STRESS (see also Adrenal Exhaustion, Depression and Immune Function ) This information is extracted from my book 500 of the Most Important Health Tips You’ll Ever Need. Cico Books. ©  Copyright Hazel Courteney 2012. All Rights reserved.

More than 7 million working days are lost in the UK every year through stress related conditions and it is a major contributing factor for a host of health problems. Not all stress is bad – it can help to keep you sharp and alert, but in the longer term how your body copes, depends on your reaction to the stress.

Aeons ago when our ancestors were faced with life-and-death situations, the hormones adrenaline and cortisol were released from the endocrine system – made up by the pancreas, thyroid and pituitary, plus the adrenal glands which are situated just above the kidneys – which would have made the heart pump faster, giving an instant energy boost to the body and brain. Muscles tensed, cholesterol production increased and enzymes in the blood caused the blood to thicken, so that if our ancestor was injured, then their blood clotted more easily. Blood vessels would constrict; endorphins, the body’s own painkillers, would be released; and oxygen consumption increased. Known as ‘fight or flight’, these responses saved many lives back when our ancestors fought off marauding animals and invaders.

Today our automatic physical responses to stress remain the same, but unfortunately these days they tend to trigger heart attacks, strokes, cancers, stomach ulcers and even Alzheimer’s. Why? Because if we don’t disperse this constant stream of stress hormone production through regular exercise and relaxation, then, in the longer term, excess fight or flight hormones become highly toxic to every major organ and sets up inflammatory responses in the body. It’s like putting rocket fuel in a scooter, you eventually burn out the engine.

For the most part these days instead of going for a walk, breathing deeply and calming down – we tend to head for the coffee/cola machine or eat another refined sugary ‘treat’ to keep us going, which triggers even more adrenaline to be released, thus exacerbating the situation. Make no mistake, prolonged chronic – relentless stress can kill you.

The first signs of stress usually show up in behavioural changes, such as feeling constantly irritable, a sense-of-humour failure, suppressed anger, you try to do more than one job at once and you begin to feel that you cannot cope, or you may break down in tears, and /or you are tired yet ‘wired.’

Then come the physical symptoms, palpitations and headaches, lack of appetite/or cravings for refined sugary starchy foods, insomnia, poor digestion, muscle cramps, frequent urination, constipation and/or diarrhoea, a dry mouth, constant thirst, feeling clammy or cold or too hot.

Also, your brain doesn’t work properly and you forget simple words or names. That’s because stress creates more free radicals and research at Stanford University has shown that raised cortisol levels damage the connections between brain cells affecting brain functions. Luckily, if you stop the stress, the connections can grow back. Long-term stress also makes the body far more acid and vital minerals are then leached from the bones and muscles to re-alkalise the body (see Acid–Alkaline Balance). Long term stress and the over acidity it triggers can be an important factor in Leaky Gut and all its consequences such as; Auto Immune Conditions, skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and eventually Osteoporosis.

If any or all of these symptoms sound familiar, you need to stop and rest, because the next stage could be a total burn out, possible mental health problems, a heart attack or a stroke. Whether your stress comes from a bad relationship, work, children, illness, lack of money – whatever it is, if possible make a space and time between what is stressing you and your reactions to it. Talk to someone and tell them how you are feeling; ask your doctor to send you for counselling. If more people could do this, thousands of lives could be saved.

Additionally, women who have high stress jobs have been found in research from Glostrup University Hospital in Denmark to be more than twice as likely to develop heart disease in later life – you have been warned.

Research has also demonstrated that if you think negatively, tend to be angry a lot of the time, and are under long-term negative stress, especially after 50, then you are more likely to suffer heart and arterial disease. This is because so many of us hold in emotions that we should ‘get off our chest.’ Remember, the more indirect you are – the more stressed you become. Emotions held in for long periods will eventually cause a fuse to blow.

There are also those infuriating (but wise) souls who are always positive, they love stress and positively thrive on it. However, we are all unique and you need to learn your limits and listen to your body. There are many things you can do to reduce the negative effects of stress on your body, which can help you to stay healthier.

Foods to Avoid

· Never underestimate just how much your diet can affect your stress levels and your ability to cope with it. Avoid any foods and drinks containing alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, which are all stimulants that cause the adrenal glands to over work .

· Reduce refined (white) and processed foods, they’re high in additives/preservatives and sugar, and usually low in nutrients. The more refined and processed food you eat, the more stress you place on your liver, digestive system and ultimately your adrenal glands.

· Cut down on heavy meals, especially red meat which is hard to digest, and when you are stressed digestion is one of the first things to be affected.

· Don’t eat in a rush.

Friendly Foods

· When you are stressed – it’s vital to eat small, balanced meals regularly – which help control your blood sugar and thus support your adrenal glands.

· Stress breaks down protein in the body very quickly, this is why most people who are very stressed tend to lose weight. Make sure that you eat around 4–6oz (100–175g) of quality protein daily – preferably at breakfast and lunch, which helps to balance blood sugar levels. Eggs, fish, lean organic meats, tofu, cheese, amaranth, quinoa, peas, lentils, beans and pulses.

· Whey is an easily absorbed form of protein. If you don’t have a problem with cow’s milk, then try Solgar’s Whey to Go, otherwise use organic source hemp seed, pea, rice or soya protein powders.

· Eat oily fish and unrefined sunflower, pumpkin and hemp seeds – all rich in essential fats that reduce inflammation triggered by stress hormones

· Liquorice tea helps to support adrenal function and echinacea tea will help to support your immune system, which is greatly affected by stress. Valerian and camomile teas with a little honey help to calm you down.

· Green tea contains L-theanine – an amino acid that encourages production of Alpha waves, the brainwaves you produce during relaxation. Use a de-caffinated green tea.

· Make sure you eat breakfast – a low-sugar muesli, eggs, protein powder or wholemeal toast would be fine. Try oats, especially porridge made with rice milk, as oats are a rich source of B-vitamins, which help you to stay calm.

· Whole-wheat pasta, noodles and breads, couscous, quinoa, amaranth or oat crackers, lentils, brown rice and barley are all calming foods.

· Avocados, turkey, cottage cheese, bananas, potatoes, ginger, yoghurt, leafy green vegetables, lettuce and low-fat milks will also help to de-stress you.

· Generally increase your intake of easy-to-digest foods, such as homemade vegetable soups, mashed sweet potatoes, poached fish, stewed fruits and so on, which helps take some of the burden off your digestive system.

Useful Remedies

· If the stress has been induced by shock or trauma, use homeopathic Aconite 30c – and take it every hour in-between meals for a few days. Give the shocked person some sweet tea, as at times of shock the brain uses more glucose.

· Take a high-strength multi-nutrient formula containing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fats- as when under stress your body needs more nutrients. Ask at your local health store.

· If you are not taking a high-strength multi-vitamin/mineral, then begin taking at least a high strength B-complex daily with breakfast to support your nerves. Even better use liquid vitamin B which is more easily absorbed. Made by BioCare

· Urinary excretion of vitamin C increases with stress, so take 1–2 grams of vitamin C in divided doses with meals, plus 400iu of natural-source, full-spectrum vitamin E to thin your blood naturally, as stress also thickens the blood. NB. Avoid the Vitamin E if you are on blood thinning drugs such as Warfarin.

· BioCare’s AD206 contains vitamins C and B5, and Siberian ginseng and other nutrients involved in the support of the adrenals in one convenient capsule to be taken 3 times per day. BC

· You need additional calming minerals, so take 400mg of calcium and 600mg of magnesium, which are known as nature’s tranquillisers in divided doses, with the last dose at bedtime (they should be in any good multi).

· Take a high-strength fish oil (1 gram) containing EPA and DHA essential fats that thin the blood naturally and help keep blood pressure down.

· To calm anxiety try a herbal formula called Advanced Stress Formula, containing the herbs ashwagandha, gotu kola, liquorice and Siberian ginseng. NC; or log on to www.holoshealth.com

· L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea, which helps increase Alpha wave production, the brain waves you produce when you are calm, which help you to feel more relaxed without inducing drowsiness. These are a/v in capsules. Take as needed. Solgar. NC.

· Holy Basil and ancient Indian plant/herb has proven abilities to reduce stress. For details log onto www.hadleywoodhealthcare.co.uk