I recently had an emotional experience that most women can relate to, although not too happily during some times of the month. I cried, laughed, sighed, and got angry– in a matter of a two hour span. Thankfully, this wasn’t related to a hormonal shift, but rather my virtual transportation into Julie Robert’s world on the big screen. That’s right ladies; I saw the latest film, “Eat, Pray, Love”. (Ok, men, stay with me here, it will give you some insight into the inner workings of the women you love, including your sisters, nieces, and mom).
The movie portrayed a stereotypical relationship-addicted female who ends up finding her true self through a one year excursion to re-igniting pleasure in Italy, finding peace and faith in India, and balance in Bali. I know, many of you are thinking, “I’d be able to find pleasure, peace, faith and balance if I could get away for a year and travel the world too.” In fact, many of you may have heard me make reference to an all expense Sandals Resort get-away as a cure? I’m not joking when I say this. See, here’s the deal, you don’t have to travel the world; although it can helpful, in order to find what is already inside your body-the most powerful chemical producing factory that affects your health.
Our body releases an inordinate amount of chemical mediators to run our functions daily. In fact, it is estimated that number of one form of enzymes, protein kinases which are involved in biochemical pathways to signal changes in gene expression, protein activity, and various biological responses, is 518, about 1.7% of all known human genes. This is only one class of enzymes that make up your body! There are many others. Furthermore, your cells are exposed and interact with dozens of substances everyday including nutrients, sex and stress hormones, inflammatory mediators, and neurotransmitters.
How does this subject relate to Naturopathic and Functional Medicine, and what happened to Dr. Sarah’s long list of references (don’t worry, scroll down)? The more time I spend with people, and the more I study the effects of stress, the more I am convinced that stress is not just a contributor to many disease processes or symptomology, but also triggers and potentiates various issues.
According to last year’s gallup poll, the percentage of Americans experiencing happiness without significant worry declined slightly from an average of 48.2% in 2008 to 47.4% in 2009. Furthermore, the inverse increased, meaning more Americans are stressed and less happy. What does this entail?
We know that obesity is at an all-time high. Stress has been shown to contribute to insulin resistance, the precursor of diabetes and a major contributor to weight gain. Stress causes an increase in catecholamines, such as adrenaline, which prolong the effects of the stress hormone cortisol, down-regulating hormonal response and affect the emotional center of the brain, leading to mood disorders.
According to webmd, depression can contribute to various physical symptoms from low libido to insomnia. Furthermore, “Major depression may directly damage the part of the brain associated with learning and memory via inflammation or the release of stress hormones.” This can lead to the snippy, irritable, impatient, angry road rager who has a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Furthermore, we know that chronic stimulation of the stress response, down-regulates the immune system, making you more susceptible to infection, affects the digestive processes by affecting absorption and toxin removal, and can cause weight gain! (Remember the non-stressful eating paradigm of the French)?
So, back to my take on the movie….women and men are affected by stress and emotions differently, and for women who have more hormonal pathways at play, mood ups and down can be overwhelming at times of stress. Still, it’s vital for us to be aware of how stress affects us and use tools to modulate its effect.
I like to incorporate EFT, emotional freedom technique, deep breathing, and self-care practices in my protocols with my patients. However, the most important thing about stress to keep in mind, that this film summarized well, is that when our problem rests manly in our perception, and we lose our perspective, it’s important to come back to center and realize that ultimately, we hold the key to our own choices for health, including emotional, and spiritual.
Jones, D. Textbook of Functional Medicine. 2005. WA. IFM
Witters, D. http://www.gallup.com/poll/124904/americans-less-happy-stressed-2009.aspx. January 2010.
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Hudson, T & Bush, B. The Role of Cortisol in Sleep. NMJ June 2010.
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