because of hyper­tension. And according to Dr. Julian Whitaker, risk of stroke increases by sevenfold when you are suf­fering from hypertension. Hypertension is a stress-related disease.

Furthermore, a study in the 1970s involving 400 U.S. air traffic controllers, (an occupation that creates unusually- high levels of stress), showed that more than half had high blood pressure by their late 30s. Researchers found that a higher-than-normal percentage had developed cancer or heart disease in a fol­low-up study on the same controllers in 1993.

But what is stress, and what can you do about it?

One definition of stress is “any reaction to physical, mental, or emotional stimulus that upsets the body’s natural balance.” Stress can be caused by a variety of factors- different people seem to be sensitive to different stimuli. And most everyone reacts to specific stressors differently. However, some of the most common stressors are: Unpleasant or challenging events (which release adrenaline into your system), worrying about events beyond your control, over-work, dietary stressors (like caffeine or sugar), and sometimes just trying to keep up in this mile-a-minute world.

What can you do about it? I suggest the following:

1. Watch Your Diet. Certain types of food and drink stress your body and should be eliminated (or at least reduced in quantity) from your diet, including sugar, aged cheese, and animal fats.

Conversely, adding the following things to your diet mat help: Fresh fruits and vegetables, oat bran, and omega oils (essential fatty acids).

Note: When under stress, your digestion can slow or stop. Fats and sugars are released from stores in the body, cholesterol levels rise, and the composition of your blood changes slightly, making it more prone to clotting. Because your body does not absorb ingested nutrients from food when un­der stress, I recommend that you seriously consider adding nutritional supplements to your diet to help your body compensate.

2. Get The Right Amount Of Exercise. Exercise is one of the best ways to help your body better manage its reaction to stress. Even a twenty minute walk three times a week can make a noticeable difference.

3. If You Smoke, Stop Immediately. The chemicals in cigarettes raise blood pressure, and put your body under further stress. They also weaken your immune-system, making you more susceptible to illness caused by stress.

4. Limit Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol acts as another stressor on your body, particularly on your liver. It can also work to lower you immunity.

5. Drink At Least 64 Ounces Of Fresh, Clean Water Each And Every Day. You are composed of about 80% water. This water composes cells and is used metabolically for a large number of biological functions. It needs to be replaced frequently. Additional water is neces­sary when you are trying to cleanse the body of toxins.

6. Avoid Excess Caffeine. Caffeine will increase your heartbeat, affect your blood pressure, dehydrate you, and put undo stress on your body. Additionally, it can affect calcium absorption, putting you at risk of osteopo­rosis. l recommend avoiding caffeine completely; However, if that’s too difficult to do, limit your intake to three beverages a day.

7. Take Some Of Our Herbal Products To Help You Relax Better. Valerian Root and St. John’s Wort, in particular, are well-known for their calming effect on the body.

8. Take Your Vitamins, Antioxidants, And Essential Fatty Acids. There are a number of supplements which are either diminished by stress, or will help your body to combat stress including zinc, Vitamin B Complex, Vitamin C with bioflavonoids, essential fatty acids, alpha lipoic acid, grape seed extract, and certain adaptogens. There are others, and I suggest you consult with either your doctor or me, regarding how you can get the best supplementation with the fewest number of capsules.

9. Breathe Slowly And Deeply, And Clear Your Mind. Meditation has been proven to slow heart rates, lower blood pressure, and reduce muscle tension. It also lowers your body’s response to adrenaline and cortisol, the hormone associated with chronic stress. Activities like Tai Chi and Yoga, which offer the benefits of both mediation and exercise, can only help more. But even if you do not choose to engage in such activities, take a few moments throughout your busy day to simply breathe slowly and deeply, clear your mind and let things go. Whatever is “stressing you out” cannot be more important than your life- and your life is exactly what’s at stake. Breathe slowly and deeply, clear your mind, and let it all go for a little while.

If you feel you are suffering from stress, I urge you in the strongest manner possible, do something about it. Experts say that it’s our reaction to stress, not the number or intensity of the stressors, that de­termines its effect on our lives and our health. You are the one in control.

So, to sum it all up, to combat stress and have a healthier cardiovascular system, I recommend you:

  • Watch your diet
  • Get the right amount of exercise
  • If you smoke, stop immediately
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Drink at least 64 ounces of fresh, clean water each and everyday
  • Avoid excess caffeine
  • Give your body the vitamins, antioxidants and essential fatty acids it needs
  • Supplement with Valerian Root or St. John’s Wort if your body requires it

Note: Don’t expect immediate results. While some effects will be noticed quickly, maximum results will be achieved after 6-to-8 weeks of continuous use.

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