Allostatic load is a concept used to describe the long-term effects of continued exposure to chronic stress on the body. It is defined as “the process by which a state of internal, physiological equilibrium is maintained by an organism in response to actual or perceived environmental and psychological stressors”. The term is increasingly used in medicine to refer to or describe the cost of chronic exposure to our nervous and hormonal systems due to ongoing challenges that the individual may experience as stressful. 

Colloquially, we often refer to allostatic load as the ‘wear and tear’. When we are forced to navigate difficult and unpredictable times, the associated cumulative stress will impact our allostatic load. Elevation of markers such as C-reactive protein, cortisol, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, thyroid function and DHEAs are all considered as potential indicators for increased allostatic load.

Researchers exploring the impact of allostatic load on the body identify the three progressive stages as; ‘alarm’, ‘resistance’ and ‘exhaustion’. Understanding these different responses and how they relate to the chronicity of our symptoms may help to address and diffuse our allostatic load.  When we are experiencing stress and are fatigued we run on the hormone cortisol inappropriately which can impact our blood sugar levels, increase inflammation and reduce restorative sleep.  

How to Minimise Your Allostatic Load

Manage Blood Sugar Levels –  with a healthful ‘live’ food diet, avoiding packet food, processed sugar and alcohol. Fluctuating blood sugar levels cause the adrenals to pump out more cortisol. A high protein with plant based carbohydrate diet can help compensate for these fluctuations.

Align Yourself with the Sun’s Natural Circadian Rhythm – Our energy levels and mood will be affected by our exposure to the dark at night but equally sunshine, especially in the morning. Exposure to appropriate light and dark aids in reducing cortisol and stimulates appropriate hormonal responses.

Address Inflammation in the Body – When the body is distracted trying to resolve other causes of inflammation such as; digestive issues, food allergies, SIBO, candida, hormonal issues etc, cortisol is recruited and it becomes more difficult to balance adrenal hormones.

Don’t Forget to Breathe – Whether we are stressed, happy, anxious physically active or peaceful, our breathing reflects this state within the body and our nervous system. Equally, we can influence our nervous system and physical state by becoming aware of, and by making subtle changes to our breathing. We can create relaxation, decrease pain, and improve healing and mental wellbeing.

Try an Abdominal Breathing Exercise – sit or lie down comfortably with your feet flat on the floor. Put one hand on your upper chest, and the other on your abdomen, just under your ribcage. Be aware of how deep or shallow you are breathing.  Your abdomen will rise as you breathe. Try to keep your chest relatively still and your upper hand should move very little, while your abdomen should lift your other hand.

Imagine a feeling of warmth as the breath moves from your mouth, down your throat, into your lungs, and your diaphragm expands.  Inhale slowly for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four and then exhale slowly through your nose for a count of four. Observe your thoughts and breath, whilst repeating this cycle for five minutes daily can support relaxation and help to minimise some of the anxiety that we may all be feeling during these unpredictable times.

The accumulation of overwhelm becomes our allostatic load and the consequent damage to our bodies. Researchers acknowledge this typically will be magnified during unpredictable and uncertain times. Structure and daily practices can be helpful to minimise and offset the health impacts from our allostatic load. Take extra care of yourselves and those close to you, and please remember to reach out to us here at Darling Health.

Wishing you all a restorative and refreshed Spring!

Amanda Haberecht