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Science Says Stress Is Killing Us. Do You Know Why?

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Stress is a word that haunts us. It inundates our lives. Its dangers seep through the nooks and crannies of our minds. We’re bombarded through TV, newspapers and the internet with the idea that stress kills! It is said to be responsible for a myriad of diseases from which we suffer: heart disease, cancer, headaches, depression, dementia and anxiety.(1) Our daily conversations are strewn with references to the stress we experience: the job, the kids, finances, terrorism, college educations, crime, etc. Life has become a balancing act of endless multitasking. Our sleep is punctuated with “what if’s.”  What if I lose my job?  What if I’m sicker than I thought? What if our child doesn’t make it to that special school? What if…?

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Given the importance stress plays in our lives, what is stress? Is it increasing? Is it something we’re doing that is fostering stress’ effect on our lives? Can it be managed? Is it as dangerous as they say?

Let’s explore what stress is and why it seems to be so universal and on the rise.

The Nature of Things

Medical science now recognizes that our biology is intimately intertwined with our emotions, thoughts and lifestyles. Science has admitted, after long denials, that the emotional challenges we face can make us ill. There is even a bonafide scientific discipline, Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), dedicated to studying mind/body interactions.(2) But more about that later. For now, let’s learn about the nature of stress. There are, generally speaking, three types of stress that Robert Sapolsky(3) an American neuroendocrinologist, professor of biology, neuroscience and neurosurgery at Stanford University has summarized: acute physical crises, chronic physical challenges and psychological and social problems.

Acute physical crises make up much of what animals face on any given day. They may be stalked by a predator or they may be hungry and doing the stalking. It can involve long running battles across the plains or through trees. One fleeing for his life, the other hungry and needing to feed her young.  Homo sapiens through most of our history have been either the hunters or the hunted.

Chronic physical challenges such as storms, famines, droughts and earthquakes have plagued animals all throughout natural history. Humans have had to recognize the seasons, cope with weather disruptions and the like. When it stops raining and water is scarce large herds of animals and humans have had to travel far and wide to survive.

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Psychological and social problems are reserved mostly for humans, other social primates and some animals. If I asked you to make a list of the things that worry you, what might they be? For most of us reading this article, much of what worries us would not be the fear of starvation because the crops have failed or whether or not we will be attacked by a predator while out searching for food. Mostly, we create stress through our own thinking.  I’m sure you have worked yourself up into a frenzy over some perceived interpersonal issue (the boss, the spouse, the traffic, the news) while sitting alone in a room. And, we can carry that frenzy around inside of us for hours, days, years and even entire lifetimes. This ability is what science has found can make us, in the long run, sick.

Sapolsky (4), in his acclaimed book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers states:

A large body of evidence suggests that stress-related disease emerges, predominantly, out of the fact that we often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end, worrying about mortgages, relationships, and promotions. (p. 6)

Our social position in society adds to this long term stress. Are we closer to the winners at the top of the hierarchy or closer to the perceived losers at the bottom? Epidemiologists have demonstrated that societies with the greatest status inequalities are the least healthy. Not surprisingly, poverty is a sure predictor of disease. But social status alone and its accompanying stigma also is a predictor of ill health. In the famous UK Whitehall studies, conducted by Michael Marmot, (5) Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, the health of 18,000 British civil servants was tracked from 1968 to the late 1990’s. Marmot, in his groundbreaking work The Status Syndrome, found that:

The men at the bottom of the office hierarchy have, at ages forty to sixty four, four times the risk of death as administrators at the top of the hierarchy. More dramatic than the difference between top and bottom is the gradient.  The group second from the top has higher mortality than those above them in the ranking. (p. 39)

Although we suffer from all three forms of stress, it is the psychological and social aspects that we experience most in modern society. There are still physical threats, like gangs on the subway, and physical challenges, like hurricanes, but most of our stress comes from long-term psychological stress that we create in our minds and is the result of living in a hierarchical, competitive society. Our built-in coping capacities, inherited from our ancient ancestors, enables us to deal very well with physical crises and challenges but unfortunately is not as good at the stresses we face today.

What was once meant to help us survive is now killing us.

An excellent summary of the work of Sapolsky and Marmot appears in the National Geographic documentary Stress, Portrait of a Killer. (6)

Let’s take a look at how our ability to deal with stress is compromised in the modern world.

The Physiology of Stress

Our ability to deal with stress grew out of hundreds of thousands if not millions of years of evolution. When facing a threat or challenge Saplosky (4) indicates that the mind/body makes a “rapid mobilization of energy from storage sites…Glucose…and fats come pouring out of your fat cells, liver and muscles, all to stoke whichever muscles are struggling to save your neck.”(p. 11) To do this our heart rate increases, along with blood pressure and respiration.  Digestion stops, as does the sex drive and all growth related functions. A myriad of stress hormones flood the body, cortisol, epinephrine,  glucocorticoids, etc. The sensation of pain diminishes. Our immune system becomes compromised. When you’re running for your life there’s no time to worry about healing a wound or infection. This is all done to support our survival and maintain allostasis, the dynamic equilibrium of our body/mind.

In the end, it is the suppression of the immune system that does us in.

stress and illness

Stress and Modern Living

So now we come to the crux of the matter.  Our modern lifestyles burden our bodies and minds in ways very different from that experienced by our ancestors. Our stress response system was not intended to deal over the long-term with the psychological and social stressors we have created. Chronic, long-term stress is killing us. Saplosky says it succinctly:

It’s not so much that the stress response runs out, but rather, with sufficient activation, that the stress-response can become more damaging than the stressor itself, especially when the stress is purely psychological.  This is the critical concept, because it underlies the emergence of much stress-related disease. (4)

Put another way by John Ratey and Richard Manning in Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization (7):

…the real problem, the killer, is the chronic, unrelenting, unremitting series of regular events that wears us down. (p. 237)

Regular events that remain perpetually unresolved and over which we feel little control, such as hours in traffic, the unfair boss, monthly mortgage payments, boring sex and relationships, lousy food day after day, addictions, lack of sleep, crime, etc. Our stress response never rests. In a fashion similar to the pancreas producing more and more insulin in response to excess exposure to glucose “If we repeatedly turn on the stress response, or if you cannot turn off the stress-response at the end of a stressful event, the stress-response can eventually become damaging.” (4) (p. 16)

Our stress response is always in the “on” position. We find it hard, if not impossible, to turn off our autonomic nervous system. We can’t relax. We need constant stimulation. Our blood pressure never returns to normal, our stress hormones remain high, our blood vessels are constricted and our blood thickens. Our moods fluctuate with anxiety or depression. The Mayo Clinic conservatively states that: “Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to…high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.” (8) I would add Irritable Bowel Syndrome, insomnia, chronic fatigue, rosacea, allergies, asthma, anxiety, depression, anger, drug abuse, social and interpersonal problems and more.

Modern lifestyles predispose us to disease. Our ancestral health is compromised. Combined with sedentary behaviors, industrialized diets, Western hygienic practices (9) and certain vaccinations (10) stress creates the perfect storm of degenerative disease and psychiatric disorder. Although evolution designed us to meet a wide variety of conditions, modern living places us in a perpetual state of stress that exhausts our immune systems. This sets the stage for chronic disease.

In the next article, I will explore what we can do to reduce stress, restore our ancestral health and remain productive within modern society.  Meditation, fostering positive relationships and affiliations, successful aging, cognitive re framing, and “Going Wild” will be covered.

References

  1. http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems
  2. http://www.stressforskning.su.se/english/research/research-areas/psychoneuroimmunology
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sapolsky
  4. Sapolsky, Robert M., Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. (2004). Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
  5. Marmot, Michael, The Status Syndrome. (2004). Holt Paperbacks.
  6. National Geographic. (2008). Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG0ZuTv5rs
  7. Ratey, John & Manning, Richard, Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization. (2014). Hachette Book Group, Inc.
  8. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
  9. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-unintended-and-deadly-consequences-of-living-in-the-industrialized-world-5324305/?no-ist
  10. http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080304/news_1n4immune.html

 

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Natural Measles Immunity — Better Protection & More Long-Term Benefits Than Vaccines

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Natural immunity compared to the immunity provided by vaccines is extremely different. Public health authorities have made a case for measles eradication since the early 1980s, 50-plus years of mass measles vaccination have stopped nothing.

  • Reflect On:

    Why pharmaceutical companies continue to make false claims about vaccines, using mass marketing. Why are they allowed to? And why does everyone believe them?

Stories about vaccines in the popular press tend to be unabashedly one-sided, generally portraying vaccination as a universal (and essential) “good” with virtually no downside. This unscientific bias is particularly apparent in news reports about measles, which often are little more than hysterical diatribes against the unvaccinated.

Although public health authorities have made a case for measles eradication since the early 1980s, 50-plus years of mass measles vaccination and high levels of vaccine coverage have not managed to stop wild and vaccine-strain measles virus from circulating. Routine measles vaccination also has had some worrisome consequences. Perhaps the most significant of these is the shifting of measles risks to age groups formerly protected by natural immunity. Specifically, modern-day occurrences of measles have come to display a “bimodal” pattern in which “the two most affected populations are infants aged less than 1 year and adults older than 20 years”—the very population groups in whom measles complications can be the most clinically severe. As one group of researchers has stated, “The common knowledge indicating that measles [as well as mumps and rubella] are considered as benign diseases dates back to the pre-vaccine area and is not valid anymore.”

A little history

Before the introduction of measles vaccines in the 1960s, nearly all children contracted measles before adolescence, and parents and physicians accepted measles as a “more or less inevitablepart of childhood.” In industrialized countries, measles morbidity and mortality already were low and declining, and many experts questioned whether a vaccine was even needed or would be used.

Measles outbreaks in the pre-vaccine era also exhibited “variable lethality”; in specific populations living in close quarters (such as military recruits and residents of crowded refugee camps), measles mortality could be high, but even so, “mortality rates differed more than 10-fold across camps/districts, even though conditions were similar.” For decades both prior to and following the introduction of measles vaccination, those working in public health understood that poor nutrition and compromised health status were key contributors to measles-related mortality, with measles deaths occurring primarily “in individuals below established height and weight norms.” A study of measles mortality in war-torn Bangladesh in the 1970s found that most of the children who died were born either in the two years preceding or during a major famine.

Moms who get measles vaccines instead of experiencing the actual illness have less immunity to offer their babies, resulting in a ‘susceptibility gap’…

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Measles vaccination and infants

Before the initiation of mass vaccination programs for measles, mothers who had measles as children protected their infants through the transfer of maternal antibodies. However, naturally acquired immunity and vaccine-induced immunity are qualitatively different. Moms who get measles vaccines instead of experiencing the actual illness have less immunity to offer their babies, resulting in a “susceptibility gap” between early infancy and the first ostensibly protective measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age.

A Luxembourg-based study published in 2000 confirmed the susceptibility gap in an interesting way. The researchers compared serum samples from European adolescents who had been vaccinated around 18 months of age to serum samples from Nigerian mothers who had not been vaccinated but had experienced natural measles infection at a young age. They then looked at the capacity of the antibodies detected in the serum to “neutralize” various wild-type measles virus strains. The researchers found that the sera from mothers with natural measles immunity substantially outperformed the sera from the vaccinated teens: only two of 20 strains of virus “resisted neutralization” in the Nigerian mothers’ group, but 10 of 20 viral strains resisted neutralization in the vaccination group. This complex analysis led the authors to posit greater measles vulnerability in infants born to vaccinated mothers.

…many vaccines may eventually become susceptible to vaccine-modified measles…and consequently complicate measles control strategies

The Luxembourg researchers also noted that in the Nigerian setting, where widespread vaccination took hold far later than in Europe, the mothers in question had had “multiple contacts with endemic wild-type viruses” and that these repeat contacts had served an important booster function. One of the authors later conducted a study that examined this booster effect more closely. That study found that re-exposure to wild-type measles resulted in “a significantly prolonged antibody boost in comparison to [boosting through] revaccination.” Taking note of expanding vaccine coverage around the world and reduced circulation of wild-type measles virus, the researchers concluded in a third study that “many vaccinees may eventually become susceptible to vaccine-modified measles…and consequently, complicate measles control strategies.”

Bimodal distribution

With the disappearance of maternally endowed protection, what has happened to measles incidence in infants? A review of 53 European studies (2001–2011) focusing on the burden of measles in those “too young to be immunized” found that as many as 83% of measles cases in some studies and under 1% in other studies were in young infants.

At the same time, the predictions of an increased percentage of measles cases in older teens and adults have also come true. Reporting on a higher “death-to-case ratio” in the over-15 group in 1975 (not many years after widespread adoption of measles vaccination in the U.S.), a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researcher wrote that the higher ratio could be “indicative of a greater risk of complications from measles, exposing the unprotected adult to the potential of substantial morbidity.”

In recent measles outbreaks in Europe and the U.S., large proportions of cases are in individuals aged 15 or older:

  • In the U.S., 57 of the 85 measles cases (67%) reported in 2016 were at least 15 years of age. U.S. researchers also have conservatively estimated that at least 9% of measles cases occur in vaccinated individuals.
  • Among several thousand laboratory-confirmed cases of measles and an additional thousand “probable” or “possible” cases in Italy in 2017, 74% were in individuals at least 15 years of age, and 42% of those were hospitalized.
  • Examining a smaller number of laboratory-confirmed measles cases in Sicily (N=223), researchers found that half of the cases were in adults age 19 or older, and clinical complications were more common in adults compared to children (45% versus 26%). Likewise, about 44% of measles cases in France from 2008 to 2011 (N=305) were in adults (with an average age in their mid-20s), and the adults were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized as infected children.

Time to reevaluate

Pre-vaccination, most residents of industrialized countries accepted measles as a normal and even trivial childhood experience. Many people, including clinicians, also understood the interaction between measles and nutrition, and, in particular, the links between vitamin A deficiency and measles: “Measles in a child is more likely to exacerbate any existing nutritional deficiency, and children who are already deficient in vitamin A are at much greater risk of dying from measles.” Instead of inching the age of initial measles vaccination down to ever-younger ages, as is increasingly being proposed, there could be greater value in supporting children’s nutrition and building overall health—through practical interventions that “improve[e]…existing dietaries through the inclusion of relatively inexpensive foods that are locally available and well within the reach of the poor.”

Ironically, while acute childhood infections such as measles protect against cancer, the rise of chronic childhood illnesses (disproportionately observed in vaccinated children) is linked to elevated cancer risks.

There are many other tradeoffs of measles vaccination that remain largely unexplored, including the important role of fever-inducing infectious childhood diseases in reducing subsequent cancer risks. Ironically, while acute childhood infections such as measles protect against cancer, the rise of chronic childhood illnesses (disproportionately observed in vaccinated children) is linked to elevated cancer risks. These tradeoffs—along with the dangerous loss of infant access to protective maternal antibodies and the higher rates of measles illness and complications in older teens and adults—suggest that measles vaccination deserves renewed scrutiny.

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Awareness

10 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Walk Everyday

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    There are multiple health benefits to be gained by taking a simple walk every day. These benefits are measurable, and if you don't already have an active lifestyle it can be a great way to assist you with your health.

  • Reflect On:

    Reflect on how the human race has become extremely sedentary, and how disease rates continue to climb as a result of the modern human lifestyle.

The human experience has become extremely sedentary, the average human lifestyle in the western world has been linked to multiple diseases and is one of the main causes of why disease rates continue to climb, among many other factors that surround all aspects of human life, like big food, for example. With technology in place and jobs that require tremendous amounts of sitting, there is no doubt that it’s having a detrimental effect on our lives.

That being said, the world is clearly becoming way more health conscious. It’s like we needed this experience of unhealthy food, the corporate take-over of everything, and our motionless lifestyle to knock us out of it. We are seeing a health revolution take place, where more and more people are becoming health conscious, and are always being encouraged to be more active.

Ultimately, we can’t really blame the human experience for our lack of movement, it’s something that all of us have the time to incorporate into our lives in one way or another, and if you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy being too active, a simple walk every day can have tremendous amounts of benefits. As pointed out in the video below, by Bright Side.

If You Want To Increase The Benefits Even More, Walk Barefoot

It’s called grounding, or ‘earthing’ and it involves placing your feet directly on the ground, without shoes or socks as a barrier. Why? Because there is an intense negative charge carried by the Earth, it’s electron-rich, which serves as a good supply of antioxidants and free radical destroying electrons.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health titled “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons” postulates that earthing could represent a potential treatment for a variety of chronic degenerative diseases.

That’s right, many positive health benefits occur as a result of walking barefoot, and these are measurable.

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The picture below represents improved facial circulation (right image) after 20 minutes of grounding, as documented by a Speckle Contrast Laser Imager (dark blue=lowest circulation; dark red=highest circulation). Image Source: Scientific Research Publishing

If you want to read more publications and access the in-depth science with regards to grounding, you can refer to the article linked above the picture.

10 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Walk Barefoot On Earth 

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Nature Valley Ad Shows The Down Side Of Children Addicted To Technology

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Technology has impacted most of our lives in a really big way. We use it daily for everything we do pretty much. Kids today, unlike previous generations, use technology more than ever and spend much less time in nature.

  • Reflect On:

    How much is too much technology for young and developing minds? Is it time to reevaluate our children's relationship with technology and get them back into nature?

Technology has become a staple in most of our lives, really, could you imagine life without it? In the video posted below, Nature Valley asks 3 generations what it was that they did for fun as a kid, the answers from the youngest generation may or may not surprise you, but is it time to cut back on the technology and bring kids back to nature?

Technology is not bad per se, that isn’t the discussion here. This is about how we use it.

Before technology, children would look to nature for entertainment. They would play outside on the lawn, go sledding, build forts, and use their imagination to create their own entertainment. Nowadays it’s all too easy for kids to get sucked into technology, there are video games, tablets, computers, cell phones and television, all of which provide a type of escape from the real world. Although, there are many ways that technology is and has been used for good in the world, is the disconnect that it is causing children and adults to part from nature causing more harm?

With the rise of mental disorders and illnesses, is it possible that the answer to these issues is simply to get kids back into nature, more time with self, using their brains to build things, be creative and connect to the energy from the Earth? We already know how effective a simple walk or hike in nature is and how they both can literally change our brains. Nature appears to be much more important than we generally give it credit for.

In my own experience, disconnecting from technology and going camping on my own proved to be a very cathartic and healing experience for me. I’ve come to realize that although being immersed in nature regularly does have a lot of benefits, but even just making time for it at all can cause a positive impact. For many of us who live in cities, with the constant bombardment of noise and of course EMF frequencies etc., just disconnecting for a short period can make a huge difference.

The following video is a brilliant ad from Nature Valley, check it out.

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It’s easy to get emotional watching something like this as it shows just how far removed the newer generations are from what has been most natural to children for centuries, simply playing in nature. The children are essentially self-proclaimed tech addicts and get their entertainment by playing video games, watching videos or tv shows, texting etc. Is it time to go back to the basics and start evaluating how detrimental too much technology can be on young and developing brains? You can read more about this issue here, Is Your Child Struggling From Nature-Deficit Disorder?

Is it up to the parents to ensure they are setting proper boundaries with the amount of time their children are allowed to use technology? Or is this the future and something we should simply let happen as a natural part of evolution?

Much Love

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