The Health Effects of Stress

August 25, 2012

We all feel it.  We try to combat it.  We wish we could avoid it.  But, stress is ever present in most of our lives.  And while we know it is affecting us negatively, we may not realize just how profound those effects can be.  

Chronic stress has been associated with negative outcomes in cancer, higher incidences of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and type II diabetes, as well as common disorders such as insomnia, immune dysfunction and inflammatory disease.  Stress does this through a number of hormone cascades that occur in the brain and affect the adrenal glands which then produce various hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Chronic stress also inhibits the release of hormones such as dopamine, which is calming.

Ok. So, short of winning the lottery and buying a small island in the South Pacific, how are we to deal with all of this stress???


Start with the basics to get back to your own homeostasis:

  • Healthy habits – eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies and lean protein, decreasing caffeine and other stimulants, eliminating tobacco 
  • Ritual – making time for things that are important to you and give you a sense of control and calm
  • Rhythm – regaining your circadian cycles by going to sleep at the same time each night, waking at the same time each morning, and eating meals regularly
  • Positive affect – encouraging your creativity, remaining optimistic in difficult situations
  • Congruent behavior – do what you say you will do and “walk your talk”


What else could you do?

Meditation: multiple studies have indicated that meditation reduces risk factors and can slow or reverse the progression of changes underlying cardiovascular disease.

Exercise: Exercise oxygenates our tissues and increases our energy and wellbeing.  It increases the secretion of those “feel good” endorphins.


  • L-theanine (a component of green tea that increases the output of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter), increases dopamine and serotonin production resulting in reduced blood pressure and anxiety (causing a relaxed yet alert state).  Try a dose of 100 mg two to three times per day. (L-theanine Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2005 Jun;10(2):136-8.)
  • Probiotics (beneficial bacteria for the intestinal tract) have numerous positive effects for many systems of the body. In this context, they have been shown to significantly reduce distress; specifically reducing depression, irritability, anxiety, and increasing coping ability in response to stress. (Messaoudi M, et al. Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. Br J Nutr. 2011;105(5):755-64.)
  • Curcumin (the active component of Turmeric) reduces cortisol levels in chronically stressed animals and humans.  This has been shown in multiple studies.  It also happens to be an excellent anti-inflammatory as well as protective of the liver in it’s detoxification function.  Try a dose of 1/2 Tbsp. twice daily of the raw herb, or 750 mg twice daily of the standardized, encapsulated form.  (Xu Y, et al. Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB. Brain Res. 2006;1122 (1):56-64. Epub 2006 Oct 3. and Enyeart JA et al. Curcumin inhibits ACTH- and angiotensin II-stimulated cortisol secretion and Ca(v)3.2 current. J Nat Prod. 2009;72(8):1533-7.)
  • Lavender essential oil has a significant beneficial influence on quality and duration of sleep and improved general mental and physical health without causing any unwanted sedative or other drug specific effects. Put a sachet of lavender in your pillow at night, or spritz your bedroom with a mix of lavender oil in water.  Rub a small amount on your wrist or temples during the day.

If you have further questions or concerns about your own level of stress and how to work to reduce it in your life, just call us.  We at Naturopathic Family Medicine are happy to help.  

Just as soon as we win the lottery…

-Tamara Cullen, ND



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