We all deal with stress every day, and we know how much better off we would be — both physically and mentally — if we could only get it under control. There is no doubt chronic emotional stress impacts our body and health in a similar way as bad diet or lack of exercise. It has been suggested that almost all common health conditions are related to stress.
WHAT IS STRESS?
Stress can be defined as a state of mental or emotional tension resulting from challenging or adverse circumstances. It is an undesirable emotional experience accompanied by harmful biochemical, physiological and behavioural changes that negatively affect our organism and health. Stress is our body's response to mental or emotional pressure and it is also synonymous or at least closely related to irritability, nervousness, frustration, bad mood, anxiety, worry, fear, hatred, and other negative emotions.
WHAT ARE THE IMMEDIATE EFFECTS OF STRESS?
Our body reacts to stress by boosting the production of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol that increase blood sugar levels, blood pressure, heart rate, blood circulation to oxygenate and energise muscles and stimulate brain in order to improve our ability to respond to a dangerous or challenging situation. If such state takes place only occasionally it won’t cause much harm. Unfortunately, the problem is that most of us experience it on a regular basis.
WHAT HEALTH PROBLEMS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH CHRONIC STRESS?
Chronic uncontrolled stress contributes to many health problems including hormonal imbalance, adrenal fatigue, digestive disorders, diabetes, obesity, mental disorders, or weakened immune system and related conditions including cancer and very common autoimmune diseases.
Stress speeds up the ageing process by increasing the production of harmful free radicals that damage our cells.
Stress contributes to heart attacks and strokes as it increases blood pressure and damages blood vessel linings allowing bad cholesterol and triglycerides to accumulate in those damaged areas, thus leading to heart attacks and strokes.
Stress affects the blood-brain barrier which normally prevents many unwelcome substances that enter our body from reaching and affecting the brain. Researchers found that stress increased the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. As a result, due to the damaged blood-brain barrier, some chemicals that normally are not allowed to enter the brain are now able to do it.
Chronic stress can lead to a variety of digestive problems, including bloating, stomach cramps, gastric ulcers, constipation or diarrhoea. It also contributes to acid reflux and spastic colon, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.
IS IT TRUE THAT CHRONIC STRESS PROMOTES OBESITY?
Exposure to chronic psychological stress has been associated with metabolic syndrome and obesity because stress increases production of the hormone cortisol, which when combined with access to calorie-dense foods, promotes the development of obesity.
Another physiological reason why stress contributes to obesity is the molecule NPY (neuropeptide Y) which is released by the body as a result of stress and negative emotions. Whenever NPY is released it causes fat cells to multiply and grow bigger! Cortisol also raises our blood sugar level which is required for fast energy. This, in turn, stimulates insulin release which increases appetite encouraging us to replace the carbohydrates (sugar) and fat used for the fight or flight response. The problem however is that usually people struggling with overweight or obesity live a sedentary lifestyle and don’t need such energy replacement. Thus, cortisol ends up causing the body to refuel after stress even though it doesn’t need it. As a result, this surplus of glucose (sugar) is converted into fat.
DOES CHRONIC STRESS LEAD TO NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES?
Chronic stress robes our bodies of vitamins and minerals especially due to the fact that it stimulates release of cortisol (one of the stress hormones), thus leading to a surplus of the glutamate which in turn generates harmful free radicals that damage cell membranes, DNA, and mitochondria (cell’s power stations) in cells all over the body including brain cells and immune cells.
Many vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, and magnesium work also as antioxidants that our body uses to fight with generated by stress free radicals and to prevent them from their damaging effect on our cells. Since these antioxidants are constantly used to cope with radicals their levels are often not high enough to support various vital body functions.
In the same way stress depletes other powerful antioxidants in our body including glutathione, SOD (superoxide dismutase), coenzyme Q10, or alpha lipoic acid.
Chronic stress, therefore, is very destructive as deficiency of mentioned above antioxidants contributes to all kinds of health problems including fatigue, increased rate of ageing process, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, poor brain and nervous system function, neurological damage, inflammations, or weakened immunity which in turn increases risk of cancer, frequent infections, allergies or various autoimmune diseases.
In addition, many people under stress have tendencies to use stimulants such as alcohol and caffeinated products or consume comfort foods that are high in sugar and contain refined white flower. In this indirect way stress leads to even more sever deficiency of vital vitamins and minerals.
WHAT SIGNS MAY ACCOMPANY THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE CHRONIC STRESS?
Signs of uncontrolled chronic stress are mostly the result of a condition known as adrenal fatigue which is the consequence of our inability to cope with stressful situations we experience on a daily basis. Every time we get irritated, stressed, afraid, and worried, or whenever we experience a physical trauma (fighting, accidents, etc.) our walnut-sized adrenal glands (found on top of the kidneys) start making stress hormones (Cortisol, Adrenaline and Noradrenaline). The problem is that since our adrenal glands have to make stress hormones so often they finally get exhausted and are unable to produce enough of these hormones during stressful situations and also in between them, thus triggering various unpleasant symptoms including chronic fatigue, struggling to get out of bed in the mornings, lack of motivation and enthusiasm, poor memory, problems with concentration, insomnia, feelings of apathy, irritability, anxiety, depression, hypoglycaemia, hair loss, sugar craving, weight gain, decreased sex drive, insulin resistance, etc.
WHAT ARE THE FACTORS THAT REDUCE OUR ABILITY TO CONTROL STRESS?
The following factors may contribute to our inability to control stress: Lack of probiotic bacteria in our intestines, unhealthy refined diet, frequent use of stimulants, and anything that leads to the deficiency of B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, selenium, iodine, and other nutrients without which our brain and nervous system can’t function properly causing us to overreact to various stressors.
Also sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise), insufficient sunlight exposures, lack of sleep, deficiency of amino acid tryptophan, lack of B vitamins, magnesium and zinc make it impossible for our body to produce enough serotonin a hormonal substance and neurotransmitter known as the strongest antidepressant and feel good hormone which significantly increases our ability to cope with stress.
WHAT DIETARY AND LIFESTYLE PROGRAMME COULD BE RECOMMENDED TO SUPPORT OUR ABILITY TO CONTROL STRESS MORE EFFECTIVELY?
In order to improve our abilities to control stress the following recommendations are beneficial:
– Boost brain serotonin levels by regular daily outdoor exercises.
– Go to sleep as early as possible. Try to sleep at least seven or eight hours a day.
– Avoid artificial sweeteners, foods with high glucose/fructose syrup (HFCS), refined sugar and other refined carbohydrates such as white flour products and white rice. Instead of harmful sweeteners you can use xylitol, stevia or organic raw honey in moderation.
– Don’t use stimulants such as caffeine products or alcohol. To increase energy use chlorella, spirulina, B vitamins, ginsengs or other harmless energy boosters.
- Research shows that those who take care of their spiritual condition by reading right spiritual literature and regular meditation such as daily prayers in the form of heart-felt conversations with God as well as people who managed to find a community of supportive, like-minded people find noticeable relief from stress. However, studies also clearly show that spirituality is effective only for those who believe in a loving, carrying and saving God. On the other hand, believing in a severe, expecting, and punitive God significantly reduces the ability to cope with stress and increases the risk of various mental health problems, depression or anxiety.
WHAT SUPPLEMENTS CAN HELP US TO COPE WITH CHRONIC STRESS?
- Magnesium enables us to control stress and is vital in our body for proper functioning of the nervous system and brain, promoting good mood and improving our sleep patterns. Increased magnesium intake helps to fall asleep faster and to stay asleep until we are fully rested. Magnesium is involved in the synthesis and function of GABA and serotonin, neurotransmitters known to be most effective in calming the brain and promoting relaxation.
- A 2011 study, published in Human Psychopharmacology, found that supplementing with a high-dose B vitamins helped participants reduce the irritability and low mood associated with work-related stress.
– Increase serotonin levels by taking 5HTP (most bioavailable form of tryptophan), vitamin B6, B1, B3 (Niacin), folic acid, magnesium, zinc as all of them are required to produce this precious happy hormone.
- Chamomile has been known for centuries as an excellent natural aid in calming the nervous system and easing stress and worry. Clinical and laboratory research has provided strong evidence that Chamomile is not only relaxing, but it can be effective in improving mood and psychological well-being. Scientific research also confirms that Chamomile's relaxing effect increases when it is used regularly over a longer period of time. Chamomile has been widely used for a very long time as a folk remedy for its presumed sedative effects and sleep aid, which was repeatedly confirmed by modern research. For instance according to a 2016 study Chamomile may be safely used and recommended to postpartum women as a supplementary approach to alleviating sleep quality problems and low mood.
- Apart from Chamomile the following herbal remedies and adaptogens are known for their relaxing and strengthening our nerves system properties: Rhodiola, Siberian and Korean Ginseng, Astragalus, Maca, Damiana, Gotu Kola, L-Theanine, etc.
– Take supplements such as distilled fish oils, flaxseed oil, and chlorella to increase intake of omega 3 fatty acids as they are very beneficial for proper functioning of the nervous system.
- Since almost everyone in UK is deficient in vitamin D3 you also need to supplement this vitamin as it also supports our nervous system. But make sure you have enough magnesium as without it vitamin D is useless.
- Good probiotic formula such as MoodProbio is another one which can improve your ability to control stress as beneficial bacteria stimulate production of B vitamins, serotonin, GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), and dopamine all involved in enhancing our mood.
- Alpha lipoic acid and sublingual methylcobalamin (highly bioavailable form of vitamin B12) have frequently demonstrated their ability to not only prevent neurological damage in our body but even reverse it.
Written by Slawomir Gromadzki, MPH
REFERENCES AND SOURCES
– Deina Nemiary, MD, MPH; Ruth Shim, MD, MPH; Gail Mattox, MD; Kisha Holden, PhD. 2012. The Relationship Between Obesity and Depression Among Adolescents. Psychiatric Annals. August 2012 – Volume 42 · Issue 8: 305-308.
– Maglione-Garves CA, Kravitz L, Schneider S. “Stress Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight”. University of New Mexico.
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