The Physical – and most important – side of stress
Most of us think of Stress as a state of mind, but it is not just that – there is a very physical aspect to stress that has been overlooked for far too long. Most of us believe that our feelings of being ‘stressed out’ have to do with our jobs, our hectic schedules, and our relationships with other people. What we are ignoring is the chemical state our bodies are in when we feel stressed out.
The physical side of stress has to do with cortisol (a hormone produced by our adrenal glands) and inflammation. Cortisol is the hormone that orchestrates our fight-or-flight response, but it is also the chemical agent our bodies use to fight inflammation. Whenever there is inflammation in your body, your cortisol levels will rise and you will feel more stressed out. You may not think you have inflammation inside your body, but the statistics that link stress and inflammation to nearly every human ailment say you probably do. Unbalanced cortisol levels have been scientifically linked to heart disease, diabetes, immune disorders, other hormonal problems (e.g., thyroid disorders), insomnia, depression, weight gain, and anxiety.
The basic causes of inflammation
The cause of this inflammation can be that there are inflammatory chemicals circulating throughout your body, or specific to the lining of your intestinal tract. The most common cause of this is our diet. Unfortunately our average diet consists of 90% processed foods that are loaded with trans-fats and omega 6 oils. These substances cause the body to produce inflammatory chemicals which disrupt the body’s ability to function normally. These inflammatory chemicals can cause pain, trigger the production of cortisol, and even diminish the sensitivity of our cells to function normally. Thus, adult onset diabetes is the fastest growing disease in the Western World.
The human intestinal tract comprises 60% of the body’s immune system. It is where 99% of the neurotransmitters that direct our mental functions are made, and has the total area size of a basketball court. Every other system in the human body has a direct link to the intestinal tract.
The intestinal tract becomes inflamed from taking too many anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin and ibuprofen), antibiotics, caffeine, alcohol, soda, foods containing large amounts of high fructose corn syrup, and processed foods including a lot of grains. All grains, including oats and whole wheat bread, are loaded with inflammatory omega 6 oils.
As the intestinal tract becomes inflamed, the adrenal glands produce cortisol to reduce the inflammation, but the cortisol can never keep up with the dietary and drug abuse. Even worse, elevated levels of cortisol cause further damage to the intestinal tract and a vicious cycle is set in motion. Over time, the elevated levels of cortisol will make you feel stressed out and result in any number of disease processes.