In a busy city like Melbourne most of us experience some form of stress on a regular basis. If you experience tiredness, fatigue, feel cranky, moody, are often sick, have headaches, panic attacks, feel anxious or are sometimes even depressed, you might be suffering from chronic stress. By understanding what happens in our bodies when we are stressed it is easier to put preventative measures in place to support and improve our body’s well-being.
Our adrenal glands secrete stress hormones including cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels suppress the immune system’s ability to work effectively. When immune cells are stimulated for long periods of time, they begin to break down and begin using their destructive abilities on healthy tissue, instead of pathogens. Vitamin D is important for a healthy immune system so during times of stress or during winter when we get less sunlight, vitamin supplementation can play a vital role in regulating the functioning of our immune system.
The other stress hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, initiate the fight or flight response in our body. When these hormones are released you generally feel an increase in heart rate and breathing rate. This is fine for a short period of time but if these stress hormones are always elevated it can have very negative effects on the cardiovascular system. An increase in blood pressure can cause our blood vessels to narrow and increase our risk of heart attacks, blood clots and strokes. To keep our cardiovascular system healthy we should aim to exercise for 30–60 minutes 5x per week and make some simple changes to our diet – increasing water intake to 2 litres per day, decreasing salt intake, consuming a moderate amount of saturated fats and increasing good fats like omega 3 (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds). We often don’t get enough omega 3 in our diet so supplementation with a good quality fish oil high in omega 3 may be necessary.
One function of cortisol is to increase blood sugar levels for energy in a stressful situation. Long term stress and extended increase of blood sugar levels is not good for our bodies. When there’s a spike in blood sugar our pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin causes receptor cells in the liver, skeletal, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood. When there is too much insulin in our bodies all the time these receptors become numb and resistant and our bodies can’t take up glucose the way it’s supposed to. This can cause insulin resistance which can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
During stress we often reach for quick convenience foods, thus consuming big quantities of refined carbohydrates and sugar and causeing a complete overload of glucose in our blood. The liver produces cholesterol from glucose and the more glucose in the blood the more bad cholesterol produced. An excess of bad cholesterol can lead to heart disease. To keep our digestive system healthy we should increase good fats to help manage cholesterol, decrease sugar intake by avoiding refined carbs and decreasing alcohol intake. We should also aim to decrease caffeine intake around meal times as it diverts blood away from the gut which can affect digestion.
Chronic stress causes muscle tension and contraction of the muscles. This muscle tension creates uneven pressure on the bony structures often leading to misalignments of our spinal column and nerve irritation. Our brain and spinal cord is the root of our nervous system which controls the functioning of the whole body. Chiropractic care is a safe, non-invasive therapy which addresses muscle tension, reduces spinal nerve irritation and improves blood circulation to help the body return to a more balanced and relaxed state. These changes may be enough, in many cases, to convince the brain to turn off the fight or flight response and effectively manage stress.
In summary, think about asking your health practitioner about beneficial dietary supplements, make simple dietary changes, do regular exercise and keep your spine stress free with regular chiropractic care. To book in for a chiropractic consultation please call Melbourne Combined Natural Therapies on 9645 9923.