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The Whole Avocado: wellness

The Stress Response

Posted on November 12, 2017

It was about 1989 when I stumbled upon a cassette tape with the title “Why People Don’t Heal,” by Carolyn Myss. I will never forget the feeling in my 13 year old body and mind when I heard her say “Your biography becomes your Biology.” I knew at my very core that this brave pioneer, this outlier, knew something important. A quarter of a century later mind-body researchers and researchers in the field of psychoneuroimmunology are proving that she, and many others like her, were right.

Science today is constantly proving the connection between the things we feel and experience and their physiological implications in our bodies. (And vice versa, but that’s a different article) The main problem now is that most of us don’t yet hear or understand what our body is trying to tell us until it finally has to resort to the more desperate and universal language of disease. 

In this new reality we can now start to understand how our personal story (biography) is like a map that traces the path our body (biology) has followed to its current state of imbalance. In my own practice I find that this path, traced backwards, can provide some valuable guidance on the journey back to health. It wasn’t my education in nutrition that showed me how effective this kind of investigating could be though. Rather, it was a decade of learning and working across the world with all manor of health practitioners, teachers and mentors. As the evidence of the accurateness of this language and importance of the story grew I really had no choice, I had to evolve. I turned into a bit of a health detective and strategist. In my work I am always determined to reconstruct the map back to health from my client’s life story and to decipher clues from their symptoms. Nutrition is, of course, still a most fundamental and valuable tool - However, if you don’t know where you are going or how to get there, packing a healthy lunch might not get you far enough.

There are many physiological systems, paths and loops through which the body speaks to us. One of them is called the ‘Immune-Brain Loop.’ This loop is the pathway through which your immune system informs your brain that you are under attack. Until recently, science believed that the vagus nerve, the nerve bundle that relays messages between the gut (digestive system,) and the brain, consisted mostly of nerve pathways that relayed messages from the brain to the gut. We now know that there are actually far more pathways that go from the gut to the brain. Steven Maier, a researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, says that the signals that the immune system sends up to the brain when it perceives a threat, “potently alter neural activity…everything that flows from neural activity, mainly behavior, thought and mood.” This means that your immune system has significant control over your thoughts and your mood - but, that's also a different article :) It is also know that the immune system can be triggered by stress the same way it is triggered by foreign bacteria and viruses. This means that when you are stressed, what appears to be a typical “sickness response” is in fact, a “stress response.” The immune systems sees stress as an attack on the body. This is one of most obvious ways your body can tell you that the current stress in your life is going to make you 'more' sick, or maybe even start killing you. When your immune system senses stress it tells your brain to mount a defensive response. Suddenly you have a ‘random cold'. When the stress is over or resolved, suddenly your cold is too. Or, if your adrenals are strong, you get sick after that event is over (when your adrenaline runs out.) Sadly, most of us dismiss this messenger as a ‘24 hour bug,’ or a mistake by ‘my stupid body.’ The message goes underground... until next time. 

Here is the imperative question we must ask then. What would happen if you added up a lifetime of stress? If you took family, relationship, tragedy, work, divorce, abuse, trauma and accidents, and then put them into this context? Would you continue to ignore the 24 hour stomach bug, the regular migraines, the headaches that come out of nowhere? Would you dismiss the constant tightness in your chest or stomach, or how tired you get right after lunch or around 4 pm every day or how you wake up at 2 am almost every night? Would you simply accept how bloated you feel after eating? Just keep taking antibiotics for all those recurrent infections? You probably wouldn’t.

If insight into just one of these physiological loops in your biology has changed the way you see your health in relation to your personal life, imagine what other revelations could await. Imagine, as an individual, what could happen to the quality of your daily life if you started to hear what your body was saying. Imagine, as an employer, what could happen to your company if even just a fraction of your workforce started to understand these connections and then you, as a company, gave them the strategic tools and resources they needed to act on them. Imagine.


"Trying to identify and to answer the question of stress.... is more likely to lead to health than ignoring the question." In healing, every bit of information, every piece of the truth, may be crucial. If a link exists between emotions and physiology, NOT to inform people of it will deprive them of a powerful tool."   
When the Body says No' by Gabor Mate, MD