The Workings of Stress + What to Do

Why do we often get sick on our holidays? Have you heard of the word “stress”? I am going to go ahead and say you know that word very well.

Perhaps today has been very stressful for you? Or you frequently feel stressed out? Maybe what you are not aware of is the impact stress has on your body and health, particularly your immune system.

Stress actually affects an abundance of physiological pathways in our body but I want to highlight what it does to your immune system and why it seems you fall sick on your holidays after weeks of working long hours or after numerous stretches of stressful events.

Adrenaline and cortisol are released from the adrenal glands (which sit on top of the kidneys) during times of stress. Our body responds to every stressful situation essentially the same way – with a few additional responses if it is mental verses physical stress. Your body simply does not know why you are stressed; it just releases the necessary agents so you can respond appropriately. The purpose of these hormones is to protect us during times of danger – so we can flee quickly. Or fight.

Today, we become stressed when we are late for a meeting or waiting in line. We do not utilize these hormones for what they were intended for. If we did, they would not linger in our bloodstream for hours.

What are the repercussions?

The action of adrenaline is to increase the heart rate, blood pressure, glucose (smallest molecule of sugar) and decrease digestion – all actions you need in order to respond quickly to a stressful event. Cortisol triggers protein breakdown and utilization of fatty acids to provide glucose, which causes high amounts of glucose in the liver and a sudden drop in your blood, temporarily leading to moderate insulin resistance. In terms of your immune system, cortisol decreases your white blood cells and eosinophil count (these guys kill parasites), effectively dampening any inflammation or immune response.

So, what does this mean if you are continuously stressed for long periods of time? Well, you are virtually suppressing your immune system and not allowing it to destroy new microbes that you come in contact with each and every day. Then, you go on a long-needed getaway, only to end up sick because cortisol is no longer being released, which means your immune system finally has a chance to do its job. Probably not something you are looking forward to on your two-week holiday.

What can you do to support your body during times of prolonged stress?

Here is a little list of a few things you can do:

Breathe

Take three deep breaths when you first wake up. Do this again before you enjoy your lunch and dinner, and lastly, right as you go to bed. Breathing is an easy way to help our body relax. When you are relaxed, your adrenal glands relax. A perfect situation.

Stay away from the sweet stuff

Stress is often accompanied by carbohydrate cravings, which leads to blood sugar imbalances. I like to characterize sugar as making the immune system sticky; therefore, it dampens the powerful players of your immune system. Eating or drinking 100grams (8tsp) of sugar, the equivalent of about two cans of soda, can greatly reduce your white blood cells from killing germs by about 40%. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than 40 minutes after consumption and can last for about five hours. There are also ways to help with these cravings so you eat less sugar.

Slow down on the stimulants

Instead, use herbal teas or decaffeinated coffee. Stimulants not only further drain your adrenals but the sugar content can be very high, especially in energy drinks.

Boost Your Immune System

Along with being an important antioxidant, Vitamin C also helps to enhance white blood cell function and to activate and increase interferon levels, antibody responses, and antibody levels.

Although we live in a sunny environment we can still be deficient in this important vitamin because we cover up so much. Vitamin D helps maintain bone health and stimulates important immune factors such as macrophages. What this means is your body will be stronger to fight viruses.

Garlic not only keeps the vampires away! It can fight microbes as well. The active ingredient of garlic is called alicin. Alicin is a strong antimicrobial, which means it can fight bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Taking probiotics is an excellent way to help support the immune system. A large portion of our immune system is created in our digestive tract; therefore, we need to add good bacteria such as the Lactobaccillus and Bifidobacterium families. Without good bacteria, things can get out of control and weaken production of immune cells. A good probiotic source is vital if you are on antibiotics.

Sleep Well

If you are not sleeping well, your body is not given the time to repair and fight off infections while you are relaxed. Again, reducing excess cortisol is a key component to achieve a well-rested night sleep, which specific herbs and vitamins can help you with if this is a challenge. Quality sleep is super underrated!

Support Your Adrenals

Support the adrenal glands with herbal medicine. There are some powerful herbs that can be used when you feel exhausted or run down, especially when you cannot seem to get to sleep (too much cortisol). Specific herbs are chosen for your particular situation.

Beyond supporting your immune system and adrenal glands, you can test to see if your cortisol levels are normal or are out of balance. I can provide functional testing to see how your body is reacting to stress or if your body is running low.

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