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Fasting and Stress Management
By Dr. Neil Nedley

Red and white flower open
            I discussed the role of certain nutrients in dealing with stress. Although there is definite merit in certain dietary modifica­tions in dealing with stress over the long haul, there is evidence that caloric restric­tion or even short-term fasting may have a beneficial effect in short-term stress processes.

Perhaps one of the most interesting ex­amples of the benefits of fasting is provided by a group of compounds called heat shock proteins (HSP). As you may gather from their name, these compounds made by your body actually can help you deal with the stress of severe heat as well as other physi­cal trauma. Interestingly, fasting augments production of an important heat shock pro­tein. Whether this has implications for help­ing us deal with other aspects of stress is unclear. However, it does raise interesting questions about the practice of fasting that has been historically linked with seeking spiritual resources—often in the context of stressful situations.

Rats that had their calorie intake re­stricted by 60 percent had an extended mean and maximum life span and a decrease in the onset of age-related diseases such as heart disease, arteriosclerosis, and cancel. Caloric restriction lowers the body tempera­ture set point and allows the body to utilize nutrients by metabolizing body fats instead of carbohydrates. Also, calorie restriction is thought to retard the activity of aging re­lated to free radical reactions.

Relaxation Training and the Im­mune Response

Training a patient how to relax has been demonstrated to prevent stress-related de­clines in immune function. Thirty-four medical student volunteers had their blood tested for cellular immunity one month before school exams and again on the sec­ond day of exams. Half of the group took relaxation therapy between the two blood sample times. On the second blood test, their blood showed significantly higher im­munity than the group that did not par­ticipate in relaxation training.


Biofeedback is a tool that monitors body functions such as heart rate, skin electrical resistance, etc. as the patient is exposed to various life situations. The measurements are correlated with such reactions as the degree of relaxation the patient feels. Relaxation techniques help the patient learn how to relax.

Sensors are attached to the skin at vari­ous locations on the body that measure muscle tone, skin resistance, heart rate, blood pressure, etc., which vary according to the amount of stress. The individual hooked to the machine can then identify how different strategies affect the measured stress indicators. The intent is to help the patient improve awareness of stress-induc­ing cues, become more aware of the symp­toms of stress, and gain more effective skills to manage stress.

Biofeedback has been shown to help address a number of conditions that may have connections with stress" These in­clude headaches, high blood pressure, at­tention deficit disorder (ADHD),"'' urinary incontinence and Raynaud's disease (a painful cold-induced hand condition). An excellent review published in The Integrative Medicine Consult highlighted these benefits. That source also observed that in a series of some 18 studies of biofeedback for high blood pressure, there was an average drop of 7-8 points systolic and 5-6 points diastolic.

Research on Raynaud's disease and biofeedback is particularly interesting as it re­lates to stress hormone mechanisms. Spe­cifically, biofeedback is able to impact on the same adrenaline-related hormonal sys­tems chat fuel our stress responses.

Exciting relationships are also emerging when it comes to biofeedback and addic­tions. Of perhaps greatest interest in the context of this chapter is the evidence that the nervous system circuitry involved in anxiety and depression may be related. Spe­cifically, biofeedback strategies that are de­signed to foster more beneficial brain func­tion in alcoholics appear to not only decrease anxiety, but also depression and the ten­dency to re lapse.”

DepressionFrom the book
Depression, the Way Out,
Nedley  Publishing, Ardmore, OK, 2001

Neil Nedley, M.D.,
Nedley Health Solutions
P. O. Box 1565
Ardmore, OK 73402

Toll-free: 1-888-778-4445
Phone: 1-580-226-8007
Fax: 1-580-223-2645