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I have so many people asking me about how to protect themselves against getting the coronavirus and I’ve given a lot of information now about boosting immune function with vitamins, minerals, and herbs. But I want to offer up something no one is talking about, and that is how stress impacts the immune system and what to do about it.

 

What doctors aren’t talking about

First of all, my area of expertise is in how stress affects women’s health, and in particular a unique hormone imbalance that causes daily health struggles such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight gain, and more. I am passionate about this because I believe if women weren’t dealing with these things, we could make a bigger impact in the world. The world needs more women leaders, now more than ever! But stress is causing health problems that are holding us back.

Stress causes a progesterone deficiency leading to something called estrogen dominance. When it comes to getting help with this, unfortunately most women are told everything’s normal (check out a sneak peak of my upcoming book, Everything’s Not Normal, The Empowered Woman’s Guide to Getting the Healthcare You Deserve). Cortisol, the main stress hormone, is on the same production pathway as progesterone, so when we have stress it triggers cortisol production which shuts down progesterone production. I’m talking about chronic, low-grade stress such as parenting, work stress, or traffic (or all of the above!) or a single traumatic event such as a death in the family, divorce, or a car accident. 

 

Good Stress Versus Bad Stress

Now there are such things as bad stress and good stress. Bad stress is what I am referring to above, long-term low-grade stress or a traumatic event that causes a trail of long-term stress (ie; pain, grief, etc.). Good stress is stress that only lasts for minutes or hours and then goes away, such as exercise. This actually helps our adaptive immune response, directly enhancing function of dendritic cells, neutrophils, macrophages, and lymphocytes, as well as increasing local and systemic production of cytokines. Bad stress suppresses or dysregulates innate and adaptive immune responses by altering cytokine balance, inducing chronic inflammation, and suppressing the function of immunoprotective cells. Suppressing Type 1 cytokines and protective T cells and increasing regulatory/suppressor T cell function can lead to an increased susceptibility of some types of cancers.

As a result of stress-induced immune suppression, your body is slower at healing wounds, less able to produce antibodies and more susceptible to viral infections. Stress is at the root of so many issues, but we can’t get rid of stress so what do we do about it?

 

What can You Do?

The key is to help the body adapt to stress better. This involves the lizard brain, also known as the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA). The HPA is a complex part of endocrine function that is the communication system between sensory information coming in from the environment (is it dangerous or not?) and what hormones to produce to help us relax (or not). It is our fight or flight response, and although we need this to survive, we are no longer living in a world full of life or death situations that we once did. So now most of us live our modern, comfortable lifestyles and, especially if you are not physically active, never have the opportunity to strengthen the stress response with short bursts of stress. 

How do you recover or optimize your adrenal health so you can handle stress better and have better immune and hormone function? The good news is that you can strengthen your adrenal stress response with specific nutrition, lifestyle, and supplement approaches! Here are some basic ideas but of course, talk with your naturopathic doctor before starting anything new.

  • Exercise: I’ve mentioned the potential benefits of exercise, the caveat here is that you don’t want to overdo exercise if you are already in a depleted state. If you feel exhausted rather than energized by exercise, you may need to adjust your intensity until you have recovered your adrenal health. 
  • Mindful nutrition: Now is not the time to be stress eating! What is helpful is using food planning, prepping, and eating as a meditation in nourishment. Focus on quality protein and a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, and be sure to include healthy fats. Vitamin C and vitamins B5 and B6 are important for stress and adrenal health and may require supplementation.
  • Self care: Doing things that proactively calm the body and mind to help counterbalance the stress we all experience in life, especially during such a unique time as this. For so many of us our income has disappeared, our health insurance, or we or a friend/family member became sick. Feeling so out of control over the outcomes of this disaster has an inherent amount of stress that we are all feeling. Whatever it is that helps you stay focused on the present and the gratitude for the things that we do have (rather than the have nots), this is a muscle that must be exercised. Take a relaxing bath, give yourself a home spa treatment, talk a walk, make a special meal for yourself or to share with your family depending on your situation. Create something whether it’s baking, painting, writing, or photography. Do something each day that feeds your soul and brings you joy.
  • Herbs for stress: The category of herbs that help the HPA axis and balance your adrenal stress response (so that you are not under or over producing cortisol, stealing the production of progesterone) are called “adrenal adaptogens”. They should be a part of any hormone balancing program and can be used long-term, as long as you have stress in your life. Some of my favorites are ashwagandha, rhodiola, eleutherococcus, holy basil, reishi, and astragalus. If you are looking for a good quality product, check out the Naturkur Wellness brand, “Adrenal Protect”.

 

Take Action Now!

So what is your next step? Sign up for my adrenal and hormone screening that was developed to address the effects of stress and has helped thousands of women just like you. Or, if you’re not ready to get started right away, book a Health Strategy Session with me so we can discuss your specific situation and customize a program for you.