I write a lot about the importance of nutrition and exercise for overall health, weight loss, and prevention of disease and certainly, the importance of these things can’t be overstated, but there are couple other important factors that we sometimes miss.
I occasionally have clients who, despite a close-to-perfect diet and a regular exercise regime, still struggle with health problems or are unable to lose weight. Even for myself, when I get sick or have trouble getting baby weight off, there is usually a common cause: stress!
What Stress Does to the Body
This is a topic that I occasionally see addressed my mainstream medicine occasionally, but they often just mention emotional stress and tell people that they need to relax more. This topic is being addressed much more in the alternative healthy communities lately, and I believe that this might be the missing link for many people who can’t seem to break through a plateau or still struggle with health challenges.
While stress is often thought of as a strictly emotional and mental problem, there is a growing amount of evidence that is has a host of physiological effects as well. One study found that a chemical released when the body is in a stressed state, Neuropeptide Y, causes fat cells to open and store fat rather than burn it. Another study found that, especially in women, higher cortisol (stress hormone) leads to weight gain around the waist, even in otherwise slender women.
Another study found that stress shortens telomeres in cells at a faster rate, leading to premature aging and the increased risk of diseases that accompanies it.
Stress can impact hormones and fertility as well. When cortisol is high in the body, progesterone is often low because the body uses progesterone to manufacture cortisol. This is often why stress and elevated cortisol levels correlate with trouble conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy. While natural progesterone cream can be helpful, it is important to address the causes as well.
Other physical reactions associated with high stress levels are:
- Hair loss (from prolonged stress)
- Dry mouth
- Increased incidence of heart disease and stroke
- Higher incidence of allergy
- Muscle pain or twitching
- Hormonal and menstrual troubles
- Increased incidence of eczema and psoriasis
- Slower healing from all illness
Types of Stress
Mental and emotional stress are often considered the culprits in stress related problems, but there are also physical stressors that can cause the same problems. Before stress can be reduced, one must figure out what is causing it in the first place.
Certainly, lifestyle factors, hectic schedules or a busy job (like motherhood), can cause stress, but so can other factors like:
- Eating foods that the body is allergic or intolerant to (even if you don’t know you have the allergy)
- Not getting enough sleep
- Toxins in your home or environment
- An underlying hormone imbalance
- Leptin or insulin resistance
What To Do About It
Effectively dealing with stress requires an integrative approach that not only addresses the causes of stress (mental, emotional, physical) but also works to actively reverse the damage that has already been done. For me personally, this is one of my toughest health challenges to address, since even though I know what I should be doing, I don’t always have time to fit it all in.
To start, we definitely must address the basics:
- Physical Stress: While some physical stress is good (sprinting, lifting weights, etc.) other types can be harmful (chronic cardio, lack of sleep, etc.) and dietary causes also create a physical stress. A poor diet, especially one that includes any foods you are intolerant or allergic too can create a stress reaction in your body, even if you minimize other types of stresses. To help reduce physical stress, eat a solid real-food diet, get enough sleep and avoid toxins when you can. See the supplement and sleep info below for some practical tips.
- Emotional Stress: This one can obviously have many causes, but can often be addressed by working through tough relationships, making time for prayer and meditation, keeping a gratitude journal to focus on the positive, and making time to unwind.
- Mental Stress: Similar to emotional stress, this type of stress is often helped my meditation, time management, and organization to only need to focus on one tast at a time.
Since this is one of my biggest struggles personally, I’ve been experimenting lately with ways to reduce stress and wanted to share some of the ones that seem to be working for me:
If some of your stress is physical, or if you have any type of inflammation in your body, there are some supplements that can really help reduce the effects on your body. Especially if you struggled with food allergies for a while before being diagnosed and removing foods from your diet (or if you have celiac disease or autoimmune disorders) removing the offending foods is only have of the solution.
It is also important to address the inflammation in the body and help the body heal. Even with an optimal diet, there are some supplements that can help reduce inflammation and decrease physical stress in the body:
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend (also great for remineralizing teeth)- This combination, or even just regular Fermented Cod Liver Oil contains high levels of antioxidants and is great for reducing oxidative stress in the body. It contains high levels of Omega-3s and Vitamins A, D and K, which help to reduce inflammation (including arterial inflammation). In some studies, it was shown to improve glucose response in patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It has also been shown to be helpful in patients with Colitis, IBS, Crohn’s and other digestive issues, which is important since these conditions create tremendous physical stress in the body. I personally take Fermented Cod Liver Oil daily, as do my husband and kids.
- Probiotics: If there is any kind of intestinal damage from food allergies or leaky gut, or if a person has yeast overgrowth or intestinal disturbances, probiotics can be a tremendous help in normalizing gut bacteria. These can also be especially beneficial for children, whose gut bacteria is still forming. Stress hormones also deplete the natural gut bacteria and can lead to further problems.
- Gelatin– I’ve written about it in depth before, but Gelatin helps sooth the digestive system and reduce inflammation. It’s anti-inflammatory properties also make it great for joints and joint pain. Personally, I take it for the skin and hair benefits and many people take it to help reduce inflammation. There is some evidence that it can help reduce stress hormones since stress hormones tend to be stored in the muscle tissue of animals. Most people don’t get enough gelatinous and bone tissue from animals and eat an disproportionate amount of muscle meat, so regularly taking Gelatin can help balance this out.
- Magnesium– Another one that I’ve written about in depth before, but Magnesium has excellent anti-inflammatory properties. Practically everyone is deficient in it, due to declining soil magnesium levels, and it is an easy thing to supplement. Kevin Cottrell, who is well known in the Paleosphere was able to reduce his C-Reactive Protein from 5.4 (semi-dangerous level) to 0.44 (excellent level) in a month using Magnesium and Cold Thermogenesis (more on that soon). Some people have trouble digesting Magnesium effectively, especially if they are highly deficient, so Topical Magnesium Oil is helpful for those people. It is also available in capsule or drink mix (fizzy like soda) form.
- Let Food Be Your Medicine: Consuming lots of healthy fats, antioxidant rich foods and healthy protein sources will also help your body counteract the negative effects of stress.
Even if diet and exercise are great, not getting enough sleep will have a tremendous impact on stress levels and on overall health. One study showed that one night of missed or very interrupted sleep was enough to give a healthy person the blood sugar levels of a diabetic or pre-diabetic. Other studies have shown that getting less than 5 hours of sleep a night can impact driving ability and cognitive function the next day.
There is also information linking lack of sleep to higher risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer or chronic disease. Lack of sleep is also linked to weight gain, which for some is reason enough to start sleeping more!
Balancing Leptin Levels and using Cold Thermogenesis, as suggested by Dr. Jack Kurse, has been greatly effective in balancing stress hormones, leptin levels and even speeding weight loss for some people. I’m in the middle of a self-experiment with his protocol now and will be writing more about it soon, but anyone with high levels of inflammation, diabetes, or joint problems might benefit from reading his information now.
Are you stressed? How do you deal with it? Let me know!