Last Updated: March 26th, 2019
Under optimal conditions, we stress our bodies and then repair them or restore them. We are active all day and then we sleep at night. We use up muscle and blood sugar through exertion and then we consume protein, carbohydrates and fats to restore what we used up. We make a huge effort to solve a problem or meet a deadline and then we relax, recharge, and, once again, restore our energy.
If we’re faced with stresses that are too great or too constant, however—if we ask our bodies to do more than they can handle, or if we never give them the nutrients and the rest that they need—then we have a problem. To maintain optimal health, we need to support our bodies’ process of restoring themselves from the stress of being alive. When we don’t give our bodies the support they need, we get sick. It really is that simple.
The process of maintaining optimal health boils down to the three key steps that structure this book:
Step 1: Analyze Your Distress: Identify how your body has been affected by stress.
Step 2: Master Your Synergy: Learn how your body creates either “vicious cycles” or “virtuous cycles” to either intensify or alleviate the effects of stress.
Step 3: Customize Your Health: Individualize your approach to the particular stresses you face.
Step 1: Analyze Your Distress: Identify how your body has been affected by stress
In Step 1, I’ll show you how to analyze your distress, beginning with the biology of the stress response:
- Our brain responds to stress by sending a stress message through the body via nerves and adrenaline and by releasing hormones that trigger the adrenal glands.
- Our adrenal glands release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline intended to mobilize our physical, mental and emotional resources.
- The release of cortisol triggers a biochemical cascade that affects the whole body.
Cortisol is a key hormone that is crucial for our health and well-being, but when it goes out of balance, it can have a widespread impact on the body and the way we feel. When cortisol levels are optimal, our bodies function optimally. When cortisol levels are suboptimal, our bodies function suboptimally.
Four major systems are affected by suboptimal cortisol:
- endocrine system, which produces hormones
- digestive system, which digests food
- immune system, which protects us against illness
- nervous system, which processes and communicates sensation, thought, emotion and activity, often via neurotransmitters, the bio-chemicals that determine mood, sleep patterns, energy levels and relationship with food (appetite, cravings)
If we don’t support our bodies and restore optimal cortisol levels, the problems will inevitably spread, eventually causing the symptoms and health conditions for which we often seek medical care. Depending on genetic tendencies, those symptoms or conditions may reveal themselves in our skin, sinuses, thyroid, bladder, menstrual cycle, heart, lungs, bone, muscle and/or any other organ. Depending on our genetics, lifestyle, toxic exposure and stress levels, this expansion of symptoms may take a few months, a few years, or a few decades. Unless cortisol levels are restored to their optimal state, we’re likely to see bigger and bigger problems. Meanwhile, even when cortisol-related problems are relatively minor, suboptimal cortisol levels by definition mean that we’re not functioning at our best and that we’re not getting as much as we can out of being alive.
Step 2: Master Your Synergy: Learn how your body creates either “vicious cycles” or “virtuous cycles” to either intensify or alleviate the effects of stress
In Step 2 of this book, we’ll look at how stress creates three key problem networks: adrenal distress, impaired carbohydrate metabolism and a digestive problem known as increased intestinal permeability or “leaky gut.” We’ll see that when our bodies are not burdened by these “problem networks,” we feel strong, capable and relatively symptom-free; whereas when we suffer from even one problem network, we can become anxious, fatigued, depressed and confused, as well as achy, bloated, and frequently, overweight. We’ll see how these problem networks operate synergistically with one another, so that inevitably, each problem network operates to create and then reinforce the other two. Each of these problem networks also has an internal synergy. Ultimately, then a problem anywhere quickly becomes a problem everywhere, with multiplying symptoms and ever-growing distress.
Once again, giving our bodies the support they need is the key to freeing ourselves from these problem networks and achieving optimal health. In order to support our systems in the most effective way possible, we need to understand how synergy works and the specific ways in which it can help—or harm—our bodies.
Step 3: Customize Your Health: Individualize your approach to the particular stresses you face
Finally, in Step 3, we’ll explore what kinds of support our bodies need. In the book’s final chapters, we’ll find out how to support ourselves optimally under various types of stress. We’ll look closely at how we can customize our lifestyles to support the choices we’ve made and the challenges we face. I offer first my overall plan for health and then specific plans customized to four specific stressful circumstances, each of which might apply to any of us:
- the 18-hour worker
- the traveller
- the mental athlete
- the caretaker
Read about another approach to managing cortisol in THE ADAPTATION DIET: A three-step approach to control cortisol, lose weight and prevent chronic disease>>
image: Crashmaster007 (Creative Commons BY-NC)