By Sarah A LoBisco, ND
If inflammation is the star to aim for in today’s top Natural and Integrative Practitioners treatment plans, then stress plays the leading supporting role. With the effects of Irene tapering off, and rain continuing to taper in, we are in the midst of experiencing a not so subtle reminder that some factors in life just can’t be controlled, explained, or ignored. Therefore, our power in this external world lies in our ability to accept what can’t be changed and to respond, rather than react, to life’s crisis and stressors!
In my holiday blog last year, I discussed how different people are genetically and prenatally programmed to react and respond to stress differently. This means that Uncle Mickey could be a crazy, over-reactive mess in response to a dirty dish left in the sink; whereas, his sister Mini, could be a calm pack rat. Mickey may have been the unfortunate recipient of mom’s prenatal high-hitting-catecholamine chemicals. This would create a down regulation of Mickey’s gastrointestinal function, up regulation of his nervous system’s responsiveness, and a variety of genetic detoxifying deficiencies. This would wire him to a reactive, rather than a responsive temperament in life. (Poor Mickey!)
In my previous articles, I discussed the biochemistry of a leaky gut leading to a reactive brain. Specifically, the biochemistry looks like this, according to, Aristo Vojdani, Ph.D., M.Sc., M.T, famous immunology researcher:
Mucosal immune abnormalities–>
Imbalanced gut flora (big players in your immune system) –>
Induction of intestinal barrier dysfunction–>
Release of inflammatory mediators into circulation –>
Enhanced systemic inflammation and damage to tissues –>
Open Blood Brain Barrier resulting in neuroinflammation–>
Causing neuro invasion & neurodegeneration
Translation: mucosal immune abnormalities=compromised gut health lining. This is why first line therapy to help calm a stressed out brain should come from supporting a fried out gut. After all, this is where our immune response and neurotransmitters are formed. Dr. Hyman explains how:
Symptoms throughout the Body are resolved by Treating the Gut
Many today do have digestive problems including reflux or heartburn, irritable bowel, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and colitis. In fact, belly problems account for over 200 million doctor’s visits and billions in health care costs annually. But gut problems cause disease far beyond the gut. In medical school I learned that patients with colitis could also have inflamed joints and eyes, and that patients with liver failure could be cured of delirium by taking antibiotics that killed the toxin-producing bacteria in their gut. Could it be that when things are not quite right down below it affects the health of our entire body and many diseases we haven’t linked before to imbalances in the digestive system?
Another recent study found that the bacterial fingerprint of gut flora of autistic children differs dramatically from healthy children.(iii) Simply by looking at the byproducts of their intestinal bacteria (which are excreted in the urine—a test I do regularly in my practice called organic acids testing), researchers could distinguish between autistic and normal children.
Think about this: Problems with gut flora are linked to autism. Can bacteria in the gut actually affect the brain? They can. Toxins, metabolic by-products, and inflammatory molecules produced by these unfriendly bacteria can all adversely impact the brain. I explore the links between gut function and brain function in much greater detail in my book, The UltraMind Solution.
Autoimmune diseases are also linked to changes in gut flora. A recent study showed that children who use antibiotics for acne may alter normal flora, and this, in turn, can trigger changes that lead to autoimmune disease such as inflammatory bowel disease or colitis.(iv)
The connections between gut flora and system-wide health don’t stop there. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that you could cure or prevent delirium and brain fog in patients with liver failure by giving them an antibiotic called Xifaxan to clear out bugs that produce toxins their poor livers couldn’t detoxify.(v) Toxins from bacteria were making them insane and foggy. Remove the bacteria that produce the toxins, and their symptoms clear up practically overnight.
So, treat the gut, treat the body. What about food and mood? One study showed how nutrition provides resilience in the event of chronic stressors:
Stress and Nutrition:
The results suggest that micronutrients may increase resilience to ongoing stress and anxiety associated with a highly stressful event in individuals with ADHD and are consistent with controlled studies showing benefit of micronutrients for mental health.
We also know that when one is stressed, it’s harder to make wise choices in food. That’s why creating healthy habits can save us in times when we need nutrition’s support the most, but crave it the least. Dr. Amen discussed the ramifications of stress and food choices:
Stress, Mood, & Food.
Scientists know that fasting causes ghrelin to be released from the gastrointestinal tract, and that the hormone then plays a role in sending hunger signals to the brain. Research has previously shown that chronic stress also causes elevated ghrelin levels.
In mice, stress-induced rises in ghrelin lead to overeating and increased body weight, showing a relationship between weight related issues and chronic stress and depression.
For this study, researchers developed a mouse model to determine which hormones and what parts of the brain may play a role in controlling eating behaviors that occur when stressed, and particularly the hormones that lead to the indulgence of comfort foods.
The mice subjected to stress gravitated toward a chamber where they had been trained to find pleasurable, fatty food — the mouse equivalent of “comfort food.” However, mice who were genetically engineered not to respond to stress-induced increases in ghrelin, showed no preference toward the fatty food chamber. Even when exposed to the fatty food, they did not eat as much as the other mice.
The study also showed that these effects of ghrelin are due to direct interaction with dopaminergic neurons in the brain’s ventral tegmental area, which is known to be associated with pleasure and reward behaviors.
Another tip for managing stress- movement!
-Various studies have shown the benefits of exercise and its modulating stress effects on pain, mood, and weight.
-Here are some excerpts:
Yoga Boosts Stress-Busting Hormone, Reduces Pain, Study Finds (Science Daily)
A new study by York University researchers finds that practicing yoga reduces the physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain in women with fibromyalgia. The study is the first to look at the effects of yoga on cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia. The condition, which predominantly affects women, is characterized by chronic pain and fatigue; common symptoms include muscle stiffness, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal discomfort, anxiety and depression
This next one is mega cool—it explains that exercise actually modulates our hunger and appetite, affecting food choices and weight, which is harder to control with stress!!
Exercise and Gut Hormones/Weight
ScienceDaily (July 12, 2011) — Research to be presented at the upcoming annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), the foremost society for research into all aspects of eating and drinking behavior, finds that alterations of meal-related gut hormone signals may contribute to the overall effects of exercise to help manage body weight.
Dr. Nu-Chu Liang reports, “Our new results indicate that the beneficial effects of exercise to control body weight might occur by altering the way in which meals release gut hormones that regulate food intake, and also by changing the sensitivity of individuals to these gut hormone signals. Furthermore, these findings suggest that both body and brain mechanisms are involved in the effects of exercise to modulate food intake.”
Here’s nutrigenomic, naturalific (that’s not a world, but I’m psyched about it!), NATURE VS. NURTURE excerpt—read on…..
Remember that it is NOT your genes that dictate your health and weight but rather the expression of your genes. You have the ability to easily turn genes on and off with your lifestyle and emotional state.
One such example has to do with genetic markers that may make you more prone to obesity. You can very effectively reduce the effects of these genes by increasing your physical activity.
According to researchers from Great Britain’s Medical Research Council in Cambridge, regular exercise reduces the genetic tendency toward obesity by 40 percent!
A separate study among Amish people also found those who had the FTO gene but were very physically active weighed about the same as others who did not carry the gene.
To illustrate this point you can look at my family where one of my younger sisters weighs more than 100 pounds more than I do, but she is the only one of my four siblings who has chosen not to exercise. My other siblings have exercised for decades, like me, and are all normal body weight.
Speaking of Nature, use it to relieve stress. Two studies show how:
Nature and Mood
Finnish researchers reported last year that most of 1,273 study participants beleived that time spent in their favorite outdoor areas and woodlands were more relaxing and restorative than time spent in their favorite built-up urban settings or city parks (Korpela KM et al. 2010).
Encouragingly, those who had the most stress reported the greatest relief from time in relatively untamed nature. However, those who needed nature the most were the least likely to seek it out: “the more worries about money and work a person had, the more stressed a person had felt during the last year, the less energetic s/he had felt, the lower was the number of visits to the favorite place (during the last 6 months) and the lower the typical level of restorative experiences.”
The lesson, it seems, is that if you are feeling stressed, depressed, or frazzled, it’s harder but even more important to get yourself into the woods. In a simultaneous Danish study, those “… living more than 1 km [about two-thirds of a mile] away from the nearest green space report poorer health and health-related quality of life … than respondents living closer.” (Stigsdotter UK et al. 2010)
Find out who your friends are!
To reduce stress on the job, affecting not just your mood, but your life, stick with good support!
Work & Mood
Objectives: This study investigated the effects of the Job-Demand-Control-Support (JDC-S) model’s components, workload, control, peer and supervisor social support, on the risk of all-cause mortality. Also examined was the expectation that the above work-based components interact in predicting all-cause mortality. The study’s hypotheses were tested after controlling for physiological variables and health behaviors known to be risk factors for mortality. Main Outcome Measure: The design used was prospective. Baseline data were obtained from healthy employees (N = 820) who underwent periodic health examinations in 1988. Follow-up data on all-cause mortality were obtained from the participants’ computerized medical file, kept by their HMO, in 2008. The baseline data covered socioeconomic, behavioral, and biological risk factors in addition to the components of the JDC-S model. During the period of follow-up, 53 deaths were recorded. Data were analyzed using Cox regressions. Results: Only one main effect was found: the risk of mortality was significantly lower for those reporting high levels of peer social support. The study found two significant interactions. Higher levels of control reduced the risk of mortality for the men and increased it for the women. The main effect of peer social support on mortality risk was significantly higher for those whose baseline age ranged from 38 to 43 but not for the older than 43 or the younger than 38 participants. Conclusion: Peer social support is a protective factor, reducing the risk of mortality, while perceived control reduces the risk of mortality among men but increases it among women.
MIND-BODY Thoughts on Stress:
The Law of Least Effort with Yoga (Chopra Newsletter)
In yoga, the greatest benefits come from relaxing into a pose rather than forcing your body into it. When moving into a flexibility pose, once you find the point of resistance, rather than muscling your way through this point, breathe. Surrender into the resistance. You will find yourself extending your reach and enhancing your flexibility. Stay present with your full awareness in your body as you engage an attitude of surrender. As in life, patience is a virtue. The more you are able to embrace, rather than fight your limitations and vulnerabilities, the less limits they hold and the more balance and energy you experience
Dr. Hyman….sum it up……
The Beauty and Honor of the Physical Body (Dr. Hyman)
Unfortunately, many suffer the same fate I did. We have all been given a beautiful creation—our physical body. But none of us were born with an operating manual or instruction book. How do we make it feel good, take care of it, make it run like it was designed—balanced and in perfect rhythm? Most of us don’t learn how to manage our energy and bodies well. We use drugs—sugar, caffeine, alcohol, adrenalin or worse to manage our energy and moods. Most of us don’t connect our behaviors and choices with how we feel every day. We don’t connect what we eat, how much we rest and sleep, how much we exercise, how much time we make for connecting with friends and community, or the kinds of media and news we watch with how we feel every day.
Feeling fully energized and vitally health comes down to a very simple principle: take out the bad stuff and put in the good stuff. Health results from what you get too little of (good food, nutrients, light, air, water, rest, sleep, rhythm, exercise, community, love, meaning and purpose) or too much of (poor quality food, stress, toxins, allergens or microbes). This affects how our bodies, minds, and souls function. For each of us the ideal mix is a little different, and what is needed to thrive is unique to each individual. It takes a little experimentation, observation and fine-tuning to achieve, but there is nothing better than being the best you in each moment. It is what makes life sweet.
Now update yourself on the latest news and comment on my Saratoga.com blog!
Dr. Hyman. 5 Steps to Kill Hidden Bad Bugs in Your Gut that Make You Sick. Accessed on August 6, 2011: http://drhyman.com/5-steps-to-kill-hidden-bad-bugs-in-your-gut-that-make-you-sick-2356/?utm_source=Publicaster&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=drhyman%20newsletter%20issue%20#27&utm_term=Read+more
Amen, D. Ghrelin: Why We Choose Comfort Foods When Stressed. Dr. Amen’s Blog. http://126.96.36.199/blog/5205/ghrelin-why-we-choose-comfort-foods-when-stressed/ Accessed August 9, 2011.
Rucklidge J, Johnstone J, Harrison R, Boggis A. Micronutrients reduce stress and anxiety following a 7.1 earthquake in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jul 28. [Epub ahead of print]. Accessed August 16, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802745
Effects of Exercise On Meal-Related Gut Hormone Signals. Science Daily. July 12, 2011. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110712094048.htm
York University (2011, July 27). Yoga boosts stress-busting hormone, reduces pain, study finds. ScienceDaily. Accessed August 2, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com
Mercola, J. Exercise Can Override Fat Genes. Mercola.com. September 16, 2010. http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2010/09/16/exercise-can-override-fat-genes.aspx
Wetherby, C. Get Out! Nature Boosts Brains and Spirit. Vital Choice Newsletter. August 5, 2011. Accessed at:
Felsten G. Where to take a study break on the college campus: An attention restoration theory perspective. Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 29, Issue 1, March 2009, Pages 160-167. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2008.11.006. Accessed at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6WJ8-4V42JCB-1/2/335e8930b7333f984a660cdd07941133
Shirom, Arie; Toker, Sharon; Alkaly, Yasmin; Jacobson, Orit; Balicer, Ran. Work-based predictors of mortality: A 20-year follow-up of healthy employees. Health Psychology, Vol 30(3), May 2011, 268-275. doi: 10.1037/a0023138
Chopra Newsletter. Let Go of Stress and Struggle: Embrace the Law of Least Effort. Chopra August 2011 Newsletter. Accessed August 12, 2011. http://www.chopra.com/files/newsletter/Aug11/Newsletter-Aug11-yoga.html
Hyman, M. Six Ways I Changed My Life & How You Can Change Yours. Drhyman. Com. Accessed August 13, 2011. http://drhyman.com/six-ways-i-changed-my-life-and-how-you-can-change-yours-6242/?utm_source=Publicaster&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=drhyman%20newsletter%20issue%20#28&utm_term=Get+the+story