To say one is “stressed out” these days is as common as sliced bread. Stress can be defined as any stimulus that upsets normal physical and mental function. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that between 70% and 80% of all visits to the hospital or to the doctor are for stress-related illnesses. Although stress is not a disease, it can aggravate existing conditions such as diabetes, allergies, arthritis, hypertension, ulcers and gastritis. But prolonged bouts of stress can alter brain chemistry, compromise immune function and even lead to hormone imbalances.

The Body Can Cope with Stress

 The body’’s biochemistry has a way of coping with stress by:

  • Activating and secreting hormones from the endocrine glands.
  • Activating the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (located in the lower brain stem and divisions of the autonomic nervous system (ANS)). The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body’s flight-or-fight response to stress, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for relaxation. The ANS keeps you alive by controlling your breathing, heart rate and digestion without your help


But Not with Prolonged Stress

I personally know how prolonged stress can compromise the body’s biochemistry and even disrupt hormonal balance. Results of a recent neurological exam revealed that I was hyper-ANS and sympathetic dominant. This pathology caused me to experience an increased heart rate, arrhythmia and muscular tension. And to add insult to injury, I am perimenopausal with hot flashes, night sweats and sleep disturbances. To correct the cardiac events, I received brain-based neuro treatments to reset my ANS and restore harmony between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Two-weeks into my treatments, not only did I notice a reduction in the number of cardiac events, I also noticed that the hot flashes, night sweats and sleep disturbances I had suffered with for the past eight months had completely stopped! And although I was excited about this dramatic physical change, I began to seriously question the validity of my perimenopausal stage of life.

I understood why the cardiac events had lessened, but why did the hot flashes, night sweats and sleep disturbances stop when they should have been simply a natural reaction by my body to a diminished level for estrogen?  Here is connection:

  • The endocrine system and the nervous system are interconnected, with the main link between each system being the hypothalamus gland located in the lower brain.
  • The hypothalamus releases hormones that cause other endocrine glands (i.e., pituitary, thyroid and adrenal gland) to secrete hormones.
  • My sympathetic nervous system (which activates the secretion of hormones from endocrine glands) was over active, causing a “hormonal storm.”

 Not Even in Men

This phenomenon is not unique to women. Men, too, can suffer from the effects of a brain-based hormonal imbalance known as andropause (male menopause).  When under stress, the pituitary gland activates the adrenal gland to produce high levels of cortisol, which competes with progesterone and lowers levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). DHEA is a precursor to progesterone and testosterone. Dysglycemia (unstable blood sugar not related to diet) can also occur causing menopausal and andropausal symptoms.

 What You Can Do about Stress Symptoms

Stress is everywhere and can be emotional, physical or environmental in nature. Although our bodies are made to handle stress, it is not designed to stay in a prolonged state of distress.

According to stress researcher, Hans Selye, M.D., chronic stress eventually depletes the body’s resources and its ability to adapt to stress. Once these coping mechanisms are compromised the result is illness.

If you are experiencing symptoms that appear to be related to a hormonal imbalance or a stress-related illness, make sure you have a neurological examination by a qualified physician to rule out a neuro disease or imbalance and/or have a full saliva hormone panel done.  By doing so you will save money, time and most of all the need for unnecessary medication prescribed to treat your symptoms and not the underlying cause of the dis-ease.

Sources:

Holford, Patrick, The New Optimum Nutrition Bible. Crossing Press, 2004.

Jon Barron, Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, Expanded Edition. Basic Health Publications, Inc., 1999-2008.

Moore, Keith L and Anne M.R. Agur, Essential Clinical Anatomy, Third Edition.  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007.

Trivieri Jr., Larry and John W. Anderson, Editors, Alternative Medicine – The Definitive Guide, Second Edition. InnoVision Health Media, Inc., 2002.

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