The relationship between stress and illness is complex and varies based on an individual’s genetics, coping style, support and personality. Emotional stress has been linked to six of the leading causes of death in the United States including: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injury, respiratory disorder, liver cirrhosis and suicide.
As a doctor, I can tell you in my clinical experience, stress has a role in every illness that walks through my front door, in some cases it can exacerbate a pre-existing illness or in others it can be the root cause of the illness.
Regardless of your current health state, everyone can benefit from reducing his or her stress levels. I’m a mom, wife and someone who worries about my family, my patients and my business. Just like you, I get stress from a variety of places in my life. The one thing I did learn after getting extremely ill and was literally debilitated from stress, was that I had to change my ways.
(Note: You can learn more about my journey by watching this video: Kristy’s Story)
I take my role as a doctor very seriously. I don’t want to wait for my patients to fall down the same slippery slope that I did, and instead of waiting for them to slide off the cliff face and attempting a rescue, I focus my energy and efforts on bringing them back to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible and preventing further free fall.
Just like everyone experiences stress in varied ways, the specific treatment plan to help them get better also varies. Often treatments are a combination of dietary and lifestyle interventions, supplements and sometimes even medications, depending on an individual’s symptom profile. Equally as important to include in any treatment plan is reducing or eliminating stressors in our lives. If you know the stressor isn’t going to go away then working on ways to change your perspective on your stress becomes invaluable.
Over the next week I will share a list of the top 10 stressors that when modified can make a huge difference in patient’s lives.
Stress Number One: Remove Food intolerances.
The adage, you are what you eat really is true. Sometimes foods make us feel sluggish, tired, or fills our brain with a fog that makes productivity and decision-making difficult. Some foods may make us constipated while others may necessitate an urgent dash to the facilities.
Eliminating known triggers completely out of your diet can help your body to heal. When you have food your body doesn’t like it spends its time (and energy) constantly fighting against foods. This is time that can be better spent healing, digesting or simply resting.
I think of food intolerances impact on the body, is similar to when my kids all need to be in different directions at the same time. There isn’t enough of me to go around, so I do what I can and then I feel run down, fatigued and unable to process even the simplest request from anyone.
When your body is fighting constantly, your immune system is experiencing the same thing – it gets run down, you feel tired, and you may even notice that your digestion has slowed to almost a stop resulting in food in your stools, constipation, and/or indigestion, gas and bloating. Stuff simply stops moving and those simple requests aren’t heard in the body anymore.
Which foods to remove? The most common food triggers include: gluten, dairy, eggs, corn and peanuts. This topic deserves a whole blog on its own, so watch for new blogs sharing more about food and food intolerances.
Stress Number Two: Eat Enough Calories.
At least once a day, I hear about a new diet/eating plan that a patient is going on. They generally all share two common components – caloric restriction and an ‘ideal’ combination of foods one should eat.
While short periods of caloric restriction can kick start a weight loss journey, long term caloric restrictions often limit the amount of food the body has to produce energy, fight disease and repair. Not all diets are bad, in fact there is evidence that suggests that changing the foods that you eat (especially eliminating ones that we know aren’t good for anyone like processed foods and added sugar) can lead to the creation of health eating habits that can make a huge difference.
Not eating enough food, or getting enough good calories for the body, places stress on the body. If your body needs x number of calories to function each day – get out of bed, shower, get to work, do your work, make dinner, sleep, etc. and you are only getting 50% of those calories something has to give. Short term, your body can dip into stored caloric reserves, but once it reaches a tipping point, it is going to start shutting down function in areas that it can no longer support. Hence, why a few weeks (or days) into a restricted eating plan you get very tired, cranky and start to have intense cravings. These cravings are your signs your body is crying out for more food.
Not eating enough can have an impact on the body as it struggles for food. How much food do you need? You can figure out your approximate caloric intake by taking a combination of height, weight, gender and age into a caloric calculator to determine your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). This gives you an approximate number of calories you need without activity to meet your daily need. Click here to try out one online.
Watch for our next blog that features more of the top 10 stresses on our body that we can modify.
Note: This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed health care worker.
Salleh, M. R. (2008). Life Event, Stress and Illness. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, 15(4), 9–18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/
Zar, S., Benson, M. J., & Kumar, D. (2005). Food-specific serum IgG4 and IgE titers to common food antigens in irritable bowel syndrome. The American journal of gastroenterology, 100(7), 1550-1557.