Cut stress, ‘be a zebra’

Dr. Nancy Eklund had some unusual advice for diners at the Cayman Heart Fund’s annual Red Dress Luncheon this year – “Drink that wine, exercise every day and be a zebra”.

The doctor, who founded the Miami Centre for Holistic Healing, was speaking on the topic of “Stress, hormones and heart disease in women” at the luncheon at Grand Old House on Friday, 4 March.

She explained that chronic long-term stress can lead to heart disease, as well as weight gain.

Dr. Eklund described a scene in which zebras visit the same watering hole as their natural predators – lions – and asked why those zebras don’t appear to be stressed out when the big cats are just a few yards away.

“The reason zebras don’t get ulcers and they don’t get increased cardiovascular risk is because they’re not thinking about how to pay for a mortgage or their car payment. They’re not worried about their mammogram… or their colonoscopy. They’re not worried about how their kids are going to do in school or that they don’t like the boyfriend or girlfriend… Those zebras have clean air, good fresh food and probably good waters. And they’re not on drugs.”

She urged the audience, made up mostly of women in red outfits, to avoid foodstuffs that contain pesticides or herbicides, to eat organic food, to try to avoid unnecessary medication, to breathe fresh air, drink clean water and do what they can to reduce stress levels.

The doctor said that exercise, relaxation techniques, breathing from the belly, delegation and good nutrition were important in reducing stress.

The virtues of red wine were also extolled at the luncheon, but Dr. Eklund said that, like exercise, this was only healthy if it was done in moderation.

“This is only appropriate if you can limit yourself to one or two drinks a day,” she said, adding that for those who find it difficult to drink in moderation, they should take resveratrol, the active ingredient in the skin of grapes which has anti-cancer and anti-aging properties.

“Human beings have an incredible ability to adapt to stressful situations,” she said, citing cases of residents who live in war zones or survivors of the Holocaust. “Human beings were able to somehow adapt to that and survive. It goes beyond our reserve. Health is really about reserve, do you have enough left over to deal with something that comes your way. We need to have more reserve, and if we don’t, we become exhausted. It affects our cardiovascular system, it can increase the risk of diabetes… it can make us fat, it can increase cancer, anxiety and depression and can profoundly affect our immune system,” she said.

She said the risk of sudden death increases for people with a higher resting heart rate. “Chronic stress increases heart rate,” she added.

Stress can cause weight gain because large amounts of adrenal hormones are released in response to physical and psychological stress, which lead to a release of blood sugar or glucose into the system.

“You have to get it from what’s stored inside your body right now. That can also cause your muscles to be broken down to get that energy at that moment. What happens if you don’t utilise all that stuff that’s pouring into your blood stream – it gets stored in fat. This is a survival mechanism. If our bodies are under stress, if there’s a warring tribe coming to get us, if there’s a famine, if there is someone attacking you, you don’t have the energy so you have to store it up. If your body is experiencing stress, it has to store extra calories in fat,” said Dr. Eklund.

This fat is stored in the abdomen and can lead to insulin resistance, which is the first step toward diabetes.

The body has to make more insulin to balance the blood sugar levels.

The lunch was organised as part of the Cayman Heart Fund’s Heart Smart Week.


Chairwoman of the Cayman Heart Fund, Suzy Soto, left, with guest speaker at the Red Dress Luncheon at Grand Old House, Dr. Nancy Eklund.