Stress Related Disorders and Low Grade Inflammation

Low grade inflammation is widely documented in the research literature as an indicator of impending health problems and well established as a factor underlying many health disorders.  Those with hidden, low-grade, non-specific inflammation often fall victim to reverting to stress-related disorders.

The current stressors in the U.S., such as the economic downturn, the concerns over healthcare reform and the direction of the country, are the types of multiple cumulative stressors influencing people’s health.  I am seeing an increased number of people with dysregulated adrenal function, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and thyroid dysregulation.  My personal observation is that it is comparable to the increase in stress related disorders seen after the 9-11 attacks on the United States.

In a large, prospective study reported in a January 2008 article in the Archives of General Psychiatry,  measuring indicators of the altered stress response 1, 2 and 3 years after the 9/11 terrorists attacks indicated long-term, ongoing stress associated health problems. The authors of the 2008 article eloquently explain:

Because acute stress reactions often accompany underlying stress-related physiologic arousal initially, they may mark the onset of physiologic processes that ultimately affect cardiovascular health.  The allostatic load theory posits that activation of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis sets off a neurohormonal cascade that supports coping initially but threatens health if it persists after the event has passed.

The authors conclusions support my clinical findings with many patients as I’ve discussed in a previous article.

Stress-related disorders can be brought on by one major stressor or by many concurrent less intense stressors in a short time period.  Either way, the allostatic load imposed by constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system can overload the adaptive coping mechanisms of people predisposed to stress-related disorders.  Those more prone to inability to adapt to stressors normally are often those that already have simmering health problems.

People with low-grade inflammation typically have the following:

  1. Adult blood laboratory test results with:
    • high-normal ESR level of about 9-12 mm/hr
    • high-normal high-sensativity CRP of about 0.8-1.0 mg/dl
    • fibrinogen levels over 300mg/dl
    • often the total T3 to reverse T3 ratio is less than 10
  2. Waist-to-hip ratio greater than 1:1 for adult male or greater than 0.8:1 in adult female
  3. Rapid heartbeat
  4. Elevated salivary cortisol levels in the morning, early afternoon and evening
  5. Chronic tightness of the upper trapezius and neck muscles
  6. Pain and tenderness over the area of the adrenal glands may be elicited with moderate pressure applied in that area of their backs
  7. When light is shed into the persons eye, the pupils may not hold a contraction.
  8. pH measurement of first morning urine is 5.8 or lower

Together, all of these signs are indications that low-grade inflammation may be an underlying factor in the processes involved in numerous disease conditions, including stress-related disorders.  Low-grade inflammation is one component of adrenal dysregulation.  In addition, low grade inflammation is often present in people whose diet consists of minimal amounts of dark green leafy and brightly colored vegetables.

Many people could benefit from following the anti-inflammatory Therapeutic Lifestyle guidelines.  I have mentioned those guidelines in some of my blog posts.  I encourage you to implement some of all of them especially if you are dealing with a major stressor or multiple stressors.  If you think you are already suffering from a stress related disorder, consult a doctor that can properly diagnose and implement the appropriate treatment to restore your health.

Let me know what you think by posting a comment below. If you have any questions, post it as a comment or contact me through our contact form above.

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