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Everyone thinks that the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed.

Friedrich-Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Stress and Inflammation

From The Inflammation Cure
by William Joel Meggs, MD, PhD

"The known risk factors for heart disease — including smoking, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and high Cholesterol — seem to account for only half the risk. That means that if everyone in the world had about the same physiological makeup, doctors would only be able to predict who would die of heart disease about half the time. About 40 percent of people who have heart disease have none of the typical risk factors at all. Some scientists believe that stress alone may cause enough physical changes to accounts for a good portion of that unexplained disease risk."

"Psychological stress can cause temporary increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interferon-gamma, and interleukin-6. Our stress-jangled nerves can produce potent inflammation related chemicals, including prostaglandins, neuropeptide Y, and corticotropin-releasing factor. Corticosteroids, such as cortisol, can be produced in large quantities. In fact, a high level of cortisol in the bloodstream is one of the main markers of stress. The stress reaction is thought to be present — and have health effects — throughout the body."

"Many scientists believe that the inflammatory changes brought about by long-term stress or repeated episodes of short-term stress can either begin the process of atherosclerosis or accelerate the process in someone already suffering from the disease. With stress, there are changes in blood pressure and blood flow and an increase in homocystine, which can cause the initial damage to the lining of the blood vessels. The stress-related hormones and cytokines allow monocytes to move to the artery wall and start the process—becoming foam cells, then fatty streaks in the arteries, and finally fragile plaque capable of bursting and a heart attack."

"Some of the most influential studies of stress were conducted by the researchers T. Holmes and R. Rahe. They created a scale called the Recent Life Change Questionnaire. It listed the most common sources of stress in life, with each item being assigned a particular weight that denoted its severity. Death of a spouse, loss of a job, and divorce were among the most severe stressors. Increases in life stress (as measured by higher scores on the questionnaire) were found to be related to an increase risk of heart attacks within six months. This suggests that the stress-related changes in body physiology continue to wreak havoc on the body long after the stress itself has disappeared."

"Sudden or acute stress can also have serious health effects. Studies have shown that death of a spouse increases the risk of death for the surviving spouse twofold for men and threefold for women within one month after the death. Tragedies — such as earthquakes, initiation of war, and terrorist activities — also have been shown to cause an increase in heart attacks and other health problems on the day the tragedy strikes and for the next few days after the tragedy."

"Chronic stress has been shown to cause flare-ups of many inflammation-related diseases, including gum disease, some autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, and asthma. Nasal allergy symptoms — the runny nose and stuffed -up sinuses caused by allergies to pollen, cat dander, dust mites, and other sources — can also be worsened by stress."

"Psychological stress can also affect blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes. The hormones produced and released in the body during stress often cause more glucose to flood the bloodstream. In the distant past, this would have been a good thing because it would mean that energy (in the form of glucose) would be available to the body so it could deal with the stressful situation — such as having to escape from a hungry tiger. However, in today's world, where the vast majority of stress is mental stress, this excess blood sugar serves no purpose and only harms the health of people with diabetes."

"One unique aspect of stress, depression, and anxiety is that these distressing emotions often lead to even more health-destructive behaviors. People who are depressed or stressed often eats more (and more sugary and fatty foods), smoke more and drink more alcohol. They are also more likely to take drugs, exercise less, sleep erratically, and ignore their social lives. So on top of all inflammation-related problems, distressed people chip away at the very foundation of their health. Plus, smoking, lack of exercise, and obesity all increase inflammation in the body, so all negative effects of emotional turmoil are increased exponentially."

"As we age, our ability to balance inflammation factors becomes more precarious as more pro-inflammatory chemicals and fewer anti-inflammatory chemicals are produced. It isn't surprising, therefore, that stress creates more health problems as we age. And this comes at a time when stress is more likely as health fails, financial issues become more of a strain, and our support systems weaken and collapse. It becomes critical, then, to take steps to gain control over stress."

Inflammation Fighters

"As with depression and anxiety, exercise is one of the single best ways people can deal with psychological stress. Exercise can reduce inflammation and seems to help rid the body of damaging body chemicals that are produced during stressful episodes (such as cortisol)."

Learning stress management skills. "In a study conducted at Duke University, people with diabetes who were given stress management classes had a significant reduction in blood glucose, with better control, than people who did not receive instruction."

"Learn to meditate. Transcendental Meditation the most studied, and studies have shown that three months of practicing Transcendental Meditation can reduce blood pressure in older people "

"Stress increases the risk for other unhealthy habits, such as eating poorly (or not at all), smoking more, drinking more alcohol, and skipping exercise. It is human nature to want to nurture ourselves during times of stress. After the World Trade Center tragedy of September 11, 2001, sales of comfort foods, such as high-fat brands of ice cream, increased markedly. But all these unhealthy behaviors only create additional inflammation, so all the health problems are compounded.

In stressful times, it is doubly important to maintain healthful habits. Although we would be better off eating right and exercising daily, the realities of daily life don't always fit with our plans. Do what you can. If time constraints mean no time for exercise, be more diligent about your diet. If you find yourself eating poorly in times of stress, walk an extra mile or two. Although we can't make up for these health slips, we can try to balance out the damage until we are less stressed and can get back to a normal, healthier routine."

"Get a massage. Researchers have discovered that massage not only relaxes the muscles, it increases blood circulation, reduces anxiety, and shows signs of being able to increase immune function by increasing the activity of natural killer cells in the body."



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