Stress is an unavoidable and even necessary part of life. It is what keeps us motivated. However, even little everyday stresses can cause problems over a period of time if you do not learn to handle them well. Many factors may cause stress including financial difficulties, relationship problems, illness, school or university exams, a high pressure job, conflict at work, or life events like moving house or getting married.
What are the symptoms?
- Stress can be responsible for a number of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, palpitations, difficulty breathing, chest pains, indigestion, gastrointestinal upsets, irritability, tearfulness, insomnia, poor appetite and stiff neck and shoulders.
- Prolonged stress affects the immune system to aggravate any existing illness and lower resistance to infection. Maybe this is why you are always coming down with a cold or flu.
- The adrenal glands, which normally pump out cortisol to help us cope with stress, eventually become exhausted and this may be the time that you notice flagging energy levels and start to develop symptoms (see Adrenal Exhaustion).
How stress affects weight
When we are placed under a stressful situation, biochemical changes are set in action that can affect our homeostasis or 'balance'. It is being discovered in research that the physiological stress response and its ensuing effects on body chemistry may be responsible for weight gain.
The stress response is also known as the 'Fight or Flight' mechanism. Basically, this evolved to ensure survival of our early ancestors. Under threat, hormonal and chemical messengers in the body prepared one to stay and fight the threat to life and limb - or 'take to the hills'. This mechanism is still present in its primitive form in today's human beings - although, our day to day life situations are vastly different. Family situations, financial worries, jobs, illness, etc. can all illicit the stress response.
Depending on a person's genetic predisposition, stress can affect virtually any part of the body and have physical, mental and emotional symptoms. Not many people realize that stress can cause weight gain. Researchers have found that physical changes linked to elevated stress hormone (cortisol) can lead to insulin resistance and subsequent weight gain. See also my book "I Can't Lose Weight!...And I Don't Know Why".
It could also be said that the stress link to weight gain is due to 'comfort eating' to cope with the stress. Stressed people tend to crave the types of foods that induce insulin release - starchy, sugary carbohydrates.
Treatment and general recommendations
- If possible, take practical steps to change or resolve a stressful situation. For example, seek relationship counselling; speak to a supervisor or mediator at work about changing work practises or resolving a personality conflict; offload some of your responsibilities at home or work; cut down from full time to part time work; discuss money problems with a financial planner or bank manager.
- Some of you may need to re-educate your thinking to realize that you are not indispensable; that others can carry out some of your tasks quite adequately even if not in exactly the same way as you, and that things like a perfectly spic and span house are not really important in the big scheme of things. However, it is worth trying to be organized so that you are not getting stressed about running late for an appointment or forgetting to do something important.
- Relaxation exercises, yoga or meditation are great stress relievers. Regular physical exercise like going for a brisk walk is also highly beneficial to burn up those stress hormones and improve your feeling of general wellbeing.
- Having a hobby or taking time out for yourself to do something relaxing like soaking in a bubble bath or having a therapeutic massage is another good way of releasing pent-up tensions.
- Many people have found that acupuncture is helpful.
- Follow the principles of eating in "The Liver Cleansing Diet" book. Include often - fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, wholegrain cereals and breads, nuts and seeds (their oils are great for the nervous system), garlic and ginger. Sprinkle a tablespoon of lecithin on your breakfast cereal; it is beneficial for the nerves and brain function.
- Avoid - tea, coffee, sugar, salt and alcohol, which overstimulate the adrenal glands. They may temporarily make you feel better, but in the long run will actually make stress worse. Try to eat regularly and avoid skipping meals.
Recommended juice recipes from the "Raw Juices Can Save your Life" book are:
Juice for Depression Number One
- 6 strawberries
- 1 cup chopped broccoli
- 1 carrot
- 6 string beans
- 2 lettuce leaves
- Wash, trim and chop and pass through the juicer.
Juice for Depression Number Two
- 2 large spinach leaves
- 2 sticks celery
- 2-3 lettuce leaves
- 1 medium beetroot and tops
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 tomato (vine-ripened or organic is best)
- A dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)
- Wash, trim and chop and process through juicer.
- Approximately 1/2 liter can be taken daily.
Some excellent raw fruit and vegetable juices to combat stress include the following: a combination of broccoli, celery, parsley, carrot, red pepper and tomato; or spinach, parsley, carrot and celery; or strawberries, pear, banana and brewer's yeast; or to help you off to sleep try lettuce and celery juice half an hour before bedtime.
Orthodox medical treatment
Minor tranquilizer drugs like diazepam ("Valium") are sometimes prescribed for stress or anxiety. These highly addictive medications should be used as a last resort, such as during a life crisis, for the shortest possible time. It is much safer to stick to the suggestions given above. If panic attacks develop, one of the antidepressant drugs can be extremely effective in preventing attacks.
- "Magnesium - The Miracle Mineral". This book discusses magnesium as being essential for hundreds of chemical reactions that take place in the body every second, with recent findings also indicating that it offers a wide range of important health-promoting benefits. See page 9 for these benefits.
- Blues Free
Take 1 - 2 capsules daily - This formula is a natural mood elevator, which works by increasing the serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is the "happy chemical" in the brain.
Take 2 tablets twice daily. Magnesium is a very calming anti stress/anti anxiety mineral known as the 'great relaxer' and will promote restful sleep.
Take 1-2 capsules daily with food - Stress increases the production of free radicals in the body, which can harm the immune system. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant assisting in protecting cells against oxidative stress.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.
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The recipes in Dr Cabot’s Liver Cleansing Diet cover most of your requirements, provided you plan your daily meal preparation in advance.
They provide sufficient protein, fiber, and fats, while still being reasonably low sugar if you concentrate your choices on vegetable rich recipes.
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Naturopath for Dr Sandra Cabot