Archives >

Mitigating the Harmful Effects of Stress

There are times when stress is completely unavoidable, such as a high demanding job, training for a competitive sport event, dispute with your partner or friends, or caring for a sick parent, etc. (more…)

Mindfulness Meditation Class: Self­-Compassion and Presence

Want a moment of calm? Who doesn’t! Let’s face it, we are getting busier, doing more for others and less for ourselves. But, there is a way to create a moment of calm in your busy week, that’s right just for yourself. (more…)

Anxiety Risking our Health and Happiness Part 3: Five Strategies for Coping with Anxiety and Stress

I know it may seem hard to believe but I am not always the most calm and collected individual, anxiety can hit me like a ton of bricks and trust me it can be hard to come out of. Here are some strategies that I’ve learned to help me cope:

  1. Regular Exercise
    This helps me to expel that extra pent up energy that can often turn into anxious type feelings. I’m not saying that you have to run five miles a day, but scheduling at least 30-60 min three times a week of moderate to intermediate physical activity will quell over whelming feelings of anxiety and stress. Plus getting the blood pumping and body moving enhances the release of endorphins which helps us feel happy.  Exercise also, benefits self-esteem by seeing physical results that may include less body fat, increased stamina, and muscle tone.
  2. Proper Eating Habits
    I know that if I let myself get too hungry I am not a happy camper (some people call it hangry) Therefore, it is important to be eating regular meals everyday in order to stabilize blood sugar. When blood sugar becomes too low it causes stress to the brain and can lead to anxiety becoming worse. This is because the body is not getting nutrients into the blood stream.

    The types of food that you put into your body also have an effect on anxiety. Feel good meals should include:
    -Foods high in Tryptophan (precursor to serotonin): Turkey, chicken, banana, oats, cheese, soy, nuts, and sesame seeds.
    – Vitamin B rich foods/supplements: Beef, chicken, pork, eggs, leafy greens, legumes, rice, oranges/citrus fruits, nuts, and whole grains
    -Omega 3 rich foods/supplements: Chia seeds, flax seeds/oil, salmon, tuna, lake trout, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies
    –  Foods high in Protein (stimulates production of norepinephrine and dopamine): Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, soy, nuts, cheese, eggs, and meat

    Foods that should be avoided that increase anxiety include:
    -Caffeinated and alcoholic drinks: both lead to dehydration, which increases chances of anxiety. Caffeine also suppresses brain serotonin and as we know this is a feel good hormone.
    -Foods high in sugar: The initial reaction to sugar may feel good at first but as the body releases insulin to counter balance that rush the body and mind are left feeling tired and in a low mood.
    -Processed foods (meats, high fat dairy, fried foods) A UK study found that people who consumed processed foods regularly were more prone to anxiety and depression (source).

  3. Breathing Exercises
    Sometimes I let my day get away from me and realize that I have not been taking full breaths and wonder why all of a sudden I’m feeling overwhelmed? Therefore I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to take a few deep breaths every 30 min to help my mind and body feel more at ease.  Deep breathing gets more oxygen into our body that stimulates our calm at rest state of being also known as the Parasympathetic nervous system. Shallow breaths stimulate our fight or flight response or our sympathetic nervous system thus making us feel anxious and overwhelmed.
    One particularly easy breathing technique I like and can be done anywhere at anytime is called “Equal Breathing” Start by inhaling through your nose and count to four and be conscious that you are moving the air all the way down (your abdomen should inflate if you are doing it right) and then exhale through your nose for a count of four. I like to do this 2-3 times in a row to really get myself in a calmer state.
  4. Me Time
    Schedule at least thirty minutes to an hour to your own downtime every week is also important when managing anxiety and stress. Relishing in the things you like to do will help you to feel happy and grounded. These things can be as simple as taking a bath, reading a book, or listening to your favourite music.  Invest time in yourself, because you are worth it!
  5. Acupuncture
    As stated in my previous blogs regarding anxiety, acupuncture helps to reduce stress hormones in the body.  This is essential for the body to get to its state of rest and relaxation by inducing the parasympathetic nervous system to go into action. Another added bonus to acupuncture is that it can be counted as me time! How often do we get to just lay back and relax for 45 minutes without the world buzzing around us? When coming in for anxiety treatments, I suggest starting off with weekly appointments to monitor how you are coping and if things are going well then we taper the treatments off to twice a month then to once a month.

If you have any questions about how acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help your stress and anxiety, please do not hesitate to contact us today!

The Hypothyroid Series: the Effects of Stress  

 

In this article series, I wanted to address how stress can greatly effect the functioning of the thyroid gland. My last article on hypothyroidism covered the anatomy of the thyroid gland and how routine lab testing may not be the most reliable indicator of thyroid status.

There are many factors that can lead to hypothyroidism but stress is one of the most important causes since it is something we all experience in our lives. The obvious stressors we encounter on a daily basis are situations like driving in traffic, rushing to an appointment, busy schedules, or losing a job. One thing I want to point out is other physiological stressor’s that people don’t really consider being an actual “stress,” but in fact they can trigger that same stress response. These include food sensitivities (intolerance), autoimmune issues, digestive issues, blood sugar swings, and underlying inflammation. All these conditions will alert your stress system to turn ON.

Specific hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine) are secreted from the adrenal glands (small glands that sit on our kidneys) to regulate our stress response. These hormones that are secreted play a crucial role in the proper functioning of the thyroid, therefore when stress becomes chronic, our adrenal glands become overworked and therefore throw off the proper functioning of the thyroid gland (explain later in more detail).

Some common symptoms and signs that indicate overworked adrenals:

  • Fatigue (with adequate sleep)
  • Headaches
  • Sugar and caffeine cravings
  • Sleep issues
  • Mood swings
  • Chronically sick
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Feeling wired or burnt out
  • Low sex drive
  • Decreased recovery from exercise
  • Increased allergies

Adrenal stress can mimic symptoms of hypothyroidism therefore it is important to consider your adrenal health. Typically it is a combination of both glands being involved, especially if stress is part of your case. This can occur commonly when patients do not improve with synthroid or other thyroid medications, since the adrenals themselves require some support in order to improve thyroid health.

How adrenal stress can directly impact thyroid function:

In my previous article on hypothyroidism I explained the importance of T3 and T4 (our thyroid hormones). The conversion from T4 to T3 is very important since T3 is the active form and the only form that can be used up by our cells.

When our stress response turns ON, inflammatory cytokines (immune factors that initiate responses against infections) interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3. These inflammatory cytokines have also shown to suppress thyroid receptor site sensitivity. This means the thyroid hormones are unable to be used by your cells properly resulting in hypothyroidism (in this case, lab markers TSH, T4, and T3 are usually normal).

Our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is what controls the body’s reaction to stress and as the name implies, it consists of a network of interactions between the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the adrenal glands. When chronic stress is present, it has been shown that the hypothalamus and pituitary gland function decreases. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are also both involved in the synthesis of thyroid hormones therefore a disruption in the HPA axis will also cause a decrease in thyroid production, leading to hypothyroid symptoms. The inflammatory cytokines mentioned above also down-regulate the HPA axis and has shown to decrease TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).

One of the most common causes of hormonal imbalance, seen in the clinic, is due to chronic stress. Cortisol (one of the stress hormones) can decrease the liver’s ability to clear excess estrogens from the body. This excess estrogen in the body increases levels of something called thyroid binding globulin (TBG), which attaches to the thyroid hormone making it inactive and not usable to activate any cellular processes. A high TBG can cause a low T3 and low T4/T3. Birth control pills and estrogen replacements (eg. Premarin) can cause an elevated TBG as well.

When stressed, you are likely more vulnerable to autoimmune thyroid conditions (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Grave’s disease).  This autoimmune response can cause the thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone, especially after a sudden, stressful change (Grave’s disease). This is why you typically see significant weight loss after say a divorce or death in the family. Excessive, chronic stress can produce the opposite (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). Adrenal stress can have a profound effect on the immune system regulation. Therefore, if regulation is out of whack, you become more prone to autoimmune diseases.

How to balance your adrenal glands?

Must address all the conditions that cause stress, not just the psychological and emotional stressors, but also the physiological stressors, such as: food intolerances, gut dysfunction, inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, fatty acid deficiencies and anemia.

Some general guidelines:

  • Stabilize blood sugar (low carbohydrate diet)
  • Stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Avoid dietary causes of inflammation (food sensitivities, refined sugars, etc)
  • Minimize any stimulants (caffeine)
  • Adequate DHA and EPA (Omega-3’s)
  • Adequate B vitamins (depleted with chronic stress)

Specific adaptogenic herbs and supplements are typically used to help modulate the stress response and support the adrenal glands. Some include Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Ginseng, Holy Basil, and Schisandra. These herbs are potent and have a significant effect on the body therefore they should be taken under the supervision of a health care practitioner.

Adrenal Function Testing is also another tool typically used by naturopathic doctors to assess the stage of your adrenal stress. This can further specify what herbs/nutrients would be indicated since treatment does change based on what stage your at currently.

If you are interested in a consultation to learn more about how naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help with thyroid issues, please feel free to contact us today!

Understanding Stress

To keep it simple, stress is defined as any event that threatens homeostasis (stable and constant body conditions like blood pressure and body temperature) and causes the body to adapt. (more…)

Anxiety: Risking Our Health and Happiness- 3 Part Series Part 1: How Can Acupuncture Help Decrease Anxiety?

Anxiety can play a huge role in our daily lives and the reality of treating anxiety is that different people require different treatments, even when suffering from the same type of anxiety. (more…)