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The Health and Wellness Letter - July 2007

July 2007, Vol. 1 No. 1

In This Issue

Why Stress Is The Number One Cause of Disease
Health Stories in the News
 
Why Stress Is The Number One Cause of Disease
According to such government health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention (CDC), stress is the primary cause of 85 percent of all illnesses in the United States. Researchers in the field of mind/body medicine, also known as psychoneuroimmunology or PNI, have stated that an even higher percentage of all illness are primarily caused by stress - as much as 95 percent.
However, despite the compelling scientific evidence linking stress to illness, little attention to managing stress is usually given by Health Coachs when they consult with their patients. Sure, Health Coachs may consul their patients to try to relax more, but rarely do they provide them with effective self-care tools for doing so. Instead, they primarily focus on screening for harmful microorganisms and/or monitoring their patients' overall health via blood and other diagnostic tests. Then, if signs of ill-health are found, typically patients will be prescribed drugs and, in some cases, surgery.
All of these measures certainly have a place in our nation's health care system, but of themselves they are not enough. If they were, health care costs in the United States would not be $2 trillion a year, and more than a third of our nation's populace (over 100 million people) would not be suffering from some level of chronic illness.
For health care to be most effective, a comprehensive wellness program needs to be adopted by each of us under the guidance of our physicians. Such a program needs to include proper diet - one that is suited to your unique dietary needs based upon your genetic make up (this is sometimes referred to as a metabolic typing diet), along with appropriate nutritional supplementation, anda regular (at least three times a week) exercise program. Proper diet and exercise are the foundational approaches for creating and maintaining physical health. Happily, in recent years, more and more Health Coachs who once relied solely on a symptom- and drug-based medical approach are now recognizing and sharing with their patients the need for them to eat healthy, supplement wisely, and get regular exercise. Through the use of blood and other types of testing, they can also determine their patients' nutritional needs and monitor the progress their patients make once they adopt a healthy dietary and nutritional program in conjunction with regular exercise.
All too often, though, what is lost in this equation is attention to managing stress. Next month, I will share a variety of proven self-care approaches you can use to bring your stress levels under control. In the rest of this article, I want to explore with you how and why unmanaged stress is so dangerous to your health.
First of all, when we talk about stress as a cause of disease, we aren't being accurate. All of us are exposed to stress each and every day. Without stress, life as we know it would not be possible. This is because certain types of stress are essential for good health. For example, when you exercise your muscles, you are placing them under stress. In this example, such stress is a positive thing, because it causes your muscles to become stronger, leading to improved strength. Stress also plays a role in stretching and aerobic exercises, also to healthy effect. In short, your body is designed not only to cope with a certain amount of stress, but also to actually depend on some level of stress for its survival. As another example of this fact, consider what happens to astronauts who spend extended periods of time in states of reduced gravity and, in some cases, weightlessness. As they do so, they begin to lose muscle strength and even bone density. That's because their bodies are no longer subjected to the constant gravitational pressure that is exerted upon them when they are on earth. Gravitational stress is a good thing when it comes to the health of your body. Lack of gravity and reduced gravity isn't.
This fact provides a clue as to what is really involved when stress causes disease. Because in the vast majority of cases, it is not physical stress that is at the heart of disease, but mental and emotional stress. One of the leading researchers in this area is Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. Dr. Lipton is a world famous cellular biologist and the author of The Biology of Belief. After spending the past two decades investigating how andwhy stress causes illness, he coined the phrase "The New Biology" to replace modern medicine's fatalistic philosophy that health and illness is primarily a matter of fate shaped by one's genes. According to Dr. Lipton, none of us are at the mercy of our genes. Although we may be born with genetic predispositions towards certain types of illnesses, Dr. Lipton states that it is actually our habitual thoughts and beliefs, not our genes, that have the most influence over whether we get sick or not. His view, which is increasingly coming to be shared by scientists and physicians in many areas of our health care system, is based on many years of scientific research.
To better understand how thoughts andbeliefs can influence your health for good or bad, let's take a closer look at how the body is designed to protect itself from disease. Doubtless you are familiar with the body's immune system. Health Coachs and patients alike consider the immune system to be the human body's first line of defense against disease. Its task is to identify invading microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses) and to attack and eliminate them before they can cause harm to the body's cells, tissues, and organs. Important as the immune system is to good health, however, there is another body system that is equally as, and perhaps even more, important. This system is known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA axis for short. The purpose of the HPA axis is to spring into action at the first sign of any external threats that the body may face. When there aren't any threats, the HPA axis is in what might be described as "idle mode." This state of idleness allows the rest of your body to flourish and grow that way that nature intended. But when the hypothalamus center in the brain perceives an outside threat, it signals the HPA axis to "roll out" anddo its job. This is known as the "flight or fight" response.
As soon as this signal is given, your body's adrenal glands increase their production of cortisol and other stress hormones, releasing them into the blood stream. Once this happens, blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to your body's cells and organs are constricted so that more blood can be made available to nourish the tissues of your body's arms and legs, since it is primarily these extremities that the body uses to fend off external attacks and get out of harm's way. Prior to this response, the blood in the body is concentrated in what are known as the visceral organs. These are the organs responsible for digestion and absorption of foods andnutrients, excretion, and various other functions that provide for proper cell growth and production of cellular energy. As blood is rushed to the tissues of the arms and legs, the visceral organs, such as the stomach, kidneys, and liver, cannot function at 100 percent, causing all growth-related activities in the body to become inhibited.
As you can imagine, if this process continues for sustained periods of time, your body's overall functioning will start to suffer. But this situation is further compounded by the impact sustained "flight or fight" responses have on the immune system. During "flight or fight" responses, the HPA axis causes the adrenal glands to suppress immune function in order to conserve the body's energy reserves via the adrenals increased production of stress hormones. Stress hormones are so effective at suppressing immune function that they are actually administered to patients who receive organ transplants, to prevent their bodies' immune systems from rejecting the organs.
In our ancestors' ancient past, the "flight or fight" response played an essential role in helping to keep humans alive in the face of such dangers as attacking animals and natural occurrences such as earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions. Today, however, most of us are not faced with such physical dangers, and even when we are, they are usually short-lived events. However, PNI researchers have discovered that actual physical danger is not necessary to trigger the "flight or fight" response. It can also be triggered by your thoughts and beliefs. Simply put, if you habitually focus on thoughts and beliefs of a limiting or negative nature, you are causing your body to act as if it is in danger. Though the adrenaline rush that occurs in the face of an actual physical threat usually doesn't result, the "flight or fight repsonse" still takes place. Additionally, it does so for long periods of time. This results in chronic production of stress hormones, resulting in chronic suppression of immune function.
Here is what Dr. Lipton has to say in his book about this matter: "In today's world, most of the stresses we are experiencing are not in the form of acute, concrete 'threats' that we can easily identify, respond to and move on. We are constantly besieged by multitudes of unresolvable worries about our personal lives, our jobs, our war-torn global community. Such worries do not threaten our immediate survival but they nevertheless can activate the HPA axis, resulting in chronically elevated stress hormones."
Chronically elevated stress hormones equals a chronically suppressed immune function equals a greater susceptibility to infectious disease. Additionally, because of how the visceral organs are also negatively impacted by chronic stress, many of your body's functions are also suppressed, setting the stage for impaired digestion, increased muscle tension, and eventual declines in cell and tissue function, which can lead to a wide range of diseases, including heart attack and cancer.
Based on the findings of Dr. Lipton and many other researchers in the field of PNI, it's clear that one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your health is to deal with stress effectively. Next month, we'll explore a variety of ways that you can effectively begin to do so.
 
Health Stories in the News
People who take nutritional supplements are better nourished than those who don't. In a study published last month, researchers reported that men and women age 51 and older who take nutritional supplements tend to be better nourished than their peers who don't use supplements. In addition, the researchers found that most men and women in this age group fail to get adequate amounts of the vitamins andminerals they need from diet alone, yet less than half of them take nutritional supplements daily.
Source: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2007.
Diets rich in fish and vegetables helps to prevent childhood asthma. Researchers in Spain have found that children who regularly consume "fruity-vegetables" on a regular basis are less likely to develop asthma. Fruity-vegetables are vegetables that grow from blossoms on a vine, such as tomatoes, eggplants, cucumber, green beans and zucchini. The researchers came to this conclusion after studying 500 children for seven years and observing the overall incidence of asthma. They found that children who consumed at least 40 grams of fruity-vegetables per day had a decreased risk of asthma. They also found that eating 60 grams of fish each day also reduced asthma risk.
Source: United Press International (UPI), Sept. 12, 2007.
Vitamin D Can Help Lead To A Longer Life. Researchers have found that vitamin D decreases the risk of death, in addition to the other health benefits it provides. The researchers came to this conclusion after analyzing 18 previous studies on vitamin D, none of which specifically examined the relationship between vitamin D and longevity. The researchers examined data on over 57,000 men and women, the majority of whom were middle-aged or elderly and in generally good health. They found that those who took vitamin D supplements of between 400 and 833 IU per day "had up to a five times greater blood level of vitamin D and a significantly reduced risk of death." This news follows other recent research on vitamin D, which showed that, in additional to its ability to promoting healthy bones and teeth because of how its enhances the body's ability to absorb and use calcium, it also reduces the risk of certain types of cancer and boost immune function. Other studies also indicate that vitamin D may reduce the risk of other diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, Sept. 10, 2007.

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