Stress is a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. This stimulus comes from various sources. How do we measure this reaction? By symptoms? Blood pressure? Pulse? Blood tests? All of which can be expensive after a while. Heart Rate Variability used to be one of the expensive tests that needed heavy electronic machines but with newer technology, this made the test more accessible. We know from research that there is all kinds of stress and states that we go through on a daily basis. By using Heart Rate Variability we can find out more about our stress and states of our physical and mental conditioning.
In the world of wellness and longevity healthcare, the topic of heart rate variability is a focus for optimal function. Many physical fitness trainers, psychologists, acupuncturists, osteopaths, chiropractors, and more are utilizing this by analyzing stress and ability to adapt. Heart rate variability is not just monitoring the heart rate but the rhythm and intervals between each heartbeat. Each individual has a specific heart rate variability and for an assessing that norm and comparing it to daily activity and lifestyle is the best indicator of how we are adapting to our environment.
Eustress vs Distress
Eustress is a stress when an individual perceived the event or incident as beneficial to them. Motivates and focuses energy on tasks and goals. Individuals feel excited, performances improve and are within their coping abilities. Eustress is often short-term stress.
Distress is too much stress that can cause anxiety, sorrow, pain, trouble falling asleep. When you had too much eustress and overload yourself with too much can cause distress.
Homeostasis and Allostasis
Homeostasis as a definition:
“….the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.”
Homeostasis sounds like a complicated word in the medical word but it is simply putting it as all body chemical process is in balance and harmony to regulate and adapt to the environment. Homeostasis is a situation where we have established during our healthy and vibrant time in our body. To establish homeostasis can be difficult or simple depending on your health condition. To measure homeostasis has been typically by measuring several parameters of blood laboratory tests, neurological examinations, and cardiovascular measurements.
Allostasis as a definition:
“…the process by which the body responds to stressors in order to regain homeostasis.”
When there is a environmental stress is introduced to a human, the body responds by regaining homeostasis. This is the adaptive component of our body to self-regulate and adapt to the stimulant. The signs of allostasis in our body are when stress hormones, cytokines, and catecholamines are present. When these stressors are constantly stimulating us for a long time, then our ability to adapt starts to fail. This is called allostatic load.
Stressors are anything that challenges homeostasis and constantly disrupt the process of homeostasis will indicate a stress load. Maintaining homeostasis efficiently will help us have better health, better performances, and better resilience to our environment. Our goal is to maintain this stable environment for the body. Usually, unfamiliar stress causes greater stress response because this process requires greater resources to overcome stress and more recovery time.
When stress is accumulated over time, this becomes the allostatic load. When the allostatic load is too much, the ability to tolerate the load decreases. The wear and tear of the body experience repeated cycles of inefficient regulation of the stress response. Poor performance and increased recovery time will eventually lead to chronic diseases, a higher rate of injury, and higher susceptibility to illness.
Heart Rate Variability
It is not just a heart rate but it is the inner-beat variability between successive heart contractions. In each heartbeat, there is an electronic signal that is produced and measured by the ECG/EKG representing the ventricular depolarization during a heart contraction. It is called the QRS complex. With the Heart Rate Variability, we are measuring the interval between RR. This is called the RR intervals or inter-beat intervals (IBI). By measuring Heart Rate Variability, we are measuring the change in time or variability between successive heartbeats.
Why is there a variability?
The variability in the heart rate is the result of the allostatic (adaptive) processes of the bodies response to stimulus and other regulatory processes within the body. Having variability is beneficial for the biological system that is complex like our body. There are many regulatory systems that regulate and affect the heart. In the short-term, there is the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, and autonomic nervous system. For long-term, there is circadian rhythm, body temperature, hormonal patterns, cumulative stressors.
Clinical Indicators of Health!
When we have reduced health, we have decreased adaptability. Which means heart rate variability can significantly decline with decreased health. Changes in Heart Rate Variability have been correlated to 9 out of 10 leading causes of death in the United States.
- Heart Diseases
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases
- Stroke (Cerebrovascular diseases)
- Alzheimer’s diseases
- Influenza and Pneumonia
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome & nephrosis
- Intentional self-harm (suicide)
Heart Rate Variability is also linked to many of the risk factors associated with these diseases such as hypertension, obesity, glucose intolerance, insulin sensitivity, and stress. It is also known for an accurate and objective monitor for progression or regression of the disease and health.
Heart Rate Variability is not a diagnosis of diseases listed above. It is a prenosological assessment that determines that direction of our health is going towards. Prenosological is the determination of potentiality for the failure of the adaptive state. This determination is before the advent of the disease states or symptoms will occur. There are levels of adaptive states in the prenosological assessments.
- Proper Adaptive Function
- Optimal adaptability of the stressor, and therefore health exists-Not Diagnosable
- Prenosological State
- Tension on the ability for adaptive response via stressors-Not Diagnosable
- Premorbid State
- Subpar adaptation begins to occur, possible symptoms-Not Diagnosable
- Pathological State
- Adaptive failure-Improving diagnostic certainty
There was a large study that assessed the prenosological state of various individuals. With the first proper adaptive functional state was 30% of the public. People with tension on the adaptive system and subpar adaptation together were 40-70% of the population. For the final state of adaptive failure and pathological state were 10-30%. This means there are between 70-90% of individuals that have undiagnosable states of adaptability. (Baevskii, R.M. et al. “Use of principles of prenosological diagnosis for assessing the functional state of the body under stress conditions as exemplified by bus drivers.” Human Physiology 35.1 (2009):34-42. These researchers concluded that people that are in the tension or subpar adaptive states need assessment of the level of health rather than the diagnosis of diseases.
Many conditions may need a medical diagnosis because the person may have progressed their condition beyond adaptive capabilities. Stress is something elusive and people may think they need a medical assessment with blood tests and MRI taken to confirm local or physical manifestation of ill health. Sometimes it is a condition where we need to boost the persons’ adaptive capability and they will do fine. Having an HRV analysis helps us to find out what is our pre-medical condition. HRV is one of them and there are many others that are known. Stay tuned for more presnological assessment for functional and adaptive capabilities!