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Stress and our Immune System

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Did you ever notice after a stressful event, maybe a deadline, a speech, anything that makes you feel really anxious and then afterwards you feel a cold coming on. Yes, stress releases a hormone called cortisol because your body and mind perceive something is wrong, although the stressful event could be all in your head. Cortisol lowers the immune system and cortisol is released when our flight or fight neurotransmitters, epinephrine and dopamine are stimulated. The opposing neurotransmitters like GABA and Serotonin would be the more desirable ones and that is activated by the parasympathetic nervous system which works opposite the sympathetic, stress, fight or flight system. The parasympathetic system can be activated by the vagus nerve, the 10th cranial nerve that travels from the brain, through the heart and to the gut. It is known as the rest and digest nervous system.

If our sympathetic, our fight or flight nervous system is activated 24/7 this has a negative influence on our immune system and our overall health. A great book called, ” Why Zebras do not get Ulcers” points out that stress isn’t necessarily bad if its controlled and is limited in time. Its the uncontrolled stress with no resolution that is the detrimental type of stress. The type of stress we are experiencing today is this type of uncontrolled stress as we are thinking about a deadly virus and the many uncertainties. What can we do? We can’t let our immune system go down due to stress.

First , thing is to balance our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system through what is called coherence. Heart rate variability is the slight variances in heart rate which when in a smooth pattern as seen by an EKG, the body can be deemed to be in a synchronized state. Research has shown simply by thinking positive, rejuvenative thoughts, like thinking about a peaceful, beautiful location, a loved one, a pet, anything that brings you into a good state of mind. If you do this while focusing on your heart and taking slow long breaths, about 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out you will slowly begin to train yourself to get into that smooth, calm state. Ask us at South Florida Integrative Health Center about Heart Math which is a device you use on your mobile phone that shows you how well you are doing at getting into that coherent calm state .

Second, eating sufficient protein will increase amino acids especially tryptophan which is necessary to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps you to feel calm. Theanine, found in green tea has been shown to help with focus and calmness. Certain teas like Chamomile and Lemon Balm are well know to help with soothing an anxious feeling. Remember, holistic medicine brings together mind and body and Integrative Medicine brings together the best of all the healing modalities like yoga, acupressure, Tai-Chi and other healthy lifestyle and wellness practices. We cannot forget about the soothing scent of Lavender in what is called aromatherapy as a way to bring our stress levels down.

Third, there is a FDA approved device called cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES). I know it sounds intense but it’s really a mild sensation to our ears to stimulate the vagus nerve so our parasympathetic nervous system is activated leading to a reduction in anxiety and depression. It even helps with insomnia. It is safe, non-invasive and it works. It is being called ear tickling in the latest functional medicine reports and the research is there as it is FDA approved with clinical trials. At our center, we have the only FDA approved CES device, it is portable, made here in the USA and has a 1 year warranty.

Fourth, ensuring you are eating foods rich in Vitamin D and checking your blood levels to make sure they are at robust levels not just at or near the borderline of normal which is 30. Everyone has their own sweet spot when it comes to their vitamin D level. Remember, early morning sun has an effect on the very important hormone, melatonin, which has an opposite action then that of cortisol and has anti- inflammatory properties.

Fifth, never underestimate the power of writing a journal of your goals, hopes and dreams and thinking or writing thoughts of being grateful.

Remember , it is the uncontrolled, ongoing stress that is damaging and that lowers your immune system. Stress is OK and is necessary, just don’t let it stay out of control and go on and on. Take a deep breath and you are already well on your way to controlling your stress.

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