Now more than ever before, with the internet-age of work demands, relationship stresses, financial worries and concerns about what the future holds, our bodies are constantly in a chronically stressed state. Stress isn’t only a feeling; it’s a physical reaction that occurs in your body. Stress releases hormones – potentially dangerous age-accelerating and disease-causing hormones.
Chronic stress can be deadly. Adrenaline, one of the hormones released as a result of stress can cause sudden cardiac death due to the over-stimulating and damaging effects of adrenaline on the heart muscle. It also sets in motion a cascade of biochemical reactions in the body that raises cholesterol, hardens the arteries and causes inflammation.
Prolonged stress also increases the risk of some types of cancers, due to excessive release of another stress-hormone, cortisol, which supresses parts of the immune system responsible for protecting the body against developing cancer-cells. Long-term stress is also a significant cause of memory problems, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, low thyroid function, poor resistance to infections, reduced sexual drive, anxiety disorders, hair loss and weight gain.
STRESS ACCELERATES AGING
The cells in your body are continually dividing: new cells are formed as old cells die. However, the number of times that your cells are able to divide is limited. This is because every time a cell divides, parts of its DNA strands, known as telomeres, are lost. Telomeres become shorter and shorter with each consecutive cell division. Once sufficient telomere material has been lost, there’s no longer adequate DNA for the cell to function and it ceases to divide. Then it dies. The rate at which telomeres shorten determines how long a person is able to live, also known as the genetic maximal lifespan. So telomeres determine how fast we age, and how long we are able to live.
Recent research has shown that stress accelerates telomere shortening. One of these studies shows that people with depression-related stress have telomeres 5% shorter than those without depression. Therefore protecting your body from stress is an important anti-aging intervention.
KNOW YOUR STRESS REACTION TYPE
In the same way as there are different body-types when it comes to how we react to food (some people naturally gain weight easily, while others don’t), so too are there different reaction types when it comes to how our bodies respond to stress. The negative effects that stress has on your body will be completely different, depending on your stress reaction type. There are three stress-reaction types:
1. Stress-agitated reaction type people produce too much of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can increase blood pressure and damage the heart and brain. Stress-agitated reaction types often suffer from insomnia, nervousness and a racing mind that won’t allow them to relax or shut down
2. Stress-exhausted reaction types produce too little cortisol. Their adrenaline may be normal or low. In many cases stress-exhausted reaction types may have started out as stress-agitated reaction types, but after years of stress, the adrenal glands that produce cortisol can become exhausted, and cortisol levels drop. At this point they change from being stress-agitated to stress-exhausted. When this happens, energy levels drop and motivation disappears. Stress-exhausted people tend to sleep excessively, suffer from fatigue (sometimes even chronic fatigue syndrome), may have depression, brain fog (slow and muddled thinking), and often have low blood pressure. They are also much more sensitive to pain
3. Stress-transitional reaction types have symptoms of both stress-agitated and stress-exhausted types. Their cortisol levels may be adequate for now, but are declining. Stress-transitional reaction types are in the transitional period between stress-agitation and stress-exhaustion. If left untreated, they usually develop into stress-exhausted reaction types, although this may take years to develop.
Although exposure to stress is common to all stress reaction types, its effects and the treatments needed, are different in each case:
1. Stress-agitated reaction types need nutraceuticals that help prevent excessive cortisol and adrenaline release during times of stress. These nutraceuticals also directly help protect the heart, brain and cells from stress-induced damage. At the same time, they improve brain function and mental focus during stressful times. They include vitamin C, Rhodiola rosea and ashwagandha herbal extracts, and a natural phospholipid fat called phosphatidylserine. Theanine, an amino acid, is also useful for its anti-anxiety and calming effects on the brain. A prescription for a natural hormone called melatonin is sometimes useful for helping to treat insomnia, which occurs commonly in stress-agitated types
2. Stress-exhausted reaction types require adrenal-healing and adrenal-stimulating nutraceuticals. These nutraceuticals help restore normal adrenal function, thereby boosting cortisol back to normal levels. These also help prevent the premature destruction of cortisol by liver enzymes. These nutraceuticals include Panax ginseng and liquorice herbal extracts, and a specific type of vitamin B5 known as pantethine (don’t confuse this with pantothenic acid or calcium pantothenate). In severe cases, supplementing with bioidentical adrenal hormones and their precursors may be indicated. Most of these bioidentical hormones require a prescription from a doctor and include pregnenolone, DHEA and cortisol
3. Stress-transitional reaction types benefit from nutra-ceuticals that heal and protect the adrenal glands, while buffering their activity, helping to prevent both over- and under-production of cortisol and adrenaline during both stressful and stress-free times. This buffering effect is known as an adaptogenic effect. These nutraceuticals are therefore called adaptogens. They include Eleutherococcus, Rhodiola rosea, Shizandra and ashwagandha herbal extracts. Reishi mushroom, magnesium and the B-vitamin group also promote healthy adrenal function.
HOW SEVERE IS YOUR STRESS?
Each stress reaction type is further classified into one of four different stress severity levels. Each stress reaction type can be mild, moderate, severe or extreme in severity. The risk and number of stress-related symptoms in all three stress reaction types increase with increasing severity levels.
Furthermore, there’s a corresponding increase in the risk of severe health problems, such as heart attacks and strokes (in stress-agitated reaction types), and chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia or low thyroid function (in stress-exhausted reaction types), with each increasing severity level.
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