Nutritional deficiencies might contribute or even be the cause of your depression and anxiety.
Dr. M de Klerk
Nutrient deficiencies are a lot more common than you might think.
If you have a digestive tract that does not work properly, your ability to absorb nutrients will be less and you will become deficient quicker.
Being on a restrictive diet of any kind for too long, for example veganism, vegetarianism, keto, or autoimmune protocol, can put you at risk for deficiencies. Having a varied diet from all the food groups is essential.
If you’re taking a nutrient depleting medication like the birth control pill, places you at an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies. Medication that block acid, like PPIs and Tums, as well as those used in diabetics can create nutrient deficiencies that can manifest as anxiety and depression as well.
Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, B6, Inositol, folate, B12, copper, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D have a direct impact on mood and are common deficiencies in people.
Additionally, if you have any issues with protein absorption you will be deficient in the amino acids your body needs to make neurotransmitters.
How to Heal Nutrient Deficiencies
Have Appropriate Lab Testing
The following blood tests will give you indication of what you are deficient in:
• Vitamin D
• And others as needed
Adopt a Whole Foods Diet
On top of optimizing gut health and absorption, you’ll also need to focus on a nutrient dense diet. Eat colorful, fresh foods in abundance.
In my next article I will discuss ways that you can improve your depression and anxiety in the interim while your practitioner works on identifying the root cause.
OCTOBER is MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH
by Dr. M de Klerk
Anxiety is so common that I am sure that you know someone who has had or currently has anxiety.
Perhaps you are suffering from anxiety and you are trying to understand why this has happened to you. You are probably also exploring different options to make your anxiety better.
The conventional perspective on anxiety is perhaps too simplified —myou have a neurotransmitter imbalance and you need a medication to re-establish that balance. This treatment may work, but not always.
This assumes that you are broken and the only fix is a pharmaceutical drug that you might have to take for many years.
And if you’ve chosen a medication to manage your symptoms—you have done nothing wrong.
In my next article I would like to offer you some tools to help you manage your symptoms…and maybe even kick the anxiety for good.
Dr. M de Klerk
In functional medicine we would rather try to identify the root cause of anxiety and then treating this body system/s. It’s like having a thorn in your foot—do you remove the thorn or just take the painkillers to shut the body up?
Healing anxiety with functional medicine means figuring out why you have the symptoms in the first place, while also offering you some relief and tools to manage the anxiety in the day to day.
3 Common causes of anxiety-
1. HPA dysfunction and adrenal weakness
2. Compromised GUT health
3. Nutrient deficiencies
1. HPA Dysfunction & Adrenal weakness
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is what controls our response to stress and is why we fight, take flight or freeze when threatened with danger. This is a very good system and will save your life when threatened, but in our daily lives where our lives seems to be threatened constantly, our ancestral brain cannot understand this and it freaks out.... causing anxiety.
What happens when there is chronic stimulation of the stress system?
We see a change in the production of cortisol, DHEA, pregnenolone and even progesterone. This in turn alters our neurotransmitters, brain hormones. When unbalanced, some of these hormones causes panic, and the ones that are supposed to keep us calm is deficient.
But it isn’t just mental or emotional stress that can unbalance the HPA axis…
Inflammation stemming from chronic disease, hormone imbalances, infections etc can cause a disruption in the HPA axis. And as the system becomes more and more imbalanced, inflammation increases, creating a vicious cycle that can keep you in a state of panic.
Common Hidden Causes of Inflammation:
• Autoimmune disease
• Gut infections
• Chronic viral infections
• Blood sugar imbalances
• Oestrogen dominance
• Insomnia and sleep disruption
How to Heal the HPA Axis
1.Work with an Expert
If you’ve got serious HPA dysfunction then you’re going to need to partner with an expert to treat the root and rebalance the system.
You do not need to practice yoga or even have a mat. Just close your eyes for 5-10 minutes daily and focus on your breath. Feel yourself inhaling and exhaling completely. Relax in your chair and let yourself spend a few minutes away from whatever is bringing you stress.
Take a moment to look around you and without judgement, take it all in. This is the practice of mindfulness. Being present in moment can help decrease anxiety, stress and depression. Try to spend at least 5 minutes a day just observing the life that surrounds you.
Move Your Body.
Even if it is a walk around the office. Movement will allow you to release tension from the body, increase oxygen to your brain and counter what that nasty stress hormone, cortisol, is doing to your body.
Reinforce Circadian Rhythm
This is the natural sleep/ wake cycle that your adrenals and mood love. Do this every day!
1. Expose yourself to natural light upon waking.
2. Wear amber glasses 2 hours before bed. This will drop cortisol and raise melatonin…what your body should be doing at this time.
3. Sleep in a completely dark room. No light. No exceptions cellphones or charger lights.
In my next article we will talk about Gut health and how it impacts on your mood.
Image Source: <a href='https://www.freepik.com/vectors/design'>Design vector created by freepik - www.freepik.com</a>
Dr. Chantell Groenewald
M. Tech Hom (UJ)
What are the functions of our Adrenal Glands?
Our adrenal glands (or suprarenal glands) sits on top of our kidneys and acts as an endocrine gland which simply means it is responsible for the secretion of various hormones. One of the hormones secreted by the adrenal glands is the steroid hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is often referred to as the ‘stress hormone’ due to the role it plays in the fight and flight reaction which is regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). During a stress response, the adrenal glands are signalled via the HPA axis to secrete cortisol which in turn stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism i.e gluconeogenesis (process by which the level of glucose in the blood stream is increased). This response supplies the body with ‘fast’ energy to run away or fight during the fight or flight response. Cortisol is also responsible for inhibiting the functions of various other non-essential bodily functions during the fight or flight response. Once the fight or flight response is over, cortisol levels return to normal and systems functions are restored to normal.
The role cortisol plays in the fight and flight response is well known, however the effects of cortisol in our day to day functioning is far reaching. Cortisol levels start to increase in the early hours of the morning and is responsible for waking us up and directing the resources of the body to where it is most needed and then decreases again at night preparing us for sleep and maintenance functions in the body. Cortisol plays an important role in our body’s overall functioning and well-being. The systemic effects of cortisol include:
Chronic stress is not good. Unlike an acute stress response like running away from a bear, the situation does not resolve and we are chronically exposed to elevated levels of cortisol that is not eliminated from our system. Prolonged stress and exposure to higher than normal cortisol levels have adverse effects on our health for two reasons.
Some of the systemic symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to higher than normal cortisol levels include:
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue refers to the period following prolonged periods of stress where your cortisol stores become depleted following prolonged periods of higher than normal cortisol production. There are two phases at play here:
How is adrenal fatigue diagnosed?
Often a practitioner will make a clinical diagnosis based on your symptom picture and personal history. As previously mentioned adrenal fatigue cannot be diagnosed with a blood test. The ranges for serum cortisol levels are very wide and unless there is a primary pituitary insufficiency as with Addison disease, the blood serum levels will be within normal limits. A more accurate test to determine if there is a dysfunction of the adrenal glands production and secretion of cortisol is a salivary cortisol tests. This measures cortisol levels during three key intervals during the night and day to determine if your cortisol levels are reacting according to the normal circadian rhythm (ie high levels in the morning and low levels at night).
5 Changes to make to help manage chronic stress and adrenal fatigue.
1. Detox your gut
An unhealthy gut is a continuous source of inflammation. Inflammation triggers the release of cortisol for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can further exacerbate the chronic low grade stress response. Heal your leaky gut by destroying the bad bacteria, healing the gut lining and recolonizing with the good bacteria.
2. Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises
There is sufficient research that shows the calming effects of meditation, yoga and breathing exercises. This is crucial especially if we are continuously exposed to chronic low level stress. By practising relaxation techniques we over ride the bodies stress response and force our adrenal glands to regulate the secretion of cortisol.
3. Consider adaptogens to regulate the function of the adrenal glands
Under the supervision of a qualified physician, adaptogens such as Ashwaganda may be prescribed that function by regulating the secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands.
4. Get enough sleep
Two hours of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is what is needed to ‘shampoo our brain’ each night. This term coined by Dr. Sara Gottfried MD in the states so adequately describes why we need to get enough sleep at night. Research suggests we need at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, of which 2 hours has to be deep or REM sleep. Research suggests that even partial sleep deprivation affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis causing higher than normal cortisol secretion by the adrenal glands.
5. Cut the stimulates and clean up your diet:
Stimulants such as caffeine, tobacco and sugar fuels adrenal overproduction of cortisol. Most people who suffer from chronic stress tend to rely heavily on stimulants to get them through the day. This unfortunately will only drain your already taxed adrenal glands. There are various detox, elimination and cleanse diets that will help you cut out all the stimulants and help you feel healthier and more energized than ever by helping you to get the necessary nutrition from your food. People often underestimate the power of healthy eating and I often see patients revived and energised from something as simple as changing their diet. Hippocrates said: “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food”.
Anxiety – what is it and how to deal with it!
Anxiety can present itself in many forms. Most people can identify a feeling of anxiousness by an increased heart rate of “butterflies in the stomach.” You often experience these feelings of anxiousness when you have to address a group of people, or before you compete in an event. This is quite normal and actually needed as this feeling helps the body getting “ready” for a big event.
But then one day, while walking from your office to your car, you experience a feeling of awful dread. So much so that you are convinced that something bad is going to happen to you, or worse, you are going to die. Your heart starts to beat so fast, you are convinced you are having a heart attack, your breathing becomes shallow, your palms sweaty. This is classified as an anxiety disorder, such as a panic attack. This feeling is not normal and can actually have life altering effects.
Panic attacks are normally caused by a traumatic event which was not dealt with properly. For instance, being in a vehicle accident where you were injured, or being hijacked. People suffering from an anxiety disorder tend to start avoiding certain situations, people and places as they start fearing that they might suffer another panic attack. They start to alter their daily pattern, avoid certain areas or situations, normally the same situation that brought on a previous panic attack.
However, some people might experience a panic attack “out of the blue” with no trigger. In such instances, the person can exclude himself totally from society, withdrawing from even the closest family and friends.
To see if you might be suffering from anxiety, answer the following questions:
If you have answered yes to several of the above questions, you may be suffering from anxiety.
The good news is that there is help available. For more serious cases or if you feel that you have been experiencing panic attacks more frequently, it might be a good idea to see a professional such as a Clinical Psychologist.
Read other articles in our stress series:
Happiness with Homeopathy
Why exercise makes you happier
Mindfullness as a stress reduction practise
Common complications in men due to stress
Stress and weight gain
HAPPINESS WITH HOMOEOPATHY
Experts say you won't find true joy in a paycheck or miracle wrinkle-remover. According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, of the University of California, Riverside, life circumstances account for only 10% of happiness. Half depends on our genetic "set point," which is kind of like the weight our body bounces back to after that crash diet. And about 40% of our happiness is influenced by what we do deliberately to make ourselves happy.
HOW IS HOMEOPATHY DIFFERENT?
Homeopaths believe that symptoms are the body’s signals and (failed) attempts to restore balance and health. Symptoms therefore should not be suppressed, if possible. Doing so disables the organism’s innate healing mechanism. Instead, a homeopath will give you a substance that mimics the symptoms of depression to accelerate its expression and get rid of it once and for all. Here is how it works:
Our energy creates a field around our bodies (which psychically receptive people can see as auras). Our physical body is both a template for our energy body and a manifestation of it. The ease with which energy flows through our body determines the way we present ourselves in the world. When we get stuck in a particular stance or attitude to life, the energy that normally flows freely through the energy body becomes blocked in certain areas and stagnates. Disease is a manifestation of this stagnation. Homeopaths believe we are pure energy and therefore prescribe energy medicine in the form of homeopathic remedies. By studying our behaviours and attitudes, a trained homeopath can trace the distinct (stuck) energy pattern and prescribe a corresponding remedy that mimics these core themes.
HOMOEOPATHIC REMEDIES AVAILABLE AT THE NATUROPATHIC HEALTH CARE CENTRE.
Compared to the dozen or so anti-depressant drugs on the market, there are hundreds of homeopathic remedies that can help overcome depression. Every individual has unique circumstances, attitudes, expectations and genetic predispositions. It is always best to make an appointment to see one of our homoeopaths for a proper evaluation and to use homeopathic remedies that are prescribed on the basis of this uniqueness.
1 Natura Rescue:
Rescue is the tried and trusted remedy that aids in restoring calm and balance to help you cope with challenging situations. For use in the relief and treatment of emotional shock, fear, nervous stress, feeling of desperation, tearfulness and grief, sleeplessness due to emotional stress
2 Nervuton 2
Nervuton 2 has a relaxing and mildly sedative effect on the nervous system to help reduce the symptoms of stress including nervous tension, irritability, restlessness and disturbed sleep patterns, especially difficulty falling asleep.
Cerbo is a homoeopathic complex which helps relieve symptoms of an over-stressed, hyperactive nervous system. It helps overcome brain fatigue, chronic tiredness, restlessness, poor concentration and poor memory and aims to promote astute brain functioning and muscular co-ordination.
4 Nerva 1
The mind and skin are intertwined, resulting in many skin conditions being caused or exacerbated by stress,
5 Nerva 2
Nerva 2 assists in supporting the function of the nervous system to assist in the treatment of tension headache, nerve-related muscular cramps and spasms
6 Nerva 3
This is a homoeopathic complex which helps to relieve the emotional symptoms of stress such as sadness, grief, tearfulness, over sensitiveness and moodiness.
References: Article Tags: vitality, homeopathic remedies, vitality magazine, homeopathy, depression, homeopathic remedies used for depression. Homoeopathic Remedies: Comed Health website
If you've ever been stressed out, you may have attempted to relieve your anxiety in a number of ways to take your mind off your worries, or in some instinctual way, to alter your brain chemistry a bit. Sometimes it works, but many of our go-to strategies also have negative consequences, especially when carried out repeatedly. In the long run, some of the ways we try to increase happiness can actually decrease it. There is another strategy for reducing stress and improving mood that not only seems to make people happier, but also yields positive long-term effects more conducive to long-term happiness. This strategy is exercising.
We know that regular fitness is good for the heart and that it can help the body to build muscles and maintain a healthy weight. But it also spurs the release of feel-good chemicals that promote happiness. And now a new study in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology adds more evidence to the "happiness" benefit. Researchers from the Penn State University found in their study that the more physically active people reported greater general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm, compared with the less physically active people. "We found that people who are more physically active have more pleasant-activated feelings than people who are less active, and we also found that people have more pleasant-activated feelings on days when they are more physically active than usual," study researcher Amanda Hyde, a kinesiology graduate student at Penn State, said in a statement.
When you exercise and stay active on a regular basis, you may have noticed that you feel less stressed out, less anxious, and generally happier. And that’s not just a coincidence, because studies suggest that there is a direct link between exercise and happiness for a number of reasons:
Exercise releases happy chemicals into your brain
You're probably familiar with the term "runner's high," which refers to the euphoric feeling one sometimes gets when exercising. The body produces endorphins, which are chemicals that reduce the perception of pain, improve immunity and help you relax. Endorphins are natural mood boosters that enhance feelings of optimism and satisfaction. Exercise promotes the generation and release of endorphins, while reducing the activity of hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol (these promote feelings of anxiety and tension). Regular exercise can help you attain a happier state of mind and a better quality of life.
Dopamine (a chemical in the brain that is called a neurotransmitter) is necessary for feelings of pleasure and happiness. Scientists believe that as we age, we’re constantly losing dopamine stores and an excellent way to increase dopamine levels is through regular exercise (aerobic exercise is probably one of the best releasers of dopamine).When you exercise and your heart begins to beat faster, levels of the feel-good neurochemicals serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine rise in the body. So does brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a substance that can protect the brain from emotional disorders and repair damage caused by stress and depression. At the same time, opiate-like endorphins and endocannabinoids flood the system, leading to a sense of well-being. Exercise is also responsible for the creation of new brain cells in the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Exercise makes you less stressed
Stress can cause a vicious cycle of negative thinking, worrisome thoughts and physical symptoms such as muscular discomfort, indigestion and pain. Exercise provides a distraction from your worries and you will lose weight and get fitter and healthier. You can greatly reduce your risk of chronic illnesses, which are major contributors to stress and anxiety. You will also feel a sense of accomplishment as you exercise harder and for longer intervals of time. Not only will exercising ease stress in the short term by helping you sweat out the day's worries, but regular exercise will help you become less stressed in the long term. That’s because when you exercise, you’re actually subjecting yourself to a low-level form of stress by raising your heart rate and triggering a burst of hormonal changes. When you subject yourself to the stress of exercise enough, your body will eventually get better at handling stress. But if you stay sedentary, your body can become more sensitive to stress.
Exercise engages neurons in the brain, just like it engages muscles in the body. That raises the brain's stress threshold. People who exercise regularly don't respond as dramatically to stress as non-exercisers do. Their heart rate doesn't shoot up as high, and their mood doesn't sink as low. “Expose yourself to this ‘stress’ enough and your body builds up immunity to it. Eventually, it will get better at handling the rest of life’s stressors,” says clinical psychologist Jasper Smits, Ph.D., co-author of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety.
Exercise energizes you
We all have days when we just feel too tired to exercise, when working out is the last thing in the world you want to do. But no matter how exhausted you are from a long day at work, do your best to muster up all the willpower you have and work out, because more likely than not, you'll feel more energized after your workout than you did before it.
Research has shown that exercise can be better at upping energy than stimulants. “A lot of times when people are fatigued, the last thing they want to do is exercise,” says researcher Patrick O’Connor, co-director of the University of Georgia exercise psychology laboratory, in Athens, Ga. “But if you’re physically inactive and fatigued, being just a bit more active will help.” Because no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, exercise actually increases energy levels and fights fatigue. And when you have more energy to do all the things you want to do you’ll ultimately feel more satisfied with life.
Exercise boosts your confidence
When you don't feel good about your body or how you look, it can cause a feeling of low self-esteem and that can have a negative effect on all areas of your life. However, when you start to exercise and see your body transform these negative feelings can quickly change. Exercise will not only make you like how you look, it will also make you feel stronger, more independent, and more confident. When you start working out and achieving goals you never thought possible, you’ll feel an incredible sense of accomplishment.
Exercise eases anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety, exercise may be a simple cure. Because recent studies on the effects of exercise show that in people suffering from anxiety, the immediate mood boost from exercise is followed by longer-term relief. In fact, exercise seems to work better than relaxation, meditation, stress education and music therapy at easing anxiety.
Exercise can be a useful substitute for antidepressant drugs, according to a 1999 study, originally published in the "Archives of Internal Medicine." In the study, men and women who used aerobic exercise to combat depression had the same success rates as participants who used antidepressants or a combination of exercise and antidepressants. After six months, most of the original participants contributed to a follow-up study, which found that those who stuck to a regular exercise regimen had a lower risk of relapse into depression. An estimated 1 in 10 adults suffer from some form of depression, and even more probably go unreported. But rather than getting prescription meds to treat the blues, try exercising instead.
Exercise fights insomnia
If you have trouble sleeping, a lack of exercise may be your problem, so skip the sleeping pill and try exercising instead. Staying active and exercising on a regular basis has been shown to improve sleeping problems of insomniacs and people with sleeping disorders. Research shows that people who begin exercising regularly report that their sleep quality improves significantly. And not only can regular exercise significantly improve your sleep quality, it can also give you that pep that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and do things.
In a 2010 study, researchers at North-western University put people with insomnia on a 16-week exercise program, starting with walking, riding a bike or jogging for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. By week six, they were doing 30 to 40 minutes, four times a week. Afterward, subjects reported a significant bump in their quality of sleep—they fell asleep faster, slept more hours, experienced better moods and felt more alert during the day.
Exercise boosts the immune system
Both exercise and happiness lead to increased production of antibodies, which are a special type of protein produced by the immune system. When everything is working normally, antibodies arrive on the scene shortly after antigens (bacteria, viruses or other unwanted invaders) are detected in the body. Antibodies hunt them down and bind themselves to the antigens. Once locked on, T-cells (the immune system's "killer cells”) arrive and destroy the antigens. Antibodies also help produce other cells that aid and assist in the immune system. People who are happy are more resistant to diseases ranging from the common cold to heart disease, while stress and anxiety tend to make people more susceptible to sickness, including diabetes and stroke. Happiness has been shown to increase antibodies by as much as 50 percent. Exercise has been shown to increase antibody production by as much as 300 percent. Exercise also directly increases the number of T-cells in your body. By increasing numbers of "hunters" (antibodies) and "killers" (T-cells), it's no wonder a workout keeps you healthier. And since people who exercise tend to report higher levels of happiness, the exercise-induced happiness improves the immune system independent of the physiological effects of the exercise.
You do not have to indulge in demanding physical activity to reap the psychological benefits of exercise. The Harvard Medical School says that walking, Pilates, stretching, mental exercises, breathing techniques and muscle relaxation techniques can all be effective in combating stress. To alleviate stress, practice slow, relaxed breathing anywhere and at any time. Controlled muscle relaxation is another effective combatant against tension and anxiety. Meditation is a rewarding exercise that relaxes your mind, makes you more positive and reduces physical signs of stress such as an elevated heartbeat and hypertension. You can also perform chores such as gardening and housecleaning, which can provide substantial exercise and lift your spirits.
Exercise is a powerful weapon against the blues. In the short term, it can elevate mood when you're feeling down. Long term, it can knock out milder forms of clinical depression. And as little as 60 minutes a week of any kind of physical activity can do it: Researchers at The University of Queensland School of Human Movement Studies found that subjects who did low-level activities for at least an hour a week cut their risk for depression by 30 to 40 percent.
Until next time,
1. Mind Body Green. Stryker, K. 2013. 6 Reasons why exercise makes you happy. [Online] Available at: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10798/6-reasons-why-exercise-makes-you-happy.html. [Accessed 3 July 2014]
2. Livestrong. Nair, L. 2014. How exercise improves mood. [Online] Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/530791-does-exercise-make-you-happy/. [Accessed 3 July 2014]
3. Huffpost Healthy Living. Chan, A.L. 2013. Exercise makes us happy- It’s science. [Online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/09/exercise-happy-enthusiasm-excitement_n_1263345.html. [Accessed 3 July 2014]
4. 12 Minute athlete. 2013.7 Surprising Ways Exercise Can Make You Happier. [Online] Available at: http://www.12minuteathlete.com/exercise-and-happiness/. [Accessed 3 July 2014] 5. How stuff works. Scheve, T. 2014. Is there a link between exercise and happiness? [Online] Available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/exercise-happiness3.htm. [Accessed 3 July 2014]
6. Self. Graves, G. 2012. How Exercise Can Make You Happy (in Just 20 Minutes!). [Online] Available at: http://www.self.com/body/fitness/2012/05/benefits-of-exercise. [Accessed 3 July 2014]
The demands of modern day life produce stress. When the body is exposed to stress for prolonged periods it may become exhausted and in short supply. Mindfulness is a valuable and important way of assisting the body to gently return to optimal vitality.(See Stress-article of Liizl Miller of March 2014 on Naturopathic website).
Mindfulness is present moment awareness and alertness. It is about being fully present, connecting with ourselves and appreciating the fullness of each moment of life. Mindfulness helps us to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that instead of becoming overwhelmed by them, we can manage the discomfort of stress more effectively. Mindfulness is a combination of meditation and breathing- you can exercise it by sitting quietly for a while and by being aware of your breathing and thoughts.
Mindful breathing is the basis of every mindfulness exercise. You can try the following exercise at home:
Notice every breath.
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight.
2. Use the muscles of your abdomen to empty all the air out of your lungs for a few breaths and allow them to fill naturally again.
3. Allow your breathing to find its own rhythm whilst noticing the
* rise and fall of your shoulders
* the expansion and contraction of your abdomen
* the sensation of air entering and exiting through your nose or mouth
4. Continue to breathe and notice the silence created by the gap between breaths. Allow your thoughts to come and go without getting lost in them.
A study on Mindfulness-based stress reduction did not find a significant relationship between increased mindfulness and improved physical health. It is therefore very important to combine mindfulness exercises with therapy to be able to connect with repressed information and stressors. This can assist the client to achieve balance on a physiological and psychological level.
Please see my website: www.lmiller.co.za for more information on the SHIP® psychotherapeutic approach as a means to deal with psychological healing and growth in a holistic approach.
1. JOS. 1998. SHIP® Overview.
2. Woman & Home (2014, April). Mindfulness: The big new secret to a calmer,
happier life. Woman & Home, 102-104.
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki.minfulness-based_stress_reduction. Mindfulness- based stress reduction.
Big boys don’t STRESS - Dr. Marlo Swanepoel
STRESS?? O please, that is just the new age word…
So you think that you as a man do not feel the effects of stress in your life and that you are coping just fine except for those few moments you accidently snarled at your wife or dog, or at the old lady taking forever to cross the road, or the car that pushed in front of you and you had to slam on the brakes. Or maybe you felt like bursting an artery and the steam pumping from your ears when your boss just laid more work on you, or the printer stopped working or your hand is just too big to get into this small space to fix the car... Maybe you should just continue reading as the old lady crossed that road for the last 60 years and maybe stress denial is the most effective way of killing men all over the world.
So what it stress?
Stress is a physiological response to a situation that is perceived as a threat. This is needed in order for you to run away or fight if your live is in danger, also known as the fight or flight response. This response is mainly regulated by your sympathetic nervous system, stimulating all kinds of cascades in the body aiding you to cope or adapt to the demands at hand. In normal circumstances stress should be short lasting but unfortunately we do not live in normal circumstances anymore and one fails to respond appropriately to psychological or physical threats and the cascades never shut down.
How does stress work?
In order to explain this we will look at a normal stress response also known as the alarm phase or an eustress response, meaning a good stress response. As mentioned earlier, one’s stress response is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system, due to an increase in demand or threat whether psychological or physical. Once the nervous system perceives this increase in demand or threat it triggers a general sympathetic activation as well as adrenal gland activation. This gland - situated on top of the kidneys - produces mainly adrenalin in a stress response. This activation cascade leads to the utilization of energy reserves by releasing glucose, changes in circulation such as shunting blood away from all unnecessary organs or systems, at the time of a threat, and increases blood flow to the main muscle group to assist in the fight or flight response. The heart and respiratory rates increases. The pupils dilate in order to increase awareness of your surroundings, your senses heighten and your digestion slows down.
Imagine yourself being in the Kruger National Park and you see a hungry lioness ready to make you her next meal. If there was no stress response you would not be able to run away or use the environment around you to avoid becoming lunch. Once the lioness decides to go look elsewhere your sympathetic nervous system will perceive the threat as subsiding and normal rest and digest or parasympathetic nervous system will take over, thus restoring normal function and blood flow to organ systems meaning adrenalin release is decreased.
Distress on the other hand is a prolonged period of stress response. These extended periods of the sympathetic responses are destructive physically, mentally and emotionally as illustrated in diagram 1. Homeostasis is disrupted leading to electoloid, hormonal and neural imbalances. Oxidative stresses are created leading to cell damage, the immune system is compromised, the brain function is altered which can cause depression, anxiety, irritability or desensitisation to pleasure and happiness.
One can write a book on all the effects of distress on the body. Besides the common headaches, fatigue, irritability, muscle pains, and gastrointestinal upsets let’s have a look at 7 common complications in men due to stress:
1. Heart disease
Due to the constant release of stress hormones such as adrenalin leading to an increase in heart rate, hypertension and electorloid imbalances such as a loss of K+ and NA+, the heart muscles takes severe strain and their energy reserves are depleted. This eventually leads to weakening of the muscle fibres and thickening of cardiac walls. Long standing this will lead to cardiac cell damage resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Stress as mentioned earlier already alters the mood of a person, which will lead to one desiring sexual intercourse less. Besides the obvious fact that one needs to have sex in order to conceive, the excessive hormonal changes and oxidative stress, leads to a change in the main male reproductive hormones as well as a decrease in sperm count, defective sperm structure and motility resulting in infertility.
3. Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation
Due to alteration in mental and psychological health one is unable to reach a state of arousal which will lead to a weak or short lasting erection. Furthermore as mentioned earlier the change in circulation and depletion of energy stores will decrease the blood flow to the penis which is required for a strong and healthy erection.
Stress leads to a quick change from parasympathetic (rest and digest) system to sympathetic (fight or flight) which is required for ejaculation, thus chronic stress leads to premature ejaculation due to the constant sympathetic nervous system activation.
4. Prostate cancer development
Although not one exact cause exists, there are many studies indicating the increase of prostate cancers in men under prolonged periods of stress. Many assumptions can be made such as an increase in inflammatory mediators leading to inflammation within the prostate, decrease in ejaculation, alterations in hormone levels and many more. All of which affects the health of the prostate gland.
5. Premature aging
Many of the stress responses require one’s body to adapt which require energy, mineral and vitamin sources. In distress one depletes these reservoirs at a fast pace, meaning the cellular function is decreased. On top off the physiological responses one tends to neglect a healthy diet and exercise leading to accelerated cellular destruction and inflammation all increasing the rate of aging, collagen and elastin damage
6. Muscle growth
As a result of the nutritional, neural, hormonal and electroloid imbalance the body will release more growth hormone (GH) and glucocorticoids in an attempt to restore these systems. Fat cells will respond to GH and glucocorticoids by releasing needed fatty acids as where muscle will respond by breaking down proteins and releasing amino acids into the bloodstream resulting in atrophy (muscle wasting).
Due to the tremendous energy requited to keep the body going the normal glucose balance is depleted fast. This will stimulate the liver to produce glucose from other sources. Long standing all these reserves are depleted and a further imbalance in hormone, especially insulin and glucogon, is created resulting in diabetes.
As you can see maybe it is really not the old lady, or the boss, or the car. Maybe it is you not shutting down your stress responses. By keeping a healthy diet and exercising and consulting your heath care provider these effects of stress can be kept at arm’s length. By looking after yourself you will create a healthier, happier live for yourself.
By: Dr. Chantell Groenewald (M.TechHom UJ)
Cortisol, the stress hormone that promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat.
Overgaard et al.(2004) conducted a study amongst a group of 6 704 nurses to test the theory that an increased workload, and by association higher levels of stress, contributed to an increased level of weight gain. Overgaard then went further by publishing a novel where he illustrated, by means of reference to the decreased level of cerebrospinal corticotrophin-releasing factor, his theory with regards to over eating due to chronic stress and consequent weight gain. He proposed that individuals who suffer from chronic stress may over eat to reduce the level of activity in the chronic stress response network. Cortisol is a major glucocorticoid hormone in humans. It is secreted from the adrenal glands, situated on top of the kidneys, and is regulated by the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in response to stress. It affects several systems in the body, including metabolic, central nervous system (CNS), immune system and iron transport.
Alterations in the ability to respond to stressful situations, i.e. excessive and or prolonged exposure to stressors, lead to the development of stress syndrome. Stress syndrome refers to the collection of events and subsequent symptoms that occur following prolonged periods of stress. The key components of the stress syndrome are the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
The HPA axis comprises of chemical reactions that occur during a stressful situation. The series of events are explained thus. The hypothalamus (situated in the region of the brain involved in coordination of neural and endocrine functions) is triggered by stressors and subsequently releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), as well as arginine vasopressin (AVP). These two hormones in turn stimulate the secretion of ACTH from the posterior pituitary gland. ACTH activates the noradrenic neurons of the locus caeruleas/norepinephrine (LC/NE) system of the brain.
The LC/NE system is directly responsible for the ‘flight and fight’ response (release of adrenalin as well as nor-adrenalin), while the ACTH is responsible for releasing cortisol from the adrenal cortex (centre of the adrenal gland situated on top of the kidneys).
The function of this HPS axis is primarily catabolic, i.e. to release all possible energy sources for the fight and flight response. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism i.e gluconeogenesis (process by which the level of glucose in the blood stream is increased), to supply the body with ‘fast’ energy during periods of stress. This leads to an increase in hepatic (liver)gluconeogenisis and plasma glucose concentration. Furthermore, lipolysis and protein degeneration offers even more potential energy. This response is necessary in an acute fight or flight reaction, however, when stressors become chronic, it may have adverse effects on these physiological functions. Responses that are not essential to the fight and flight response are curbed by elevated levels of cortisol, altering the immune system response and supressing the metabolism and the reproductive system. Long term exposure to elevated levels of cortisol translates into:
· Weight gain (specifically abdominal fat)
· Hormone imbalances
· Insulin resistance
· Increased appetite
· Supressed immune system and repetitive colds and flu
· Anxiety and depression
· Difficulty sleeping
· Problems with memory and concentration.
Elevated levels of cortisol promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat, that is, fat deposition around the waist, termed visceral adipose tissue. This type of fat (adipose) cell is distinctly different form the fat cells in the rest of our bodies (subcutaneous fat). Visceral adipose tissue functions as an endocrine gland, secreting hormones that have an effect on our insulin metabolism as well as good cholesterol (HDL) vs. bad cholesterol (LDL) levels.Also secreted by visceral adipose tissue, are a number of inflammatory markers (including IL-6), that further contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease. A combination of insulin resistance, high LDL and low HDL, together with increased abdominal width, is termed metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is directly related to cardiovascular health, and a predictor for cardiovascular accidents as well as stroke.
Metabolic syndrome, or syndrome X, encompasses the following features:
A diagnosis of the metabolic syndrome is made in the presence of three or more of the following features:
· a waist circumference larger than 102 cm in males and 88 cm in females;
· Triglyceride level greater than 150mg/dL;
· HDL less than 40mg/dL in men and less than 50mg/DL in females;
· blood pressure higher than 135/85 mmHg; and
· a fasting glucose higher than 110mg/dL.
All of the above factors are associated with chronic low-grade inflammation. As mentioned earlier, elevated levels of IL-6 inflammatory markers are illustrated in patients with increased abdominal width (<88cm in females), and this inflammation plays a crucial role in propagating diseases associated with being overweight, and is associated with hindering weight loss. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods have been shown to assist in reducing levels of IL-6, and associated markers of metabolic syndrome, thereby assisting weight loss.
Lifestyle changes that may assist in reducing stress:
· Relaxation breathing exercises
· Drinking herbal teas that assist in bringing about calm (egchamomile tea)
· Reducing caffeinated drinks
· Taking 20min ‘me time’ per day
· Take up a hobby so promote stress free activities
· Getting 7-8 hours’ sleep per night
· 20 minutes physical activity per day (keeping heart rate below 140 bpm)
· Diet alterations that assist in reducingdiet related inflammation is an important factor in maintaining a healthy weight.
Visit your health care practitioner annually for a thorough medical examination, to assess your general well-being.Prevention is better than cure.
Goedecke, J., Jenning, C., Lambert, E. (2005). Obesity in South Africa. Chronic disease of lifestyle in South Africa since 1995-2005, 5: 65-79.
Guilliams, T., Edwards, L. (2010). Chronic Stress and the HPA Axis: Clinical Assessment and Therapeutic Considerations. The Standard, 9(2): 1-12.
Esposito, K., Giugliano, D. (2004). The metabolic syndrome and inflammation: association or causation. Nutrition. Metabolism and Cardiovascular disease, 14:228-232.
Kyrou, I., Tsigos, C. (2009). Stress Hormones: Physiological Stress and Regulation of Metabolism. Current Opinion in Pharmacology, 9(6): 787-793.
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (2010). Overweight and Obesity-Risks. Available: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/risks.html (Accessed 15 March 2012).
Overgaard, D., Gamborg, M., Gyntelberg, F., Heitman, B. (2004). Psychological workload associated with weight gain between 1993 and 1999: analysis based on the Danish Cohort study. International Journal of Obesity, 28:1072-1081.