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Knowing Your Allostatic Load Can Help Prevent Disease

Do you want to live a long, healthy life? Then you are in the right place. What if we told you that you could make a few adjustments to your lifestyle that would reduce your risk of developing an illness? This is actually possible, as long as you know which changes to make. Today, we’ll talk about the concept of “asllostatic load” and how it could be managed in a way that improves your health.

Allostasis Helps Maintain Stability

Allostasis refers to the changes a body goes through to restore its homeostatic balance. “Allo” means “variable,” so in combination with “stasis” it produces something like “staying the same by changing.” Allostasis is similar to homeostasis but it’s more concerned with how the brain helps the body change and adjust to new conditions.

Allostasis and Stress

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest factors that throws off our body’s internal balance and stability is STRESS. For many of us, stress is a daily experience, whether it’s worrying about being late to work, missing meals or getting aggravated sitting in the rush hour traffic. Stress is actually not always a bad thing. In some situations, stress hormones help us focus, act fast and avoid unpleasant outcomes. When your body responds to stress, it does so by using resources in its nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

Internal vs. External Stress

Stress is actually more complicated than you think. There are two different sources of stress: internal and external. Internal stress has to do with our bodies and originates inside of us. For example, dehydration can lead to internal stress, and so do overeating, negative thoughts and physical exhaustion. External stress, on the other hand, is often caused by external factors that are in some cases outside of our control. For example, low income and difficulty paying bills can be stressful. Relationships, social instability, work and environmental factors are other examples of external stress. It is possible to be subject to multiple stressors at the same time, and for some of us it’s a daily reality.

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Allostatic Load

The cumulative stress our bodies deal with through allostasis is known as allostatic load. When the body is able to find resources to manage the allostatic load and restore the balance, we feel resilient and bounce right back. But when allostasis is not successful and the body runs out of allocated resources to manage stress, we suffer from chronic stress and develop an allostatic overload.

ALLOSTATIC OVERLOAD is accumulation of unresolved stress that may eventually lead to illness. It may manifest itself as a chemical imbalance, disturbance in the sleep/awake cycles and even a cardiovascular disease. As a result of prolonged exposure to a growing allostatic load, you may develop such conditions as:

  • anxiety disorder
  • depression and memory loss
  • hostility and aggressiveness
  • substance abuse and addiction
  • hypertension
  • autoimmune disorders

Think of allostatic load as one of the factors that determines your personal risk of disease. The higher the allostatic load, the more likely is your health to decline.

Some People Get More Stressed Than Others

Stress is simply your body’s reaction to external or internal stimuli. As you might have noticed during your interactions with others, the same type of event may be stressful for you, but not for someone else in the same situation. For example, meeting a deadline on a project at work can stress you out immensely, while your coworker remains incredibly calm and seems to no care much.

This can be partially explained by the different “conditioning” we go through as children. Often people who experience abuse, neglect or other traumatic events at a young age tend to train their bodies to overact and stress more over simpler things. Your genetic makeup, ethnicity, age and other personal factors also play a role in how you experience stress and how fast you recover. Everyone’s capacity to adapt (allostasis) is different, so some people are more likely to accumulate allostatic load than others.

How is Allostatic Load Measured?

At Women in Wellness, we measure your allostatic load through the combination of surveys and tests. First, we look at any symptoms you may be exhibiting that may indicate increased stress levels, such as frequent headaches or insomnia. Then we conduct a few tests and have you provide any recent bloodwork and other labs you had done. On this stage, we consider such factors as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, waist-to-hip ratio, inflamation, hemoglobin and similar factors. With all this data combined, we are able to come up with your allostatic load score. If your score is high enough, we may recommend making certain lifestyle adjustments to help you prevent allostatic overload and stay healthy.

Reducing Your Allostatic Load

Now that you know that high allostatic load may have long-term negative consequences for your health, you may wonder how you could reduce it. Reducing your allostatic load typically has three components:

  • Eliminating as many stressors as possible
  • Reducing exposure to the remaining stressors
  • Counteracting stress with de-stressing activities

To be successful in this effort, first you need to know the sources of your allostatic load. It’s best to work with a functional medicine specialist to pinpoint these sources for you, because they definitely differ from person to person.

Depending on where your stress is coming from, here are a few ways to counteract it:

  • Regular exercise
  • Social support from friends and family
  • Whole food diet and supplements
  • Reducing exposure to household chemicals
  • Plenty of rest
  • Reducing self-criticism
  • Spending time doing what you enjoy

Often, a big part of reducing your allostatic load is mental. Simply changing your mentality from “go-go-go” to “stop and smell the roses” can make a big difference in your stress levels. It’s important to remember that taking care of yourself and your health is not selfish—it’s what you owe to yourself and your family.

If you live in or near Towson, MD and would like professional help in reducing your allostatic load, get in touch with Women in Wellness for a free consultation!

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