Many people don’t know they need to relieve stress for their liver’s well-being. However, the body can deliver some pretty major hints that stress relief is needed. Especially important for those with liver concerns, these five signs of stress should raise a red flag urging relaxation.
by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
Living with chronic liver disease renders affected individuals more vulnerable to stress. Despite the many sources, manifestations and reactions to stress, health professionals understand that people with a compromised liver are in greater need of stress relief than those with a fully functioning one. Since we all live with some degree of stress – and we all handle it differently – these five clues that you are in need of stress relief can help you seek serenity before your liver becomes overwhelmed.
Stress is a term used to describe the wear and tear the body experiences in reaction to everyday tensions and pressures. Change, illness, injury or career and lifestyle changes are common causes of stress. However, it’s the effects of stress – like pressure and tension – that we feel in response to the little, everyday hassles, like being late for an appointment, dealing with a broken hot water heater or receiving a fistful of bills that do the most damage.
The body and mind’s response to pressure that disrupts its normal balance, stress occurs when people are unable to manage their reactions to their experiences. When a reaction is expressed as resistance, tension, strain or frustration, the person’s equilibrium gets skewed – an imbalance that is the source of many health problems.
In fact, the American Institute of Stress claims that up to 90 percent of all health problems are related to stress. Appearing in the January 2006 edition of the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Y. Chida and colleagues published the review “Does Stress Exacerbate Liver Disease?” which sheds some light on the effects of stress on liver disease. They found the following:
• Fear and anxiety significantly decrease the flow of blood through the liver.
• People who demonstrated personality traits indicating they are most likely to hold onto stress were more likely to have acute liver transplant rejection.
• Research on healthy animals found that restraint and electric foot-shock stress triggered elevations of ALT levels (an enzyme correlated with liver damage).
The authors surmised that there are several ways stress harms the liver, including:
• During stress, natural killer cells are expanded in the liver, which can contribute to liver cell death and worsening of liver disease.
• In the part of the brain that controls the liver, stress appears to impair blood flow and may lead to or trigger liver damage.
• Stress can directly impact the inflammatory process that takes place in the liver. In those with chronic liver disease, inflammation is the beginning in a series of events that cause liver damage.
The authors of this study concluded that even though all of the interactions between stress and the liver are not completely understood, there appears to be a negative association between stress and liver disease progression.
It’s easy to recognize when you are completely stressed out, but sometimes your body gives clues prior to a total emotional meltdown. By viewing these five signs as indications that stress relief is warranted, those with liver concerns can address their stress before it gets out of control. To protect your liver from stress, be on the lookout for:
1. A Sore Jaw – During the day and even while sleeping, people under stress may clench their teeth or grind them back and forth against one another. Known as bruxism, teeth clenching and grinding can damage teeth and cause severe jaw and neck pain.
2. Bad Skin – Stress is well-known to affect our external appearance. Stress can render the skin more sensitive to irritants, worsen pre-existing conditions like rosacea, psoriasis and acne, and it also dehydrates the skin.
3. Libido Loss – Although loss of sexual desire can stem from many different types of physical and emotional issues, stress is certainly one of the most common.
4. Hair Shedding – About 100 hair strands falling out per day and being replaced by new ones is a normal process. However, this hair loss can escalate to losing half to three-quarters of your hair when under extreme physical or emotional stress. Technically called telogen effluvium, stress-induced hair loss can occur weeks or months after the stressful event.
5. Perpetually Stuffy with the Sniffles – The link between stress and immunity has been documented in just about every culture. If your immune system is rundown as evidenced by a seemingly endless run of colds, stress is one of the most likely culprits.
For those who are managing chronic liver disease, nearly every aspect of their life comes under scrutiny for its ability to help or hinder the liver. When it comes to stress, there is no doubt that it hinders liver function. Being aware of things like an aching jaw, having an uncharacteristic acne breakout, losing interest in sex, shedding chunks of hair and constantly battling a cold can signal that your stress levels are just too high. If this is the case, your liver would appreciate every effort you make to relieve stress and bring your body and mind back into equilibrium.