We try to avoid pain, and we are drawn to pleasure. But we are smart enough to realize that we can’t seek pleasure constantly. If we try to pursue pleasure too often, it eludes us. The more we try for pleasure, the harder it is to maintain. We become insensitive to the pleasure over time. This is called the “pleasure paradox”, where seeking more pleasure yields less. Pain is similar, in reverse: if we experience chronic pain, we are able to get used to it to some extent and become less sensitive to it. That may seem a blessing, although it also means we are paying less attention to what the pain is signaling as we learn to live with it. We see a pain paradox as well: if we are too comfortable with pain, we don’t seek to find the cause. And we don’t seek to correct the cause naturally: we don’t exercise, fast, or do anything to avoid greater pain down the road.
Have you ever had a bad smell in your house, which you can’t completely remove? After awhile you get used to it. Others coming to your home notice the smell acutely when visiting, and you may notice it again after you’ve been away for awhile and then return. You get used to it, and the smell no longer gets your attention — but it has not gone away.
Biochemical signals in your body work this way. Whenever you have stimulus of any sort, it eventually loses its impact. That’s not because the signal has stopped — it’s because the sensitivity to the signal is reduced. The body gets numb to the signal, and more is required to have the same impact. When the signal is chronic rather than cyclical, sensitivity lowers. When the signal stops, sensitivity rises.
Don’t be insensitive
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11.3% of the U.S. population has diabetes. Prediabetes, where the blood sugar is chronically running higher than normal but isn’t quit diabetes yet, appears in 38% of the population. Worse, for those over age 65, almost half have pre-diabetes. In fact, one of the risk factors listed by the CDC for pre-diabetes is being over the age of 45. That’s where simple statistics can be misleading: being older doesn’t mean your body has a higher tendency towards diabetes. Rather, it means that lifestyles we adapt more as we age promote the disease. But diabetes (type 2) is just a name for the massive insulin insensitivity that has developed over a period of excess insulin signaling. When the body gets a significant vacation from the insulin overdrive, the insensitivity remits, and diabetes can reverse.
There is another hormone that gets less attention than insulin, but works closely with it: cortisol. Cortisol affects glucose uptake and can contribute to insulin resistance. Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone, sounding an alarm that boosts energy, increases blood sugar levels, limits or shuts down digestion, shuts off immunity and basically prepares the body for action. In a real emergency, those reactions are needed to prepare the body for extraordinary physical action, such as running from a physical danger. But these days, most stresses aren’t of an immediate physical nature. Instead, they are concerns and worries that may last for long periods. When the cortisol levels are continually high, the body becomes insensitive to the hormone. This disrupts the normal functioning of the hormone.
If you have diabetes/insulin insensitivity, you chronically have high insulin levels. If you are stressed out, you have elevated stress hormone (cortisol) levels. In both cases the high levels are not getting the expected results because you’ve become insensitive to them. These hormones are not meant to remain at high levels in your body: you are taking damage from the excess hormones as well as from the stress itself.
Cortisol is considered to be the body’s main stress hormone. Normally, it is anti-inflammatory because it regulates the immune system, but excessive levels of cortisol train the immune system to ignore that regulation. Like the rest of the body, the immune system is becoming insensitive to it. The anti-inflammatory effects loose their influence, and the result is actually higher inflammation as the immune cells ignore the regulation being signaled by cortisol.
This is a major way that chronic stress harms you, by opening the door to rampant inflammation. Many studies show that ongoing stress harms health, and many show the damaging effects of inflammation — here is one study linking the two. Published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)(1), researchers led by Carnegie Mellon University studied the effects of chronic stress on inflammation. They ran two studies. In the first, participants were exposed to a common cold virus. Those who scored high on their stress interview were also most likely to show cold symptoms. In the second, participants were first screened based upon their body’s inflammatory response, and then exposed to the cold virus. That study found that those with poor cytokine regulation over-produced the cytokines, resulting in higher inflammation when infected. Together, these studies showed that stress was increasing inflammation and causing greater disease symptoms, and the mechanism spurring the inflammation was through cortisol produced during stress. The tissue insensitivity to the cortisol resulted in poor inflammation regulation. Stress directly squelches various metabolic processes that are needed to fight disease, and the over-production of cortisol leads to greater inflammation, which means that disease usually follows. Chronic stress is a lose-lose.
We’re tired of hearing this
The major stress hormones are generally anti-inflammatory, yet chronic stress increases inflammation. Isn’t that a contradiction? The answer appears to be in the downstream effect of glucocorticoids (GCs), one of which is cortisol. When the adrenals release GCs, the effect, while initially enhancing immune function, is immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory in the longer term. Immune cells that are still sensitive respond properly and retard the immune system and inflammation through a complex chemical feedback loop. However, when immune cells are de-sensitized, this feedback loop works poorly, reducing the limitation on cytokine development. The immune cells simply aren’t getting the message because they are tired of hearing it and start ignoring it.
Published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers at the Laboratory of Stress Medicine, in Shanghai, China reviewed previous studies to understand this interaction. They stated their conclusion with, “Acute stressors seem to enhance immune function, whereas chronic stressors are suppressive.” The fight-or-flight type of stress, which is acute but not long-lasting, activates the immune system as a protection against danger in the short term, then through a negative feedback loop restrains inflammation, but a de-sensitized immune system caused by long term stress ignores the downstream process which should regulate it.
Having an occasional fright, such as when someone cuts you off in traffic and nearly hits your car, is normal. Our stress reactions handle this well, and we are instantly prepared to react, but then we calm down. This is how the system is meant to react. But these days chronic, unrelenting stress is more common, and this breaks down the normal restrictions on inflammation, letting it spiral out of control. Disease is very opportunistic, just waiting for a compromised immune system to strike. If it does, and the stress continues, the situation only gets worse.
Stress turns a proper immune and inflammatory response into an open door for disease. Yes, stress is hard to deal with, and if you are like many of us, you may not even realize how much chronic stress you are under. Your health depends on your taking stress seriously and keeping it in check.
Dr. Nemec’s Review
This is such an important concept: the idea of acute versus chronic. If any signaling molecule is chronically stimulated it only has one choice to desensitize to the stimulus so it stops signaling. This happens with any hormone, neurotransmitter and cell membrane receptor. What causes all these to get stimulated? The environment you are in: your physical and the mental emotional environment and how you see them. How you see your life is probably most important.
Let’s take two different patients that come to Total Health Institute diagnosed with a major health challenge. The first patient comes in and is excited about their new life, the new health that we are going to be producing so they embrace the diet and lifestyle changes with open arms. The second patient comes in and sees everything as work — they do not want to change their diet, they do not want to change their lifestyle. They just want to get rid of their disease. Both of their diseases were caused by chronic stressors and both have the possibility to heal if they put their energy in the right direction. When people say they don’t want to change their diet, which is the second biggest inflamer of the body and mind, we know there’s going to be a problem. This is two-fold: first the food they’re eating and have been eating is setting off inflammatory messages with every meal that they eat, and second they bring the stress upon themselves unnecessarily by not wanting to change one of the major causes of the inflammation. So this can quickly become a downward spiral — chronic stress from food and chronic stress from feeling deprived of the very thing that is triggering the inflammation causing the disease.
We are very specific in our recommendations. We do 3-D brain imaging and brain mapping to determine the stress programs, and we do nutritional genetic testing and food sensitivity testing to customize the diet. All the patient has to do is embrace the changes positively so that the environment can switch from chronic stress to occasionally acute stress. This stress issue is so big that we even have a program to address this when it’s only in the mental emotional phase and has not made the body sick yet. It is so much better to nip things in the early stage then to wait for advanced disease to develop.
Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.