The Stress Triad and Reducing Stress
Flight or Fight
In today’s world, we face flight or fight responses everyday. Normal stressors include working late, working too much, responding to your family’s needs, being angry with our neighbor or loved one, paying the bills, keeping the house clean – the list goes on.
All of this stress adds up to worry, anger, frustration, and sleepless nights, and if we keep ourselves in this pattern, we will burn out. This “burn out” is part of a chemical change that happens when our bodies are put under prolonged periods of stress. Most turn to the internet or local health foods store to find something that helps them relax. When that doesn’t work, they turn to their doctor who prescribes a sleeping aid and anti-anxiety or anti-depressant to see if that will help the symptoms. However, that solution is not repairing or addressing the issues from within. What is really happening?
Inside the body there is what’s known as the excitatory state and the calm state. In the calm state, we see everything as going well. We are not in a rush to go anywhere and we can sit down and relax for periods of time. In this state, we are digesting food like we should; the body is removing waste like it should; and we are getting the sleep that we need.
However, most everyone is in the excitatory state. In this state, our minds and bodies do not shut off. The excitatory state was meant for short bursts of trouble or duress, not for long term stress. During the excitatory phase our adrenals are pumping out stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine; our digestive system shuts down; waste is not eliminated; our minds start racing; panic sets in and we are or feel like we should be on the run.
The Stress Triad refers to the three organs or hormones that affect our body when we are stressed. The triad includes our thyroid, adrenals, and hormones (male and female).
The thyroid is located at the base of the throat. A normally functioning thyroid uses iodine and tyrosine (an amino acid) to make T3 and T4, the two elements that control metabolism in every cell of the body. Thyroid function goes down when we are in a stressed state because there isn’t enough active ingredient (T3 and T4) to be made for all of the cells in the body. Side effects of this include fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability, muscle aches and weakness, foggy brain, and constipation, to name a few.
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. The cortex produces cortisol and a precursor to male and female hormones. The medulla produces epinephrine and norepinephrine – the hormones that help your body deal with stress. Despite negative publicity, cortisol is not a bad hormone. However, too much cortisol can have a negative impact on stress. If your body doesn’t rest and is constantly making cortisol and the other adrenal hormones, keeping up with the demand will wear our adrenal glands out and lead to adrenal fatigue. Some of the symptoms of the early stages of adrenal fatigue include fatigue, anxiety, depression, foggy brain, cravings for salt or sweet foods, poor digestion, and weak immune system. In late stages, the symptoms will be difficulty getting out of bed, feeling burnt out, along with other health issues that may develop.
Our hormones are the last members of The Stress Triad. Testosterone, Progesterone, and Estrogens are all used not only for male and female characteristics, but are an essential part of daily functioning.
Testosterone helps to build muscle mass, build and strengthen bone, helps to regulate energy in the body, and plays a role in mental health.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone include:
- Fatigue or decreased energy
- Reduced sex drive
- Sexual dysfunction
- Depressed mood
- Increased body fat
- Reduced muscle mass and strength
- Decreased bone strength
Progesterone helps with bone building, regulating blood sugars, promotes healthy thyroid activity, and helps with energy levels.
Symptoms of Low Progesterone include:
- sugar cravings
- ovarian cysts
- low basal body temperatures
- irregular periods
- allergy symptoms
- spotting in the days before your period begins
- recurrent early miscarriage
- blood clots during menstruation
- cold hands and feet
- brittle nails
- cracked heels
- decreased sex drive
- menstrual cramps
- depression or anxiety
- fibrocystic breasts
- gallbladder issues
- Foggy thinking
- headaches and migraines
- vaginal dryness
- slow metabolism
- mood swings
- weight gain, especially around the middle
Estrogen helps slow down bone loss, relieves hot flashes and increases good cholesterol. It also plays a part in mental health, and healthy skin.
Symptoms of Low Estrogen include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of libido
- Mood swings
- Dry achy joints
- Foggy Brain
Now that we know what is happening in our bodies when we are stressed, what can we do to prevent stress and the associated sickness and symptoms that develop with prolonged periods of stress?
There are many herbs, vitamins, and/or amino acids that can be used to help decrease the stress response. Some of these include:
L-tryptophan is an amino acid. It functions as a precursor to serotonin, melatonin, and helps with proper brain function. Therapeutically it has been used for insomnia, depression, and premenstrual syndrome.
L-tyrosine, an amino acid, is involved with the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain. It is a precursor to dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and thyroid hormones. Therapeutically it has been used for depression, stress conditions, help to improve athletic performance.
Theanine, an amino acid, has been a byproduct of glutamic acid. It has been known to relax the brain without any drowsiness. Therapeutically it has been used for increasing memory and learning, insomnia, depression, for certain cancers, it can enhance the effect of chemo treatments, protects the brain from stresses, and it helps regulate sleep.
Methionine, an amino acid, is converted to S-adenosyl methionine. It is used in the breakdown of estrogen. It degrades histamine and builds up epinephrine, helping with antioxidant function. Therapeutically it helps with depression, osteoarthritis, and pain control.
Magnesium regulates calcium absorption and is involved with the structural part of bones and teeth. It acts as a smooth muscle relaxant. Therapeutically magnesium has been used for sugar cravings, muscle cramps, fatigue, and pain.
Calcium is used to help build bones and teeth. It is also used for muscle contraction. Therapeutically it has been used for insomnia, depression, anxiety, leg cramps and osteoporosis.
Thamine B1 is needed for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fate and protein. Therapeutically it has been used for depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
Riboflavin B2 is needed for the production of thyroid enzyme regulation and cortocosteroids. Therapeutically it has been used for depression.
Niacin B3 is used for the synthesis of both fatty acids and steroids. Therapeutically it has been used for anxiety, insomnia, dysmenorrhea, and for high cholesterol.
Pantothenic Acid B5 is used for certain steroid production in the adrenal glands. Therapeutically it has been used for stress, allergies, and osteoporosis.
Pyridoxine B6 is used in the development of myelin sheath and converting food into energy. Therapeutically it has been used for PMS, CTS, depression, and acne.
Cobalamin B12 is used to convert food into energy, it is protective for the nerve endings. Therapeutically it has been used for allergies, acne, fatigue, insomnia, and depression.
Folic Acid is used in the formation of red and while blood cells and for build antioxidants. Therapeutically it has been used for neural tube defect, depression, and RLS.
Vitamin C is a great antioxidant. It also helps with increasing the immune system. Therapeutically it has been used for energy, protective for the adrenal glands, it helps with wound healing.
Omega 3 is great for inflammation and for brain function. Therapeutically it has been used to reduce pain and for depression.
Siberian ginseng helps to support the body through stressful situations and is good for the adrenal system. It increases endurance and concentration too.
Gotu Kola is an anti-inflammatory and is good for the adrenal system. It decreases adrenal enlargement and treats stress induced ulcers.
Licorice helps with the immune system, protects the adrenals, is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.
Oats are used to help the nervous system from stress.
Ginkgo helps to support the adrenals and endocrine organs.
Catnip is great for nervous headaches and for insomnia. It is a bit of a sedative.
Lavender is used for insomnia and nervous excitement.
Skullcap is used for insomnia, restless sleep, is great for the nervous system.
Lemon balm is used for indigestion and stress due to stress.
Chamomile helps people sleep and helps to restore the nervous system.
Finding What Works for You
Because there are so many different single or combination formulas of homeopathic remedies that help with stress, it is recommended that you visit with a qualified, homeopathic physician to find the one that is right for you.