To the uninformed, the term allostatic load probably sounds more like a setting on your washing machine than a symptom of stress, but if your doctor suspects allostasis, he or she is telling you that your body may be picking up the tab for your stress-filled life.
Allostatic load is a culmination of all the overtaxed pressures in your life, whether that be work related, the result of relationships, health fears, and even past traumatic events that keep cropping up despite our best efforts.
These issues are bad enough by themselves, but then you toss in a diet that features too much sugar or salt, a caffeine habit that keeps you jittery all day, 24-hour news reports that feature no good news, and what you end up with is allostatic load.
Allostasis is a process that includes the release of stress hormones and neurotransmitters within the body. Each of these stress responses take a toll on your physical condition, which in turn only adds to your allostatic load. The end result of this stress buildup? You become sick.
In recent years, many doctors and health practitioners have suggested diet and exercise as a holistic means of relieving stress. And on the surface, a strict diet can make perfect sense. Where it goes wrong — especially when your allostatic load is at a high level — is the accompanying increase in metabolism, which means your body requires more vitamins, minerals and additional nutrients.
Since most dieting programs actually cut back on these vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals, you’re actually increasing your allostatic load. This can result in inflammation, which can cause insulin resistance, which actually leads to weight gain — which certainly wasn’t in your game plan.
Same goes for a strict exercise regimen. Nobody’s ever said anything bad about moderate exercise, but many of us go overboard, expecting faster results if we exercise faster — or harder, or more frequently. Again, the result is often an increased allostatic load and little or no progress toward better health.
Conventional Medicine Approach Versus the Functional Medicine Solution
One of the major problems I see with conventional medicine is that it puts all of its energy into eliminating illness rather than setting an objective of restoring good health. The traditional “modern” doctor often doesn’t recognize allostatic overload as a health issue, preferring instead to treat stress with pharmaceuticals. At best, that merely masks the symptoms, while at worse, it can prolong or worsen the problem.
When it comes to functional medicine, I seek to reduce those stress issues that magnify allostatic overload. Instead of spending all our effort on suppressing the symptoms of stress, I look deep into the underlying causes of those same symptoms.
Let’s say, for example, you suffer migraine headaches — and no amount of prescription or non-prescription medicine can even put a dent in that pain. I’m going to look closely at a number of factors — including elevated estrogen levels or estrogen dominance if the patient is a woman. I’m also going to look for signs of low blood sugar, excessive caffeine intact, and depletion of nutrients, among other items.
There are more areas where I’ll investigate, but first let’s deal with the items on this short list:
- Stress: Stress can lead to tense muscles that cause neck strain leading to migraines. I want to see if stress reduction and relaxation techniques —along with deep tissue massage — can alleviate stress.
- Estrogen dominance: Signs of estrogen dominance can include weight gain, fibrocystic breasts, and endometriosis. If this is contributing to the migraine, birth control pills could be aggravating the migraines in the long term. There could be low progesterone levels causing the endometriosis. Estrogen will also excite the immune system and slow the thyroid, aggravating the migraines.
- Hypoglycemia: I need to know when the patient eats breakfast, whether he or she skips meals, and the amount of sugar consumed. Any or all of these decisions can contribute to or aggravate hypoglycemia.
- Excessive caffeine intake: Caffeine is a stimulant that jacks up the body’s stress response, increasing a person’s allostatic load and sometimes increase muscle tension. Reducing or eliminating caffeine can reduce or eliminate this stressor.
- Nutrient depletion: As a body’s allostatic load increases, more nutrients are consumed. Replenishing these nutrients can further reduce the person’s allostatic load.
If you believe you might be suffering from allostatic load, call me at (718) 813-9299, or send me an e-mail at . I’m here to help!
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., DACBN, CFMP®, nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
About the Author: Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., DACBN, CFMP®, specializes in diagnosing and treating the underlying causes of the symptoms related to chronic and unexplained illness through nutrition, lifestyle, chiropractic, and other natural approaches to whole-health healing in Tampa, Florida. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Shenandoah University, his Doctorate in Chiropractic from Life University, his Diplomate status in Clinical Nutrition from the American Clinical Board of Nutrition, his CFMP® from Functional Medicine University, and his certification as a Digestive Health Specialist (DHS) through the Food Enzyme Institute. Dr. Lewis’ passion for health and wellness stems from his own personal experience. With a family history of autoimmune conditions and diabetes, and his own lab tests showing his genetic susceptibility to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid), he has learned how to restore his own health and vigor to prevent the onset of these and other illnesses and live an incredibly active life. Through this process, he acquired a deeper understanding of health and wellness, which he now offers his patients in Tampa.