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Stress and Your body

Overworked? Overweight? Overstressed? Without knowing it, you may be hurting your digestion, blood sugar, immune system and your adrenals, to name a few. Stress and blood sugar go hand in hand. Understanding how they affect each other is the key to a healthier life.

Never before have our bodies been inundated with so much stress: stress from the grind of our daily lives, the environment and most of all, our dietary habits.

In order to understand the general effects of stress on the body, it’s important to understand the organs that process sugar. The liver, adrenals and pancreas all serve to handle glucose and the storage of glycogen in the body. So what happens when the organs take a hit? The pancreas wears out, producing insufficient quantities of insulin. The adrenals – which release cortisol, the stress hormone – go into a state of exhaustion. Finally, the liver gets sluggish and has difficulty converting glycogen, proteins and fats to glucose.

The average person eats an estimated 210 pounds of sugar a year. The more sugar, starch and refined carbohydrates we eat, the harder it is on our bodies to cope with the stress mechanism. But when you really think about it, are our lives stressful? Or do we keep our bodies in a perpetual state of stress with sugar? Is it how we perceive stress? It is a vicious cycle. And yo-yo behaviors exacerbate the problems.

Our well-being is dependent on many factors: relationships, exercise, good eating behaviors and a sense of connection in our communities.

One of the best ways to keep stress at bay is to take better care of your body. We often lament how important it is to use the right oil in our cars, but so often we do not do the same for ourselves. That means not eating on the run, rejecting fast food and avoiding poor-quality foods. You need to eat, digest and relax. Eat a clean diet of carbohydrates (40 percent from vegetables, some fruits and some grains), with fats and proteins making up the other 60 percent. Ingest a mixture of both good omegas and saturated fats. Your protein sources should preferably be from animals (including eggs, nuts and whole milk dairy) and fish.

Let’s talk about the gland that handles stress. The adrenals have many important functions. They are responsible for the fight-or-flight response, they make your blood pressure and heart rate increase, help with blood clotting, suppress your immune system and transfer blood from your intestines to your extremities to create a fast reactive response. Running away from a saber-tooth tiger will do that to you. Without proficient adrenals, you would die. It was intended that we would only use the fight-or-flight response for short periods and very sporadically. So what do we do when there is a constant perceived stress on our bodies? How does it affect our blood sugar?

When stress is prolonged it damages our body in a number of ways. Our immune system suffers. Our digestion suffers, often causing irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, heartburn and indigestion. It can even lead to arterial plaque and heart disease.

Long-term effects can mean vertigo, nervous system disorders and hypoglycemia. When our adrenals are imbalanced, we often crave the things that aren’t good for us, such as sugar, salt and caffeine. Caffeine stimulates cortisol production and sugar boosts energy, but then the body crashes. And that’s when we see hormone imbalances from the thyroid and sex hormones. You also see the other emotional effects such as exhaustion, fuzziness and depression.

Skipping meals also wreaks havoc on the adrenals. It is important to eat fats and proteins as well as vitamins C and B. When we skip meals, we can’t keep our blood sugar levels balanced, causing them to drop. The adrenals then must work overtime to keep those levels in balance. After a while, they get tired, leading to hypoadrena and hypoglycemia. This can lead to insulin resistance and later, if left untreated and unsupported, diabetes.

The best way to treat the adrenals is to eat well (proteins, fats and healthy, non-starch carbohydrates), and take certain vitamins (B complexes, vitamin C and antioxidants).

I also recommend adrenal support. Cut out starch and sugar and minimize grains. Watch chemicals, additives and the consumption of such processed foods as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Meditate, stay positive, exercise and practice some stress release, such as yoga. Most important, perspective is key. Stress is more often determined by how we interpret it rather than the actual stressor. Whatever it is, alleviate it. When you do, digestion, blood sugar and even your hormones become more balanced. And you become healthier and happier.

Jennifer Doctorovich, NTP


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