STRESS January 2013


What a buzz word. I know you have heard and read a lot about stress. My humble opinion is that stress is the number one reason for health problems. Stress profoundly changes your body’s physiology or how your body works. Many best selling books discuss the effects of stress on your body. One of my favorites is “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” By Robert M. Sapolsky. So why don’t zebras get ulcers? Or squirrels? Or giraffes? Or hippopotamuses? Or “insert animal name here.” The answer is because animals don’t think. More on this later.

            I’ll give you an example. Out on the plain of Africa, a gazelle spots a lion. Almost immediately, every organ system in the gazelle alters its function. Because the gazelle is going to attempt to run away, its heart begins to beat faster and stronger in order to deliver more oxygen and glucose (fuel) to the cells of its muscles. In order for the heart to deliver more oxygen the lungs have to take in more oxygen, so the gazelle breaths deeper and more rapidly.

Because it’s pointless to digest food during this time, the digestion system completely shuts down. The kidneys greatly reduce their cleansing and elimination of toxins from your blood.

Changes take place in the brain causing the zebra to become hyper-aware. What this means is that it becomes almost impossible to focus on anything because every time anything changes in the vicinity, the zebra’s attention is immediately drawn to it. In the human world, this means that the stressed person becomes easily distracted; does this sound like ADHD?

During this time the only thing that matters is getting away from that lion. If the gazelle fails at this, does it really matter if it’s successful at fighting some pathogenic virus or bacteria? No! So, you guessed it, the immune system shuts down.

These changes happen so that the gazelle can use all of its available energy to get away. As I was doing research for this article, I referred to one of my textbooks for info. In it was a 4 page list of all the changes that take place so that gazelle, squirrel or giraffe can handle a stressful situation. All of these changes are absolutely brilliant in the event of a gazelle trying to get away from a lion. But here’s the problem. This very same reaction happens to us humans when we are stressing about the economy, bills, a bad boss or the health of someone close to us. If we hang onto these feelings for an extended period of time, we cause the stress reaction to continue much longer than nature intended.

The  body was not meant to function this way for extended periods of time but when it does all of the organs that have altered their normal function start showing signs of damage. This damage is the precursor of conditions like heart disease, cancer, liver problems diabetes and many other health problems.

Here is a very important concept I want you to understand. When a person is feeling constant stress, therefore causing his or her body to change all of its normal activities, cells in a part of the brain called the “hippocampus” actually shrink. This is very important. The hippocampus is a major component of the part of your brain that causes your body to respond in an appropriate way according to how you perceive any dangers in your environment.

You are having a normal day. Something comes along that causes you to be fearful. Among other places in your brain, these signals are processed in your hippocampus. Signals are then sent, to many parts of your body, in order to get it ready to defend itself from the danger.

So now we come to a major difference between animals and humans. Because an animal can’t think; it can’t continue to think about the danger once the danger is gone. We are a little different. We can’t help but continue to think about the danger, even when the danger disappeared long ago. Yes, that makes us “superior.” When we hang on to the feeling of danger longer than we should, those cells of the hippocampus start to shrink. As those cells continue to shrink, we have less and less ability to respond properly to stress. After a while, it’s as if our body’s programming changes so that it’s as if we are fighting dangers or stress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And as we have discussed earlier, these changes cause almost all of our body systems to start a steady decline. Eventually, this will cause many people to be diagnosed with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, kidney dysfunction, liver dysfunction, cancer and others.

Here is a way to determine if this is happening to you. Do you remember how you handled stressful events when you were younger? If something came along that caused you stress, did you just handle it and then quickly forget about it and get on with life?

How about now? Do you continue to think and have negative feelings about stressful events, after the event is long passed? Does this trigger you to think about other stressful events, to the point of feeling like you spend most of you time thinking about the stresses of life? I hope not but if this describes you, then maybe you have some hippocampus cell shrinkage going on.

So we’re finally getting to the good part. Can those cells enlarge and return to normal function? Yes, but what do you suppose causes those cells of your hippocampus to enlarge? I know you think I’m going to say chiropractic, but for right now, let’s just say “motion.” When scientists are investigating the human body, how it works and what influences the way it works, “motion” is a huge buzz word.

Any motion the body makes sends nervous system signals into the brain and especially your hippocampus. Motion causes your hippocampus cells to enlarge. And of

course frequent motion is best. Did you ever hear someone say that “getting busy”

 helps them handle stress? It’s true! People will say that they feel like they can handle stress better if they go for long walks, the brisker the better. Other people have told me that when they are under stress they will feel better if they do things like clean the garage or basement.

The point is that motion, especially continuous motion reduces the effects of stress. Motion causes those cells to enlarge at the very same time that the stress is causing them to shrink.

So, motion is good. But is there something that can reduce, restrict or eliminate motion? Here’s where chiropractic finally enters the picture. By now I hope you know that by adjusting people, chiropractors are correcting “subluxation complexes.” There are many components to a subluxation. The part we think of most is interference to the nervous system. But another component is muscle spasms. Spinal joints lock-up because of subluxation induced muscle spasms. If left uncorrected, the subluxation complex spreads out and affects more and more spinal joints. As this condition persists, for years and decades, more and more motion is lost. And of coarse less motion means fewer nervous system signals making their way to your brain and hippocampus.

A very frequent statement made by our patients is that they feel like they handle stress better. Or that they sleep much sounder, feeling much more rested when they wakeup. It makes sense. By adjusting people, chiropractors are helping all of the joints of the body move freely, feeding those hippocampus cells the healing signals of motion.

The next question you should ask is” what causes you to become subluxated? If you guessed stress, you’re right.

Through your senses, your brain recognizes a situation that causes you stress. Your nervous system is the pathway your brain uses to send signals to all of your bodies organs to alter their functions in order to handle the situation. Just like your houses electrical system, when there is an overload, the circuit breaker blows. A subluxation is the equivalent of a blown circuit breaker. Now you have nerve damage, organs that can’t function properly, muscles that are going into continuous spasm, decreased motion of joints; this all becomes very complex!

Chiropractic becomes very important during times of stress. It can’t make the stress go away, but it definitely improves the way you handle it.

So what happened to our gazelle? Well, I like happy endings, so let’s say the gazelle gets away completely unharmed. Typically within a very short time, give or take 30 to 60 minutes, the gazelle forgets the whole event and its body returns to normal physiology. Let’s take a lesson from the Gazelle!


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