Stress, Sugar, and Calcium

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Researchers have known that calcium excretion is enhanced by carbohydrates and caffeine intake. Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Even though research has shown excess calcium excretion with excess intakes of carbohydrates and caffeine, why it happens is not clearly identified. The following documents some of the work out there that may help explain why more calcium is excreted when we eat a diet high in carbohydrates or caffeine.

How Stress Reacts in our System

To understand stress and calcium, it may help to understand the stress response in our body. One of the more popular and famous works on stress is Hans Seyle’s book, “The Stress of Life”. Dr. Seyle had shown a curiosity early on for symptoms identified as “non-specific” symptoms. Non-specific symptoms could be things such as fatigue, chronic aches or pain, digestive issues, loss of appetite, and headaches. These are symptoms which are not indicative of any one disease, but seem to be a precursor to many diseases.

It was from these earlier observations that Dr. Seyle finally made a very unique connection between non-specific symptoms and stress. He postulated that stress was a single, non-specific reaction of the body to damage of any kind.

Part of his postulate was based on the concepts from Claude Bernard and Walter B. Cannon on homeostasis. Both of these men identified that the body will fight to maintain internal constancy. An example would be to run outside in the cold. The body will work to maintain internal body temperature and, only upon failure, will signs of frost-bite, fever, etc. show up.

The fight to maintain homeostasis was identified as the stress response. Dr. Seyle coined the term General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) to define the non-specific response to stress. He found that GAS had three specific stages: 1. the alarm stage or initial reaction, 2. the stage of resistance as the body fights for homeostasis, and 3. the exhaustion stage where the body begins to loose the battle.

He also identified a triad of symptoms which seemed to appear within the stress response: enlargement of the adrenal cortex, reduction of the lymphatic system, and destruction of the digestive tract.

Part of his research was instrumental in identifying the hormone pathway which ignited the stress response. The body stressor sends a signal to the hypothalamus who starts the cycle by releasing CRF. The hypothalamus acts as a bridge between the brain and the endocrine system. It’s hormone, Corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF), signals the pituitary to release ACTH. ACTH signals the adrenals to release corticoids.

The key thing that I want you to remember is that anything which throws the body out of homeostasis is a stressor and will create the stress response in the body. In addition, a key part of the stress response is in the adrenals.

Insulin In The Body

I want to jump to insulin. If you want to read more on insulin and insulin resistance or Syndrome X, there are a lot of books out there, but one that I like is “Insulin Resistance” put together by the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Hospital. It’s a little dry and may be a bit cumbersome to read. Yet, it’s packed with great information.

Insulin is one of two hormones in the body whose primary role is to maintain homeostasis of sugar levels in the blood. Insulin does this by regulating the uptake of glucose from the blood into the tissues and inhibiting release of glucose which is stored in the body. The liver stores a significant amount of glucose and insulin inhibits hepatic (liver) glucose release. Insulin, by inhibiting the release of glucose from the liver also inhibits the ability of the body to use fat as an energy source. The tissues most affected by insulin are muscle, liver and fat tissues.

Insulin has immediate, intermediate, and long-term effects on the metabolism of the cell. The immediate effects are realized within seconds of insulin being released into the body.

The key trigger for insulin release in the body is sugar.

Sugar and Body’s Response

In the US, we have a tremendous amount of sugar in our food production. If you look at our fast foods, our frozen foods, our candies, our sodas, sugar is all over the place. Just eating frozen foods can give you more sugar than your body really needs in any given day.

Because we have so much sugar in our food infrastructure, we are constantly releasing insulin into the blood. In a “normal” individual, glucose is rapidly absorbed and stored in ratios of 50% to muscle (which is later oxidized for energy use), 35% is released as glycogen, and 15% is released as lactate, alanine, or pyruvate.

There seems to be a limit on how much sugar will uptake into the muscles based on how much we use our muscles. The liver and the fat cells will uptake excess sugar until some point of saturation. Corn-syrup is getting especially high visibility due to its high fructose content. There are a number of studies indicating amounts as small as one soda a day can have significant impact on the metabolic functions such as: increases in fatty liver, high blood pressure, or diabetes, etc.

If Dr. Seyles work has validity, excess sugar in the body will throw the body out of homeostasis triggering a stress response. This will be a response in the adrenals/lymphatic/digestive system.

This brings us back to the adrenals. In response to stress, the adrenals are producing cortiso1 and one of the key functions of cortisol is to increase blood sugar levels. The reason the body releases sugar is to make available excess energy the body may need for a flight or fight response. Beyond just releasing sugar, cortisol has a number of metabolic impacts including: slowing down the digestive system and increasing blood pressure.

In Chinese Medicine, normal sugar would be the sweetness of a yam. So, to get an idea of how much additional sugar we are putting into our body, think of something as simple as our breads or rolls or a soda and how much more sugar those contain. Than think about how often you eat yams versus bread or something else.

So, now we have a bunch of sugar and cortisol traveling around our body. Our blood pressure and breathing has increased, and we can’t eat anything. How does this impact calcium?

Calcium and Magnesium

Researchers have known that calcium excretion is promoted by carbohydrates and caffeine intake. Sugars are a type of carbohydrate, and one that we take in excess. Similar findings have not been found with magnesium.

There are a number of different explanations for this dichotomy. I’m going to take the one from a Naturopathic presentation.

Calcium and magnesium are considered opposites that work together in order to keep the body balanced. In fact, in RBTI, calcium/magnesium/sodium/potassium are the four key minerals necessary to maintain cell wall integrity.

Calcium is an activator and creates tension in the body. It is needed for things like buffering acid, building bone, and heart rate, etc. Calcium restricts the movement of non-essential functions in the fight or flight response. So, when deficient in calcium first start taking calcium, they may experience constipation as calcium restricts the non-essential functions.

Magnesium, on the other hand is a relaxer and helps offset the tension of calcium. You may hear stories of people taking magnesium to relieve chronic constipation. It relaxes the bowels and counter-acts the actions of calcium.

An increase in our sugar consumption will cause a stress response in the body. Part of the stress response is a release of cortisol which set-offs the pathways to release calcium into the blood stream. Calcium creates tension and allows quicker movement, faster heart rate, increased breathing. The last thing we want is to have to make a quick get away and find out the body has released a load of magnesium making us want to just sit down and relax.

Overtime, the excess calcium being released due to sugar intake and cortisol in the body begins to deplete our calcium reserves causing mutations in the cell wall, insulin receptors and degeneration of the bone. The impaired functioning of the cell wall and insulin receptors will gradually degrade our health causing more symptoms. Sensations of anxiety, irritability and other emotional imbalances can show up along with digestive issues and bone degeneration. Working with someone trained in nutrition, herbs or alternative health can help you identify these deficiencies and take action to safe guard your health.