The root cause of many chronic health issues, says local acupunturist and herbalist Jessica Godino, boils down to stress (and far too much of it at that).
At the beginning of her class, Unwinding Stress, held on Saturday, Oct. 11, at the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference, Godino asked participants to consider their health in relation to stressful events in their lives. “Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a chronic health issue. Now, when it started, what was going on in your life?”
As a community healer, Godino notes that most often the beginning of a chronic health issue (insomnia, depression, low libido, chronic anxiety) is directly connected to a time of extreme emotional or physical stress. Chronic stress can manifest in an array symptoms, leading to Godino’s theory that we are, as a culture, experiencing an epidemic of adrenal fatigue.
The adrenal glands, perched above our kidneys, are responsible for hormone regulation in response to stress. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are linked to the adrenal system and are our “foundational system of energy” in the body. In Eastern medicine, the adrenals are also connected to something more esoteric: to our “soul contract with heaven and with our destiny in the world,” says Godino.
In response to stress, our bodies are programed to take action: fight or flight. This response is critical for our survival, she explains. For example, if a snarling tiger leaps out before you, your body goes into immediate survival mode, and the adrenal glands get to work. The adrenals send a rush of glucose (sugar/quick energy) into the bloodstream, and cortisol in the body spikes. The immune system shuts down, and all energy in the body is focused on the immediate threat.
“In the face of chronic stress,” says Godino, “we all have a threshold.” In times of constant stress (when we experience repeated bouts of cortisol spikes) the adrenals become fatigued, and the brain itself begins to “stop giving proper messages” to the body. Godino call this “post-stress maladaption syndrome.”
Stress, according to Godino, can prevent minerals and calcium from being absorbed into the bones. Since cortisol regulates progesterone (a key hormone for reproductive success), stress can also lead to infertility, low libido and depression. Chronic stress can also damage the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to short and long-term memory (literally burning holes into this region of the brain).
Godino wants everyone to “step back” and identify the “hidden sources of stress” that affect their lives. By examining and identifying stress patterns and chronic symptoms, we can, slowly, unwind. “We become addicted to the patterns we’re in,” says Godino, “and we need to have support in this journey; we’re expected to do too much without support.”
Plant, Dietary, and Behavioral Solutions
Adaptogens are a class of herb “to heal communication between the brain and the body,” says Godino. “They help raise our threshold, help us become more resilent, and they provide energy.” Adaptogens like maca, ashwagandha, tulsi (holy basil) and Siberian ginseng (eleuthero) can help.
Siberian ginseng, says Godino, “helps with regulation of stress response and increases blood flow to the brain.”
To take these adaptogens, Godino recommends making “chi-balls,” a combination of the powered herbs mixed with coconut oil and cacao. Roll them up and enjoy these powerful medicine balls to help adapt to the stress of life. Godino also recommends mixing these adaptogens with honey and hot water.
Sleep: Make sleep a priority as it’s essential to blood sugar stability. And, Godino also recommends that eating plenty of healthy fats (but avoid vegetable oil) to help the body recover from adrenal fatigue.
For more information on Godino’s work and practice, Four Flames Healing, click here.