Holistic treatment of stress

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Eric is a 43 year old stock broker who hasn't had a very good year. He lost his house where he'd lived with his wife and two children for two years. They now live in a small townhouse which they rent. His income dropped fifty percent, as clients pulled out their cash from a disastrous market. He stopped sleeping about four months ago, tossing and turning most of the night, unable to quiet his racing thoughts. To stay awake he slammed Starbucks and Red Bull throughout the day. His stomach was always in knots and he'd go home at night to fall asleep in front of the TV. He'd awaken in the middle of the night, short of breath and in a panic. The first time it happened he had chest pain and wound up in the emergency room. After $5000 worth of tests, they gave him a Valium and sent him home. He was starting to rely on sleeping pills, when his wife suggested he see us at Wellness Works. Saliva testing revealed his adrenal function was very low throughout the day, rising only at night to an abnormally high level, making it impossible for him to sleep.

Although Eric is not a real patient, he is representative of many people we see in our holistic medical practice. The American culture engenders stress, and most (perhaps 80%) of illness is caused by stress or worsened by it. Our stresses don't go away, they pound at us day after day. We have been taught to be tough, to plow through the day no matter what our aching bones are screaming for us to do.

The first thing Eric needed is a way to get restful sleep without drugs. He needed to be weaned from all that caffeine, which has the effect of flogging a dead horse, namely his adrenals. Caffeine causes the release of cortisol. It works when your own reserves are so low that you can't pick yourself up any other way, but it sabotages your ability to stabilize your nervous system. We weaned him slowly, substituting pure water or herbal teas for the "fully leaded" coffees. I put him on melatonin for sleep, starting at 1mg, allowing him to increase as high as 18 mg if he needed it. He took a supplement called phosphatidyl serine, 100 mg, an hour before bedtime, and took a relaxing walk after dinner, and a hot bath with Epsom salts most nights before he went to bed. A combination mineral supplement of calcium, magnesium and zinc was prescribed. He'd pop three little pellets of homeopathic coffea cruda as he went to bed, to put his busy mind at peace, allowing him to fall asleep naturally. If he woke in the night he was to repeat the homeopathic remedy, which would not make him drowsy in the morning. When he awoke, Eric took an herbal supplement to support his adrenals, which included licorice root and ginseng, as well as a few more "adaptogenic" herbs. He repeated that at noon each day.

Frequent small meals and snacks with lots of protein and organic vegetables were an important change to his diet of pizza and fast food. His love handles began to disappear. He decided he enjoyed exercise, and made time for a bike ride or a swim in the morning before work. On weekends he'd take one day to go fishing or play golf, or just sit home and read the paper, napping if he needed to. Yoga helped him learn how relaxation actually feels, a sensation he perhaps had never experienced in his hard-driving life.

After six months we repeated his testing and found that his adrenals were back on line again and he could discontinue the herbs, taking them from time to time if he felt he needed them. He decided to continue the melatonin for its antioxidant benefits, and took the little vial of coffea cruda remedy with him wherever he went.

Conventional doctors often miss adrenal fatigue, since they only recognize the extreme form, called Addison's Disease, which is total adrenal failure and is life-threatening. Cortisol must be prescribed for these patients. Most people do not need the hormone, they just need to learn how to handle stress and how to relax.

Dr. Carol Roberts is the Medical Director of Wellness Works, a holistic medical practice. She co-hosts a radio show on alternative medicine with Rob Lorei every other Monday from 1-2PM on WMNF 88.5FM, Tampa. Her book, Good Medicine: A Return to Common Sense, will be available on Amazon by summer, 2009.


So now that the "novel H1N1 swine flu" has been proven to be a dud, what shall we be afraid of now. Actually, fear is a downer, a harmful, immune suppressant emotion that is "the only thing we have to fear".

When fear strikes, the adrenal glands go into overdrive, pouring out stress hormones: cortisol, adrenalin, noradrenaline. The adrenals are two little pyramid shaped caps, one on each kidney. They are responsible for salt balance in the body, and represent the body's alarm system. When cortisol is released in higher than normal quantities, blood sugar rises, insulin levels go up, the brain becomes focused, immune function reduces and digestion comes to a screeching halt. Since our stresses usually don't go away, the adrenals are chronically on alert, leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, insomnia and anxiety states (even panic attacks).

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