Dr. Alex Jimenez, D.C., presents how stress can impact many individuals and correlate with many conditions in the body in this 2-part series. We refer our patients to certified medical providers who provide multiple available treatments for many people suffering from hypertension associated with the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems affecting the body. We encourage each of our patients by mentioning them to associated medical providers based on their analysis appropriately. We understand that education is a delightful way when asking our providers questions at the patient’s request and understanding. Dr. Jimenez, D.C., only uses this information as an educational service. Disclaimer
How Stress Impacts the Body
Dr. Alex Jimenez, D.C., presents: Now everyone responds to changes in the environment differently. When it comes to many individuals doing everyday activities from working at their job, opening on the weekends, traffic jams, taking exams, or preparing for a big speech, the body goes through a constant state of hyperreactive to a stage of emotional, mental exhaustion that leaves the individual to be exhausted and stressed out. And the key is to recognize this before it happens, as we see this impact of stress on our patients and ourselves. And the first thing to realize is what the initiating event is causing this impact.
Whatever the initiating event, the most important part is our perception of the event. What does it mean to us? Is it our perception? When the body goes through this initiating event, it can cause the perception to lead to the response and the effect on our body. So perception is everything as we talk about stress and the stress response. Now, we have over 1400 chemical reactions that occur in the body. So for this talk’s purpose, we’ll discuss the three key ones: adrenaline and neuro-adrenaline, aldosterone, and of course, cortisol.
And why are these important? Because every one of these has a huge impact on cardiovascular disease. Now, in the 1990s, many doctors were starting to understand the effect of stress on the physical body. And what happens to people when their HPA-axis signals that they are under threat and start flooding their bodies with stress hormones? Well, we see enhanced coagulation. We see a shift in the renin and angiotensin system. It revs up. We see weight gain in people and insulin resistance. What a lot of people don’t realize is that lipids become abnormal with stress. Almost every one of our patients knows that tachycardia and arrhythmia occur when our adrenaline is flowing, and our blood pressure increases. Now, think about this through the language of medicine.
Around the 1990s, doctors were giving aspirin and Plavix at the time for coagulation. We continue to provide ACEs and ARBs to our patients. The impact of cortisol causes weight gain and insulin resistance. We give statins; we give metformin. We provide beta blockers for that, tachycardia, and calcium blockers for that high blood pressure. So every single hormone that gets turned on with stress, we have a drug that we’re using to balance that. And quite frankly, for years, we talked about how good beta blockers were for the heart. Well, when you think about that, beta blockers do block adrenaline. So when doctors look at this, they begin to think, “Well, maybe we need to medicate and meditate, right? We’re using all these drugs, but we may need to look at other ways to transform the stress response.”
What is Vasoconstriction?
Dr. Alex Jimenez, D.C., presents: We won’t read every one of these symptoms because there are so many, but it all comes down to the same thing. Stress. We have to think of someone who’s in an auto accident, for example, and that person is bleeding. So the body is beautiful in that it puts together a way to stop the individual from bleeding or vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction is constructing these blood vessels and making the platelets sticky so they form a clot, and the blood can stop. This increases the cardiac output by raising the heart rate and increases aldosterone, which causes salt and water retention to raise the blood pressure. So for someone in a medical emergency, like an accident, bleeding, or losing volume, this is the beauty of the human body. But unfortunately, we see people living this way, literally 24/7. So we know the vasoconstriction and the platelet stickiness, and we see increases in markers for inflammation, homocysteine, CRP, and fibrinogen, all of which increase cardiovascular risk.
We see the impact of cortisol, not only raising blood pressure, not only causing diabetes and insulin resistance, but also depositing abdominal fat around the midline. And then, as you’ll see in a few minutes, there are links between stressful events and arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation and even ventricular fibrillation. For the first time in medicine, in cardiology, we have a syndrome called takosubo cardiomyopathy, which is affectionately called broken heart syndrome. And this is a syndrome in which the myocardium becomes acutely stunned to the point of causing severe left ventricular function or dysfunction. And usually, this is triggered by bad news and an emotionally stressful event. It looks like someone needs a heart transplant. So when we think about the old Framingham risk factors, we say, which of these are impacted by stress?
Symptoms of Stress
Dr. Alex Jimenez, D.C., presents: People have all sorts of maladaptive behaviors to stress, whether 20 friends in this pack of cigarettes, eating this Cinnabon because it makes me feel good right now, or all the cortisol will make me fat and diabetic. Lipids go up under stress; blood pressure goes up under stress. So every one of these risk factors is impacted by stress hormones. And, of course, we know that with the turning on of the RAS system or the renin-angiotensin system, we always see a worsening in heart failure. And this is very much described in the literature. And, for those of you who may work in the emergency room, ask your patients what they were doing before coming in with their episode of congestive heart failure or chest pain. And you’re going to hear stories like, I was watching a bad movie, or I was watching a war movie, or I got upset over the football game, or something like that.
We’ll talk about heart rate variability, which gets impacted by stress. And, of course, stress affects our ability to resist infections. And we know that people are under stress when they’re vaccinated. For example, Cleco lasers work but don’t produce antibodies to the vaccine when they’re under stress. And, of course, as you’ll see in a minute, severe stress can cause sudden cardiac death, MI, and so on. So it is a bad player that’s overlooked. And for many of our patients, stress drives the train. So when we’re talking about eating brussels sprouts and cauliflower and, you know, lots of green leafy vegetables, and someone is under so much stress that they’re trying to figure out, “How am I going to get through the day?” They’re not hearing any of the other things that we’re recommending.
So, chronic stress and affective disorders, whether depression, anxiety, or panic, put our foot on the accelerator and rev up the sympathetic nervous system. We know that the same things we see with aging, as you’ll see in a minute, are linked to increased levels of stress hormones, especially cortisol. So whether it’s osteoporosis, decreased bone density, endothelial dysfunction, platelet activation, hypertension, central obesity, or insulin resistance, this comes from a stress response. And we have to have a plan for our patients on how to handle this. American Institute of Stress says that 75 to 90% of all healthcare provider visits result from stress-related disorders. And that’s way too high, but by looking at the patients and where they were coming in with, they tell their stories to their doctors. The results are the same; it doesn’t matter whether it was headaches, muscle tension, angina, arrhythmia, or irritable bowel; it almost always had some stress trigger.
Acute & Chronic Stress
Dr. Alex Jimenez, D.C., presents: There’s a difference between acute and chronic stress with our perception and social connection. Even though we gain some strength from a higher power, stress can impact anyone, and most of us might not be able to handle it well. So a great study was done many years ago by Dr. Ray and Holmes that stated, 50 years ago, put together a method for quantifying life-changing events. So let’s look at some areas, such as life-changing events. How do life-changing events and how do they rank? Which are the big ones, and which are the little ones?
And how does that ranking lead to major medical problems like cancer, heart attack, and sudden death in the future? So they looked at 43 life-changing events, ranked them originally, and re-ranked them in the 1990s. And some of them remained the same. They gave an adjustment score to the event, and then they looked at numbers that would be linked to major illness. So, for example, a life-changing event. Number one, 100 life-changing units, is a death of a spouse. Anyone could relate to that. Divorce was number two, separation number three, and the end of a close family member. But also noticed that some things got ranked that are, you might not equate with, being a major life-changing event that can impact a stress response like marriage or retirement.
Dr. Alex Jimenez, D.C., presents: So it wasn’t the actual single event that made the difference. It was the adding up of events. And what they found after looking at 67 physicians was if you had a life-changing unit score of somewhere between zero and one 50, not a big deal, no real major illness, but once you hit that 300 mark, there was a 50% chance of major illness. So this timeline of events in the patient’s life. We want to know what was going on in their life when their symptoms started and then bring it back earlier to understand the environment in which this individual was living. The impact of stress can make many individuals develop chronic conditions and mask other symptoms that can lead to muscle and joint pain. In part 2, we will dive in more about how the impact of stress affects a person’s body and health.
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*
Licensed in: Texas & New Mexico*
Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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