Stress Less: Natural Strategies To Help You Cope


"'Til death do us part." While this commitment is usually reserved for wedding ceremonies, it is also an appropriate description for the relationship we all have with stress. While the stressors we face and coping mechanisms who choose may vary, we will never truly choose may vary, we will never truly be stress-free. Surprisingly, this is a good thing since a certain amount of stress is actually good for us.

In her book, The Whole Mind, Lynette Bassman, Ph.D., discusses Hans Selye's theory of stress, saying, "A main tenet of Selye's theory is that stress is that stress is essential to life, and is inevitable. Without, we would function inadequately, and eventually, die."

However, a review of the medical literature over the apst 20 years reveals that stress contributes to approximately 80 percent of all major illnesses: cardiovascular disease, cancer, endocrine and metabolic disease, skin rashes, ulcers, ulcerative colitis, emotional disorders, musculoskeletal disease, and infectious ailments of all kinds. And, the bill for these medical problems is not low.

The New York-based American Institute of Stress reports that as many as 75 to 90 percent of visits to phycisians are related to stress, "at a price tag to American businesses of $200 to $"00 billion a year," according to Industry Trak, a new service.

Is stress "good" or "bad"? In light of this dual nature of stress, the answer is: "both," depending on the particular stress, the particular person, and how much stress we're talking about.

In general, it is not stress which causes physical symptoms and disease, but how our bodies respond to stress. Here, let's take a look at some of the most common causes of stress, the effects, as well as natural strategies to help us reduce the impact that stress can have on our lives and health.

Stress ... it's all in a day's work?
It's a fact that work is often a source of stress, as are work-related stressors, such as changing jobs or losing a job. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor has said that: "workplace is the greatest single source of stress, no matter what you do or how much you earn."

One recent study, reported by Janet Raloff in Science News, showed the dramatic impact that job insecurity can have on health.

The study began with a rumor (that turned out to be true) which caught fire among 666 London-based government workers that their department was about to be sold to a private company. These employees were all part of the Whitehall II Study of the long-term health of 10,000 British civil servants. If the rumors were true, they wondered what would happen to them. Would the department be down-sized? Would the nature of the work change? Would individual salaries be cut?

These intimidating uncertainties upset the workers throughout the four years from the first rumors until the department's privatization. Their health steadily declined by many measures. Among the negative health effects, blood cholesterol soared, and the rate of heart disease rose by 40 to 60 percent. In addition, they tended to stop exercising, gained weight, slept more than nine hours a night, and, in contrast to controls, separated from or divorced their mates more frequently. Coincidental? Probably not, since other workers in the study whose job security was not threatened showed none of these tendencies, although the health of both groups was similar at the start of the study.

Habits that can aggravate stress
On top of overwhelming pressures and stress, some people smoke and drink alcohol immoderately, and the nutrients which these habits drain from the system tend to aggravate stress even more. Smoking compounds the negative effects of stress by overstimulating adrenal secretion, often contributing to adrenal insufficiency, and constricting blood vessels, which can lead to headaches. Caffeine is another addictive substance that should be avoided during bouts of stress.

Nutritional approaches to stress reduction
Both emotional and physical stress rob the body systems of a wide range of nutrients.

Relative to physical stress, a Finnish review of three placebo-controlled studies, reported in the German publication, International Journal of Sports Medicine, reveals that heavy physical activity increases the risk of contracting colds and other respiratory ailments. It also demonstrates that a daily supplement of vitamin C, taken regularly, helps to protect against these health problems.

In the first study, the subjects were school children skiing in the Swiss Alps. In the second, the subjects were military troops training in northern Canada. And, in the third, they were participants in a grueling 90-kilometer running race.

A significant reduction in the incidence of colds was seen in all three studies in the groups that supplemented with 600 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily, compared with those who did not supplement with the vitamin.

Another study, involving lab animals, was done at University of Kerala, India, to learn whether livers that were stressed by cigarette smoke could be protected by vitamin C.

Rats that showed increased resistance to lipid peroxidation and greater activity of free radical scavenging enzymes were fed 100 mg of vitamin C daily per gram of body weight for 90 days. This study demonstrated that daily mega-doses of vitamin C did protect the liver from oxidative damage caused by cigarette smoke. For decades, researchers have stated that one cigarette can deplete 25 mg of vitamin C from the system.

Research from the Neurodegenerative Disease Centre, Kings College, London, shows that the amounts of antioxidants produced in our bodies are insufficient to snuff out the quantities of free radicals (generated by oxygen and nitrogen metabolism run amuck) formed there. Conclusion: antioxidants consumed via food and supplements are particularly important in protecting us against stress and disease.

Extra vitamin C, and flavonoids (a group of plant pigments with antioxidative capabilities), are necessary, according to the researchers.

Stressors that assail us create many free radicals. Therefore, we need the full arsenal of antioxidants, in addition to vitamin C. Other antioxidants to include in your defense against stress-related health problems are: vitamin E, selenium, beta-carotene, oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) from grape and pine bark extracts, and other bioflavonoids.

In "The New Superantioxidant Plus," a chapter in The Nutrition Superbook: The Antioxidants (edited by Jean Barilia, Keats Publishing, inc.), Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D., makes the following points:

Some antioxidants protect other antioxidants and bioflavonoids protect vitamin C. For example, alpha-lipoic acid helps recycle vitamin E, vitamin C, and glutathione, so they can get back in there to fight and protect. Also, vitamin C regenerates vitamin E that has already been spent by sacrificing itself to free radicals.

Passwater notes that every one of the antioxidants is important in shielding against stress, including: vitamin A, beta-carotene (converted to A in the liver), ginkgo biloba, superoxide dismutase (SOD), alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. "Antioxidants usually work better in combination than they do singly," he stated.

Over and above its antioxidative function, additional vitamin A appears to be necessary in most cases of stress to support depleted adrenal glands. This has helped many of my stressed patients. I explain this in How to Win at Weight Loss, co-authored with James F. Scheer:

Not an antioxidant, but vitally important to patients under severe and continuous stress, is pantothenic acid (vitamin BS). As early as 1962, biochemist J.A. Krehl wrote that superstressed individuals deprived of pantothenic acid experienced adrenal glands that shriveled and filled up with dead cellular debris and blood.

"This limits [the adrenals'] ability to produce protective hormones, [usually] numbering in the hundreds," Krehl said. "To sum it all up, stress and low intake of pantothenic acid may bring on physical complications and compound the effects of additional stress."

Although nutritional supplementation is the major pillar of my support system for all highly stressed people, I also advocate at least 30 minutes a day -- every day -- of walking, a great stress reliever.

In addition, talking with someone about your problems can help.

A wise person once said that "confession is good for the soul." What he didn't say was that confession is also good for the body in relieving emotional stresses. Also, I urge my patients to develop a hobby, associate mainly with upbeat people, and to hear and tell jokes that make them hugh often and, consequently, relieve tensions.

Stress-busting tips
Eliminate or restrict your intake of caffeine
Eliminate or restrict your intake of alcohol
Eliminate refined carbohydrates from the diet
Increase the potassium-to-sodium ratio
Eat regularly planned meals in a relaxed environment
Control food allergies.
Identify stressors
Eliminate or reduce sources of stress
Identify negative coping patterns and replace them with positive patterns
Perform a relaxation/breathing exercise for a minimum of five minutes twice daily
Manage time effectively
Enhance relationships through better communication
Get regular exercise.
[SOURCE: Murray, Michael T., N.D., and Pizzorno, Joseph, N.D. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Revised 2nd Edition. Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 1998, pp. 176-177.1

12 signs of stress overload

Signs include (but are not limited to):

Proneness to anger
Proneness to crying
Trouble sleeping and/or fatigue
Low initiative (inertia)
Difficulty concentrating
Migraine headaches
High blood pressure
Gastrointestinal problems (heartburn, ulcers, gastritis/esophagitis, reflux)
Teeth grinding
12 aromatherapy herbs to stress less:
Even the word "aromatherapy" is soothing. Here are some essential oils shown to ease stress:

Chamomile Roman (Anthemis noblis)
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri/thurifera)
Helichrysum (Immortelle/helichry sum angustefolium)
Lavender (Lavandula officinalis)
Marjoram (Origanum marjorana)
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Rose (Rosa damascena)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sandalwood (Santalum album)
Tangerine (Citrus reticulata)
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
(SOURCE: Bassman, Lynette, Ph.D. The Whole Mind. Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 1998.)

"Taking the Stress Out of Being Stressed Out," Industry Trak (a news service by Business Wire), May 20, 1997.

Web site:

Atkins, Robert C., M.D. Dr. Arkins' Vita-Nutrient Solution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Bassman, Lynette, Ph.D. The Whole Mind. Novato, Calif. :New World Library, 1998.

Halliwell, B. "Oxidative Stress, Nutrition and Health: Experimental Strategies for Optimization of Nutritional Antioxidant Intake in Humans," Free Radical Research 25:57-74, July 1996.

Hemila, H. "Vitamin C and Common Cold Incidence: A Review of Studies with Subjects Under Heavy Physical Stress," International Journal of Sports Medicine 17:379-383, July 1996.

Hobbs, Christopher, L.Ac. Stress & Natural Healing: Herbal Medicine & Natural Therapies. Loveland, Colo.: Interweave Press, Inc., 1997.

Krehl, J.A. "Protective Effects of Pantothenic Acid for Adrenal Glands," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 11:77, 1962.

Langer, Stephen, M.D. and Scheer, James F. How to Win at Weight Loss. Rochester, Vt.: Thorsons Publishers, Inc., 1987.

Murray, Michael T., N.D., and Pizzorno, Joseph, N.D. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Revised 2nd Edition. Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 1998.

Passwater, Richard A., Ph.D. Personal communication, December 1996.

Passwater, Richard A., Ph.D. "The Superantioxidant Plus," from the book The Nutrition Superbook: The Antioxidants (Jean Barilla, ed.). New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1995.

Raloff, Janet. "Job Jeopardy May Imperil Health," Science News, August 8, 1998, p. 95.

Williams, Roger J., Ph.D. Nutrition Against Disease. New York: Bantam Books, March 1981.


By Stephen Langer, M.D., Contributing Writer

Adapted by M.D.

Stephen Langer, practices preventive/nutritional medicine in Berkeley, Calif. He is co-author, along with Better Nutrition contributor, James F. Scheer, of Solved: The Riddle of Illness, a perennial best-seller. Stephen is also president of the American Nutritional Medical Association in Berkeley. He's available for personal or telephone appointments at (510) 548-7384.

An excellent book on stress and homeopathy is Miranda Castro's Homeopathic Guide to Stress (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1996). It's chock full of a commonsense advice on how to deal with stress, case studies, and homeopathic remedies suggested for stress relief, accompanied by descriptions of how they should be used and who can benefit from them.

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