Your Body on Stress
The human body is incredibly well adapted to deal with short-term stress. However, stress that goes on for an extended period of time becomes a problem as it increases your risk for serious health issues.
When you feel stressed the first thing that happens is the nervous system goes into “fight or flight” response. When you’re stressed, the nervous system messages the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. Persistently high levels of these may impair memory and learning, and increase you risk of depression.
Stress hormones trigger the liver to produce more blood sugar and this will increase your risk for type 2 diabetes if it continues for a prolonged period of time.
During stressful times you tend to breathe faster, feel short of breath and can even hyperventilate. This makes you more prone to chest infections and breathing this way also signals to your body that yes indeed you are stressed, which triggers the nervous system and production of more stress hormones.
Stress increases pulse rate and blood pressure making your heart beat faster and work harder which can make you prone to heart disease and stroke.
Short-term stress boosts the immune system, helping your body fight infection. Ongoing stress hampers the immune system slowing wound healing and leaving you more susceptible to infection.
Extreme stress can cause dry mouth, indigestion, nausea, and gas, and it stimulates the muscles of the intestines which can cause diarrhoea or constipation. Stress may increase your risk for irritable bowel syndrome, severe heartburn, and stomach ulcers.
Muscles tense to deal with what your body perceives as danger. The constantly tight muscles can cause headaches and neck, shoulder, jaw and back pain.
What Causes Stress
Stress is anything that causes your body’s natural state to go out of balance.
Stress is a combination of:
- Emotional and Mental stress — the pressure of everyday life
- Environmental stress — things we are exposed to like pollution, chemicals and toxins which can compromise health
- Postural stress — work, exercise and sleep positions
- Nutritional stress — what we eat and drink either helps build, maintain and repair our body or creates toxicity and inflammation
- Oral stress — postural bite problems, dental infections and dental materials that are not in harmony with your body.
Stress, Acidity and Minerals
During times of stress cortisol is released. Cortisol’s job is is to reduce inflammation in the body.
However when inflammation becomes chronic, the level of cortisol continues to soar. This wreaks havoc on the body’s immune system and its ability to deal with infections.
The body’s response to uncontrolled infection (such as severe gum disease) can lead to many other problems such as increased susceptibility to colds and other illnesses, heart disease, high blood pressure, increased risk of cancer, tendency to develop food allergies, increased risk of gastrointestinal problems and increased risk of autoimmune disease.
As the cortisol levels increase the body produces acid, which alters the acidity level of the saliva, blood and urine. Increased acidity levels in the body have to be balanced or buffered to bring the body back to an alkaline state. This is done by drawing minerals out of the bones and teeth.
Stress also causes your body to flush out minerals, minerals like calcium, which are found in bones and teeth. This leaching of minerals combined with a more acidic and bacteria rich environment means stress makes us more susceptible to dental cavities and suppression of the immune system leads to an increase risk for developing or the worsening of gum problems along with more systemic conditions.
Stress and Breathing
It has been known for thousands of years that breathing has a powerful influence over our physiological and psychological well-being. Hence why mediation and breathing techniques have been around since the dawn of civilisation.
On average you take around 20,000 breaths a day and research has shown that the way you breathe can have a powerful effect on how stressed you feel.
Stress alters the way you breathe by speeding up the breath, switching from slow, abdominal breathing to faster, shallower, stressful, chest breathing. This is vital and healthy in the short term.
Many people habitually breathe from the upper chest, even though there is no stress, as they have simply gotten used to breathing this way. This style of breathing sends signals to the brain that we are under stress when we may not even be and releases the cascade of reactions that occur when in fight/ flight mode.
Focusing on your breath and how you are breathing can help build awareness of how you are reacting to life and how you are feeling. Breathing gently in and out through you nose is a really useful way to return yourself to a calm, relaxed state of being so that life’s influences do not impact so greatly upon you and your stress levels.
Learning what makes you stressed and how to deal with it will not only have a major impact on how you feel, your emotional state but also on your wellbeing and general health.
Susceptibility to tooth decay and gum disease increase during and after times of prolonged emotional or physical stress like an illness or major surgery.
This is due to the decreased ability to fight infection, increased acidity levels, leaching of minerals and reduction in the parotid hormone responsible for regulating the dentinal fluid flow through the teeth.
At times of stress people tend to reach for stimulants like caffeine and sugar to keep them going and alcohol in an attempt to take the edge off the pressures of life. The diet tends to be less than optimal and sleep becomes poor quality or disturbed.
These factors add up to create more toxicity and inflammation in the body which adds to the physiological stress it is under. It is no wonder “stress is a killer” when it wreaks so much havoc and disturbance to the body’s ability to be able to keep itself in balance and good health.
If you want to improve your health and in return have better dental health then dealing with and managing your stress levels is vital.
Dr Rachel Hall is a holistic and general dentist at Evolve Dental Healing Kenmore, Brisbane. She is a sought after presenter, writer and speaker on the topics of holistic dentistry, health and wellbeing.