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Written by Dr. Welsh, Article reviewed and edited by Dr. Fine M.D..
Published on 15 January 2015

Diabetes Cure on the Horizon?

Diabetes is one of the biggest health issues in the United States today, affecting millions of Americans. Diabetes is the seventh most common cause of death in America today, and for that reason, it is a huge area in American medical research. What if it were possible to cure Diabetes? Imagine how many lives would be saved and how much longer people would live. Well, new research shows that there may be hope for Diabetes sufferers, and one day in the near future, they may be able to overcome the disease entirelyat least patients with Type-1 Diabetes.

What is the Difference between Type-1 and Type-2 Diabetes?

Type-1 Diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs in childhood. It is the least common of the two forms of Diabetes, affecting only five to ten percent of diabetes sufferers. Type-1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system of the patient directly attacks the pancreatic islet cells which produce insulin. Over the course of years, the ability to produce insulin is entirely depleted in the patient, and they need to take insulin to survive. Insulin is the hormone which facilitates the transfer of energy from glucose to the cells.

Type-2 Diabetes, on the other hand, is far more common, and generally becomes an issue in adulthood. It is largely a lifestyle disease, in which the patient develops what is known as insulin resistance, where their body loses the ability to effectively transport glucose. Historically, Type-2 Diabetes has been rare in adolescent patients, but the number of patients with this condition is rising. Type-2 Diabetes is caused largely by a diet which is high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, which causes sugar levels and insulin levels to spike in an unnatural way. Over time, the body often loses its ability to effectively produce insulin as a result of this condition, necessitating medical treatment.

UAB Diabetes Study

In a groundbreaking study by the University of Alabama Birmingham, scientists have discovered that there is a medication that is currently available on the market which has the ability to counteract Diabetes in animal subjects. Mammals, at least for the most part, all use insulin the same way, so what works in mammals should also work in human beings. The results of this study were so promising that they led directly to a donation of over two million dollars by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, in order to attempt to replicate the results in a human clinical study.

This research study is titled The Repurposing of Verapamil as a Beta Cell Survival Therapy in Type 1 Diabetes. The study is projected to start in winter of 2015, and is ultimately the result of a decade plus of combined research led by the University of Alabama Birmingham Comprehensive Diabetes Center.

How Does Verapamil Cure Diabetes?

This study is promoting a revolutionary new form of diabetes treatment. Scientists and medical professionals have long known that the beta cells of the pancreas are responsible for the production of insulin, but there have been no medical approaches designed to promote the regeneration of these vitally important cells. When glucose enters the blood stream, the Beta Cells produce insulin to transport glucose to cells.

Researchers at UAB have discovered that elevated blood sugar leads directly to the excess production of a particular protein known as TXNIP. Beta cells produce TXNIP, and patients with Diabetes produce way too much of it. Before UAB discovered their function and processes, no one knew what these proteins did. Unfortunately, when the Beta Cells have elevated levels of TXNIP for too long, this is toxic, and contributes to the death of the cells. This is why Type-2 Diabetes gets worse over time.

Using this knowledge, UAB Researchers tested the effectiveness of various existing drugs upon the TXNIP concentrations within Beta Cells. What they discovered was that one particular medication, known as Verapamil, had the ability to suppress TXNIP levels significantly in rodent models. Rodents with blood sugar levels higher than 300 mg/dl and clear diabetes were given Verapamil treatment, and the medication was so effective, that the rodents essentially no longer suffered from Diabetes.

What Is Verapamil Used For?

Verapamil is a type of medication which is known as a Calcium Channel Blocker. The medication is designed to alleviate symptoms such as chest pain and high blood pressure by encouraging vasodilation of the blood vessels and the heart. The medical treatment is also sometimes used for certain conditions in which the heart beats irregularly.

This is not the first time that a medication designed to facilitate vasodilation has shown potential outside of its established or hypothesized use. Viagra is an effective erectile dysfunction medication which was first synthesized in order to treat similar conditions, but was found to be more effective as an erectile aid.

Information Regarding Verapamil Diabetes Trial

Now that they have established the effectiveness of Verapamil in animal subjects, it's time to test the effectiveness and safety of the treatment on human patients. In this study, 52 participants will be selected for study. Selected patients will range in age between 19 and 45. This study is looking to select participants that have just been diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes in the three months prior to recruitment.

These patients will be divided into a control and experimental group. Half of the patients will be given placebo, whereas the other half of the patients will receive Verapamil. All patients will continue using Insulin Treatments for the duration of the study. Throughout the study, the patients will also carry a device which is designed to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels for the entire year, providing researchers with vital information with regard to their health state.

Patients experiencing unexplained weight loss, fatigue, excessive urination, or significant thirst are encouraged to visit their doctor in order to see if they suffer from Diabetes and could potentially benefit from this study.

Research Indicates that Verapamil May Be a Highly Effective Diabetes Treatment

The lead researcher in charge of this trial is Dr. Anath Shalev, who is the head of the University of Alabama Birmingham Comprehensive Diabetes Center. He explains that it is clear from the Center's research that Verapamil has the capability to both stop diabetes before it starts and cure those that currently suffer from Diabetes, at least in rodent subjects. By suppressing TXNIP in Beta Cells, it appears possible to fully protect and preserve the production of Insulin.

Verapamil appears to be effective, or at least highly beneficial, for practically all patients suffering from Diabetes, even those that are suffering from severe Diabetes. The primary cause of Type-1 Diabetes is the death of Beta Cells, and if it is possible to prevent these cells from dying or create an atmosphere in which they can regenerate, this would be huge. As of today, there are no treatments of this kind that are available to patients.

The secondary head of this Diabetes Cure Study is Fernando Ovalle. He also played a major role in creating this study, and will be responsible for making sure everything goes to plan with the execution of the human trial. He will be in charge of collecting data, testing, treatment, and the recruitment of participants.

How Is Diabetes Treated Today?

Today, the symptoms of Diabetes are treated, rather than the root cause. In order to promote and preserve the health of the patient as effectively as possible, doctors prescribe drugs to reduce blood sugar, and also prescribe insulin in order to facilitate the effective transport of glucose to cells throughout the body. When blood sugar levels are too high, it essentially becomes toxic, and damages the circulatory system.

If it is possible to treat Diabetes with Verapamil, this will change the way that Diabetes is treated world wide, and could even eliminate the need for Insulin and other drugs in the long term. As people are growing older and more susceptible to Diabetes, a treatment like this could save so many lives and billions of dollars each year.

Diabetes is an American Epidemic

Diabetes is one of the most dangerous and widespread diseases in the United States today. In fact, it is currently the 7th most common mortality risk among Americans. The devastating effects of Diabetes are widespreadThe circulatory issues associated with diabetes lead to a host of health issues, including amputation, kidney disease, blindness, hypertension, and heart attack.

Diabetes is an incredibly common condition, and the American government estimates that more than 12% of men and women over the age of 20 suffer from diabetes, whether they realize it or not. Beyond that 12%, it is believed that 37% of patients are pre-diabetic, meaning that their blood sugar levels are elevated. This means that, in the near future, it is nearly undeniable that the number of people with Diabetes will continue to grow. Only ten years ago, 27% of Americans over 20 were considered to be pre-diabetic.

New cases of Diabetes continue to increase in the United States, but are finally starting to slow down. Over 8% of adults were discovered to have Diabetes in the year 2012. Certain populations are more susceptible to Diabetes at this time than others. Hispanics and blacks, for example, are still experiencing Diabetes at an increasing pace, as well as men and women that never graduated or only graduated high school.

It is imperative to find new and more effective treatments for Diabetes not only for the social cost but for the financial cost of the condition as well. It is estimated by the American Diabetes Association that Diabetes cost the United States almost $250 billion dollars last year.

Changes in Beta Cell Function Play a Role in both Type-1 and Type-2 Diabetes

It has been clear for many years that both Type-1 and Type-2 Diabetes are largely the result of diminishing Beta Cell Function. It's also been clear that both forms of Diabetes lead to the death of Beta Cells. It is only recently, and due to the diligent efforts of UAB researchers, that we have come closer to recognizing the root cause of the condition.

Interestingly enough, even adult patients with Type-1 Diabetes diagnosed in their youth still have some level of Beta Cell activity in spite of their autoimmune issues. Unfortunately, there are not enough Beta Cells to promote healthy blood sugar.

Previously, it was hypothesized that it would be possible to implant Beta Cells in order to facilitate healthier blood sugar, but in practice, this form of treatment is incredibly costly and of limited effectiveness. As a result of this, increased research is being put into figuring out a way to create an atmosphere in the pancreas and the Beta Cells where the body could regenerate its own tissues and restore its own ability to produce insulin. It appears that Verapamil may be able to do just that, suppressing the negative influence of TXNIP and allowing the Beta Cells to propagate and repopulate the Pancreatic Islets. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is the biggest charity in the world which promotes research to help patients with Type-1 Diabetes.

The JDRF has a number of goals with regard to the research that they choose to fund. In particular, this study was chosen because the charity places a particular emphasis on research which is designed to potentially allow patients to restore proper pancreatic function. Any study which may potentially cure Type-1 Diabetes is near the top of their list for grants, and Verapamil may lead Diabetes to know longer be a chronic condition, but an actual, reversible disease. The specific name of the JDRF initiative is the Beta Cell Restoration Research Program.

One of the means by which it would be possible to cure Diabetes would be to catch the condition relatively early and provide aggressive treatment designed to amplify the function and survival of the Beta Cells which produce Insulin. Dr. Andrew Rakeman, a director at the JDRF explains that this Verapamil study is an end result of years and decades of Diabetes basic research promoted by the charity. Before new, practicable research can be conducted, the scientific foundation must be laid for those new treatments.

As a result of all of this basic research, it is now possible for scientists to use that science to create treatments that can benefit patients and save lives. This treatment may benefit patients with both Type-1 and Type-2 Diabetes. Dr. Rakeman is excited about this study because it can absolutely change the way that Diabetes is treated, and may even cure the condition, at least in some facet.

In this study, the patients will see both their established Clinical Endocrinologist and the Research Practitioners. The goal of the University of Alabama Birmingham researchers will be to assess the ability of the patient to make their own insulin, and measure how well the patient is controlling blood sugar based upon the readings on their glucose sensor. The researchers will also use a modern and advanced test called C-Peptide Response in order to assess how well the patient is able to produce his or her own insulin, and how many functional beta cells that they actually have over the course of the study.

Verapamil Has Big Advantages for Patients over Other Clinical Diabetes Trials

Because of the way that Verapamil works, it is much safer for the patient than other forms of experimental treatment being studied. Most other experimental studies use medications which modulate or suppress the immune system, in order to slow down or prevent the immune system from attacking the Beta Cells. Unfortunately, drugs like these can have significant side effects which can be very hard on the patient.

Verapamil has long been used by patients suffering from high blood pressure and other related conditions. In fact, it has been used effectively for over thirty years with no significant side-effects. As a result of this, the researchers are highly confident that the use of the medication will not lead to any severe side-effects, even if the treatment is, in the end, of limited effectiveness.

There is a lot of scientific data, derived from both animal research and in vitro human tissue studies, that shows how Verapamil works, and how it can effectively treat diabetes. If this treatment is effective, it will be the only Diabetes treatment available that actually promotes the natural proliferation of natural Insulin and the natural enhancement and proliferation of Beta Cells.

How Did Researchers Discover that Verapamil Could Be Effective for Diabetes Patients?

It took more than ten years for the original hypothesis regarding Diabetes Research to turn into actionable results. It began with a simple brainstorming question, and has developed into a totally new mechanism for Diabetes treatment.

Dr. Shalev feels strongly that this Verapamil Treatment will change the way that we treat Diabetes throughout the world. At this point, it is unclear exactly how effective that the Verapamil treatment will be. It's very much possible that this research will eventually lead patients to invigorate their Beta Cell concentrations so significantly that they can overcome the need for Insulin treatments. It's very possible that this treatment could totally cure Diabetes. Dr. Shalev is quick to point out that, although this research points to that potential conclusion, that a single year of treatmentthe duration of this particular studywill likely not lead to a total independence from Insulin.

This does not mean that Verapamil will not be extremely beneficial to patients, however. Even if Verapamil is unable to totally reinvigorate Insulin Production, increased natural Insulin Production will benefit the patient significantly even if they still need to take Insulin. This is because natural Insulin production of any kind allows the body to tweak Insulin levels to meet the needs of the body. One of the issues with Insulin Injections alone is that they can't adapt to particular circumstances and meet the ideal needs of the body accurately, which increases the risk of complications. Increased natural Insulin Production reduces the risk of these complications.

Even the concept of Verapamil will totally change the way that we think about Diabetes. This represents an entirely new area of Diabetes Study, one that the University of Alabama Birmingham is on the forefront of, along with the Southern Research Institute. The two institutions have combined forces to form the Alabama Drug Discovery Institute. In addition to the current study featuring Verapamil, they are also looking into other potential treatments that have the ability to modulate TXNIP levels in order to effectively treat diabetes by preserving and proliferating the Beta Cells of the Pancreatic Islets.

Dr. Shalev explains that none of the current treatments available provide ultimately effective treatment for Diabetes, which is why mortality rates associated with the disease are so significant. This research is the first time where there truly is hope to reverse the global Diabetes epidemic. The doctor also explains that it is due to the vigorous efforts of the University of Alabama Birmingham Comprehensive Diabetes Center and the forward thinking of the administration and the friends of the school that created an atmosphere where these advances are possible.

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Written by Dr. Welsh, Article reviewed and edited by Dr. Fine M.D..
Published on 03 November 2014

Insomnia Guide

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a condition in which a patient has serious issues falling asleep, or wakes up frequently throughout the night. Insomnia refers to a number of sleep issues, and can be diagnosed when the patient:

  • Has Trouble Getting to Sleep

  • Is Restlessness During Sleep

  • Sleeps for a Short Time and Wakes Up Unable to Fall Asleep Again

  • Wakes Up Before One is Rested

  • Is Fatigued Even After Rest

Kinds of Insomnia

There are two main categories of Insomnia, based upon the root source of the condition: Primary Insomnia and Secondary Insomnia

What is Primary Insomnia?

Primary Insomnia refers to sleep issues that are not caused by other health issues that the patient experiences.

What is Secondary Insomnia?

Secondary Insomnia refers to sleep issues that are related to other aspects of a patient's health state or lifestyle. There are a number of subcategories here:

  • Emotional issues such as depression and anxiety can lead to Insomnia

  • Health problems such as heartburn, cancer, or arthritis can lead to Insomnia

  • Lifestyle issues such as drinking or shift work can lead to Insomnia

Chronic and Acute Insomnia

Insomnia is also categorized by frequency and duration. Chronic Insomnia refers to Insomnia which has been an issue in the patient's life for an extended period of time, whereas Acute Insomnia refers to temporary, yet still significant sleep disruption. Some patients deal with Chronic Insomnia day after day, whereas others only experience the condition under certain circumstances.

From a medical perspective, Chronic Insomnia refers to sleep disruption which lasts for at least a month and manifests itself at least 3 times per week, whereas Acute Insomnia refers to Insomnia which only occurs a single time or over the course of less than a month.

What Causes Acute Insomnia?

Acute Insomnia is generally the result of factors and changes in one's life, including stress and environment. As such, usually Acute Insomnia can be treated through changing one's habits. The following are some factors which can lead to Acute Insomnia:

  • Disruption of Sleeping Habits resulting from Lifestyle Adjustments

  • Certain Medications, including those for Asthma, Hypertension, Depression, Allergies, and Cold

  • Environmental disruptions, including uncomfortable heat or cold, light, or noise

  • Uncomfortable sleeping arrangements

  • Emotional distress

  • Illness

  • Major stress, such as stress resulting from moving, divorce, mourning, or employment changes

What Causes Chronic Insomnia?

There are certain conditions in one's life which can lead to Chronic Insomnia, but in the case of Primary Insomnia, the root cause is physiological and direct. Secondary causes of Chronic Insomnia include:

  • Discomfort or pain which make it hard to fall asleep

  • Chronic stress which prevents the body and mind from successfully falling asleep

  • Anxiety and depression which make it difficult to prime the mind for restful sleep

What Are the Symptoms of Insomnia?

Sleep is incredibly important. Our bodies use the time that we are asleep to rebuild and rejuvenate our bodies. Our brains also use sleep to form long term memories and remember important information. Hormone Balance is also predicated on healthy sleep, as Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone, along with other hormones, are primarily produced while we are asleep. The following are some of the most common symptoms of Insomnia:

  • Forgetfulness

  • Trouble Concentrating

  • General Exhaustion

  • Daytime Sleepiness, or a Tendency to Fall Asleep During the Day

How is Insomnia Diagnosed?

Unlike many other conditions, it's pretty easy to recognize when one is suffering from Insomnia, although patients that wake up exhausted may be less likely to seek assistance as quickly as those that experience frequent sleepless nights. If you believe that you are experiencing Insomnia, make an appointment with a health professional.

During your appointment, you'll usually provide a medical history, and your doctor will perform a physical in order to evaluate your condition. You'll also, obviously, need to report the sleeping issues that you've been experiencing, including the severity and the duration of your issues.

Most doctors will request that you maintain a diary of your sleeping habits over the course of a couple of weeks, in which you write down when you remember falling asleep and waking up, as well as your energy levels during the day. If you have a partner, your doctor may want to discuss your sleeping habits with them in order to learn more about your sleeping habits, including any snoring or restlessness that you may not experience consciously.

If your doctor suspects sleep apnea, or another condition which inhibits sleep which can't be effectively diagnosed without actually monitoring your sleep, they may arrange for you to go to a sleep specialist.

How is Insomnia Treated?

How Insomnia is treated depends upon the severity and the duration of the Insomnia. For patients that experience short term, Acute Insomnia, no treatment may be needed at all, or the treatment may just be minor, perhaps even just a simple OTC Sleep Aid.

For patients with light Insomnia, the best form of treatment is often lifestyle adjustment—making the effort to engage in healthy and conscientious sleeping habits.

For patients that are experiencing Chronic Insomnia which is impacting their ability to perform in their Day-to-Day life, your physician may provide you with one of many prescription medications designed to help you fall asleep easier. Generally, these treatments are only prescribed short term, as the goal is to restore a normalized sleeping pattern and then train the patient to sleep better on his or her own.

For Chronic Insomnia, the ideal prescription medication for most patient activates rapidly and helps the patient fall asleep quickly before wearing off, allowing the patient to sleep restfully throughout the rest of the night. For these patients, OTC Sleep Aids aren't enough under most circumstances, and long term use of these sleep aids can lead to side-effects which can even exacerbate Insomnia in the long term.

Of course, one of the most important aspects of Chronic Insomnia diagnosis and treatment is to discover whether the patient is suffering from Primary or Secondary Insomnia. The physical and medical history will provide evidence as to any underlying conditions which may be preventing healthy sleep. By treating these conditions, and helping the patient fall asleep more easily in the meantime, it is often possible to help the patient overcome Insomnia completely.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also highly effective for the treatment of Insomnia, because there are certain patterns and behaviors which can exacerbate Insomnia, or may even be the root cause of Chronic Insomnia. Some forms of therapy which have shown significant effectiveness are reconditioning, sleep restriction, and relaxation techniques.

How Can I Overcome Insomnia with Good Habits?

If you are having issues with Acute Insomnia and would like to try to fix the problem on your own before seeing a specialist, there are some smart steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene and improve your sleeping habits. Try incorporating these tips into your life and see what happens:

  • Don't smoke or use caffeine in the early afternoon or evening—These vices have the capacity to cause or exacerbate anxiety. Both nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and if you use them late, it can make it really hard to go to sleep if you have a sleep sensitivity. Caffeine has a half life of around 5 or 6 hours, so you should have your last cup of coffee at least six hours before bed, if not nine hours.

  • Don't drink in the evening—Alcohol can help you go to sleep, but the intoxicating effects will wear off while you are asleep, and this can cause you to wake up early and hungover.

  • Establish a stable sleeping pattern—For people with Insomnia, making the effort to create a normalized sleeping pattern can be highly beneficial. Your body prefers to run on an established 24 hour pattern, and deviating from that pattern can have consequences in the form of poor sleep and insomnia.

  • Avoid naps—Although some people function well with an afternoon nap, for people with Insomnia, a nap can lead to nighttime restlessness that prevents them from getting healthy sleep.

  • Exercise Regularly—Exercise stimulates your body and helps you establish set physiological patterns. If you don't get enough exercise, this can cause you to experience symptoms of Chronic Fatigue, which can leave you constantly tired but unable to sleep well. Of course, it's important to exercise at the right time. Exercise is a highly stimulative activity, so its best for the morning or early afternoon, when you would normally find yourself dragging. Daytime exercise can help you sleep better, but if you exercise in the 3-4 hours before bed, this can get you too stimulated to sleep.

  • Don't eat too much just before bedtime—Many people make the mistake of loading up on a big meal late in the evening before bed. Although it is true that a light, protein-based snack can provide healthy benefits while you sleep, a big meal weighs you down and puts a strain on your digestive system, which slows down when you fall asleep.

  • Create a comfortable and inviting sleep space—Often, people have trouble sleeping because they don't have their bedroom designed with a healthy night's sleep in mind. Excess light and sound can make it really hard to sleep. Also, be sure to turn your thermostat to a temperature that really puts you in a comfortable mood.

  • Establish patterns before bed to help you relax—Try to follow the same pattern every night, and your body will adopt the pattern and promote restfulness. Take a hot shower before taking a half hour to wind down with a book, for example.

  • Don't use your bed as an entertainment space—Too often, people have trouble getting to sleep, because they watch television or play games on their laptop or cell phone in bed. Anything that stimulates you in bed (besides sex) is counterproductive.

  • Don't Stay in Bed When You Can't Sleep—If you find yourself dwelling on the fact that you can't sleep, get out of bed and do something else. It can actually make it even harder to fall asleep if you don't get out of bed. Spend thirty minutes or so doing something like reading or organizing that doesn't get you too active.

  • Keep a To-Do List—For people that have trouble sleeping because of anxiety and worry, it can be helpful to write down a list of things you need to do in the near future. Create a time line or a grocery list. Write a list of your worries. Once you get your worries down on paper, push them out of your mind until the next morning.


Written by Dr. Welsh, Article reviewed and edited by Dr. Fine M.D..
Published on 23 October 2014

The Importance and Purpose of Stress

You hear a lot about the bad things associated with stress these days. Too much stress causes a plethora of problems that are bad for both our mind and our body. It's largely a symptom of the world we live in, with all of its pressures. Of course, stress is a natural, physiological response that is important, in spite of the issues that it causes when we experience stress in abundance.

Perhaps the biggest issue with stress isn't necessarily the source of stress, but rather the way that you respond to that stress. Let's take the remainder of this article to discuss stress in more detail—why we experience it, how it benefits us, and how it can harm us.

Stress is complex. It's not only a psychological feeling, it represents the physiological way that our bodies respond to stressors. Although physical and psychological stress may seem very different on the outside, our bodies react to them in the same way.

What is Stress?

Stress is a feeling that you get when you consciously or subconsciously feel that you are unable to meet obligations and expectations. It's a feeling that you get when something inside of you tells you that you can't do something.

What Are the Different Kinds of Stress?

There are different forms of stress. Some people experience chronic stress, meaning that they are plagued by such feelings that leave them drained. Sometimes, stress is episodic, meaning that it comes and goes as a result of certain psychological, social, or physiological cues. Acute stress is also a problem that some people experience. Acute stress is when things that elicit a stress response have a larger effect on an individual than they should.

Everyone has their own stress profile, and have their own reasons why they get stressed. Stress can be categorized into two forms: Extrinsic and Intrinsic stress. Extrinsic stress is the result of factors outside of yourself, like when you have a big project or presentation due at work, or you're flirting with someone that you're attracted to. Intrinsic stress is stress that is the result of things going on inside of your own head. Perhaps you've built walls inside yourself that you have to overcome to be social, for example. Or maybe you find yourself questioning your self-worth. These are forms of intrinsic stress.

Your feelings of stress actually represent physiological changes that are going on inside your body in an attempt to help you deal with stressors. These physiological changes are associated with what is known as the fight-or-flight response. When you feel stress, your sympathetic nervous system activates. The sympathetic nervous system gets your body ready to deal with immediate issues, whether you are risking life and limb, or feel anxiety about an upcoming exam.

When you feel stressed, your body responds in a system-wide manner. When stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, your body experiences a veritable flood of Hormone and Neurological response, all designed to help you overcome that stress.

What Are the Phases of Stress Response?

Stress response can be divided into three different phases:

Stage One: Alarm

The first response to stress is alarm. Alarm represents the recognition of a perceived threat, which initially activates the sympathetic nervous system response. During this phase of stress response, the brain sends signals to systems all throughout the body to go on high-alert. This response is mediated by the Hypothalamus, which is considered the “control center” of the human brain. An important part of the alarm phase is the activation of the adrenal glands, which produce cortisol and other stress hormones.

As these signals circulate through the body, they encourage a wide variety of changes. For example, stress primes your circulatory system to send oxygen to the skeletal muscles and brain, and it speeds up the lungs and heart. At the same time, your body's baseline functions, such as digestion, slow down. This is your body's way of getting you out of a threatening situation, temporarily sacrificing your normal function to get you out of harm's way, or stir you to take action. Your body also sends energy in the form of glucose to these organs, getting you ready to put it all on the line, if necessary.

The issue with the way that the body prepares for stress, is that there isn't really a meaningful mechanism for the brain to differentiate between different forms of stress, whether that stress is menial or life threatening, minor or major. Stress developed as an evolutionary response, and it is present in all complex animals. The fact that physical and emotional stress are handled in the exact same way by the body is a hold-over from our ancestors. The body's response to psychological stress in the modern world, therefore, can be overkill, to say the least. This is why many people feel overwhelmed by stress, and we've all likely felt this way at some point or another.

Stage Two: Resistance

The second phase of stress is resistance. During this phase, your body has prepared itself for response, giving you the tools to respond to stress. Your brain has altered your physiological priorities for action. During the resistance phase, the Hypothalamus initiates another Hormone Cascade designed to amplify and enhance your response to stress further. During this period, the Hypothalamus secretes three important hormones, known as Thyrotrophic-Releasing Hormone, Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone, and Corticotrophin-Releasing Hormone.

This phase of stress response is designed to keep your body adapted to ongoing stress. This second phase heightens the body's preparedness in a variety of ways, all designed to protect you in a high-pressure situation. For example, the body starts catabolizing proteins and fatty acids into glucose. This provides energy to your muscles, even if you don't have carbohydrate energy immediately available. Also during the resistance phase, the body increases salt and water retention to protect you in case you start bleeding or are seriously hurt.

Another aspect of stress response is that the brain suppresses sensations of pain so that one can make it through a stressful situation alive and in one piece. This is why, for example, if you get in a fight or a car crash, you will likely underestimate your pain levels until after the damage is done.

Again, these changes are designed to keep us alive and to help us win fights or run away, but we also respond with stress in myriad of situations which are far more benign.

Stage Three: Exhaustive

The third phase of stress is exhaustive. This is the body's response to long bouts of stress or chronic stress, which are different than a stressor which can be dealt with quickly. It is this form of stress which can be most detrimental to health and wellness, because the body functions optimally when it only activates sympathetic response when needed, rather than leaving stress “on” all the time.

Exhaustive Stress is the result of extended periods of excessively high pressure and alertness which inhibit health and wellness. Exhaustive Stress will eventually lead to a condition known as Adrenal Fatigue, in which the body is no longer able to produce enough stress hormones, and this also drains the body of the resources necessary to produce other hormones such as HGH and Testosterone which are associated with healthy and optimal function.

Exhaustive Stress can be divided into two categories, although the body will respond in the same manner. Some people experience this form of stress for an explicit reason. For example, military personnel can experience Exhaustive Stress as a result of long-term high-stakes situations which necessitate peak performance.

The second category belongs to ordinary people that experience exhaustive levels of stress as a result of their body's chronic over-response to everyday stressors or psychological stress. For example, people with PTSD or high levels of anxiety can be so on edge that their bodies spend an overwhelming amount of time in a stress phase, putting undue pressure on the body. Also, many people experience exhaustive stress as a result of issues such as chronic pain. Stress is not only psychological, but physical, and the body responds to physical pain with a sympathetic stress response.

Exhaustive Stress weakens the immune system, as stress response is designed to protect one against immediate threats. The catabolic processes which create energy from protein also eat away at muscle tissue, depleting strength and reducing energy levels over time. The body also loses its ability to produce hormones effectively, which can actually leave you more susceptible to pain over time. Exhaustive stress is dangerous and significantly increases mortality risk from a variety of sources if not dealt with appropriately.

Healthy Stress Associated with Enhanced Performance

Although too much stress is obviously very bad, experiencing just enough stress can be extremely beneficial, which explains why human beings still experience stress. Stress is designed to be a temporary response to “get you into the game.” It gets your body and mind ready to take action. If you don't experience any stress, you aren't ready to do what you need to do, but if you have too much stress, you lose everything beneficial about stress and only experience the negative aspects of stress.

Of course, psychological stress is more multifaceted than we've described in this article, but this provides a rough sketch of how stress “works.” There are many different types of stressors, and different people obviously get stressed about different things. For example, some people experience stress as a result of difficult tasks, where as others experience stress as a result of simpler, more repetitive tasks. Some people experience existential anxiety, whereas others experience excess stress as a result of social interactions.

Stress is Not Always Tangible

As a result of both the complexities of modern life, and the complexities of the human mind, not all stress is the result of events in our day-to-day lives. Unlike most animals, we have an internal dialog, and internal hopes and dreams, and our stress can actually be the result of things going on inside of our own head rather than our response to the world around us and our preconditions. This is one of the reasons why human beings are so susceptible to stress—our brains and our culture have evolved in a way that can potentially cause our natural, evolutionary response to stress to work against us.

How to Deal With Stress

Part of learning to deal with stress is learning about what causes it, and how our bodies and minds respond to stress as a single unit. Many patients can learn to deal with stress through cognitive behavioral therapy. Others benefit from physical activities that relieve stress such as exercise or yoga. Because the body and mind both respond to physiological stress response, taking steps to relax the body can relax the mind. The reverse is also true, which is why meditation and cognitive therapy can also relieve symptoms of physical stress.

Hormone Imbalance also both contributes to stress, and is a side effect of Adrenal Fatigue and Exhaustive Stress (which, in many ways, are one in the same). Excess physical and psychological stress cause the body to favor hormones which benefit the individual immediately, while limiting the body's ability to produce hormones associated with homeostasis and balance, such as Growth Hormone and Testosterone. Long term, extreme stress drains the body's ability to effectively produce all of these hormones, leaving the patient in an even more dire state.

Manage Stress to Improve Health and Wellness

Controlling stress is one of the key factors of living a healthy life. If you are having trouble with stress, and your personal efforts aren't enough, it would benefit you greatly to visit a life coach, psychologist, or even a fitness, nutrition, or wellness specialist. There's no reason to let yourself be eaten alive by stress, when there are things you can do and people you can talk to that can help you. Learn to master your stress for a happier and healthier life!

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