The Real Cost of Stress: Not Knowing Could Be Killing You!

The Real Cost of Stress: Not Knowing Could Be Killing You!

That feeling of being stressed, from time to time, is something we have all experienced.

But when that feeling of stress goes beyond the occasional "stress moments," we are putting our health at risk. Whether from staying up too late to get that work project done, to playing “weekend warrior” and signing up for that 10k run when we have not put on running shoes in two years. Stress is a serious game.

Let's dive into stress and learn what happens to our bodies.

What is Stress?

The bottom line is that stress is our natural “Fight or Flight” response, and this response can have a devastating impact on our bodies and our brain.

YES, stress can even damage your brain!

Stress and Your Brain

Whether physical or mental stress, our body reacts in the same way.

When the brain senses stress, it activates the autonomic nervous system. This process causes the brain to communicate with the enteric nervous system (intestinal nervous system)—think “butterflies in your stomach”, but this process can also:

  • Disrupt the natural rhythmic movements of digestion in the gut, eventually leading to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

  • Trigger a dysbiosis in the microbiome and adjust pH levels within the digestive tract.

  • Trigger heartburn or a decrease in stomach acid.

How Does the Brain Perceive Stress?

When we experience stress, a signal is sent to the brain. The brain then sends a message to the hypothalamus, which in turn sends a message through the pituitary gland and into the adrenal gland. When your adrenal gland receives this message, it then triggers the message that the body is under attack.

From there, cortisol is produced and sent into the bloodstream, sending a flood of fat and sugar into the body that the body can use for quick energy. Think about what your body would need if…suddenly, a tiger is chasing you. Your body needs quick energy to get away, and while running for your life, you are using up all of those fats and sugars that were just pumped into your body.

But the stress we experience today is not the same type of stress, and we don't get up and run for our life when a deadline email just hits our desktop. In fact, we do the opposite. We sit still and work, right?

Brain Perceive Stress

The problem is that our bodies do not distinguish the difference between being chased by the tiger or your boss reminding you of the deadline for your project that you have yet to complete. The physiological response is the same. Sugar and fat are flooded into the bloodstream in order for the body to have the energy to fight off the danger. This is the problem when we don’t have the physical outlet to burn through that additional sugar and fat in the body created by the stress response. So, the body stores that sugar and fat in the body, usually around the mid-section surrounding our organs, leading to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Stress and Your Adrenal Glands

Adrenal Gland – The "Stress-Coping Gland" – is responsible for a wide variety of functions:

  • Regulates blood sugar levels
  • Supports metabolic function
  • Helps with stress management

When stress occurs, cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine travel through the bloodstream and easily reach blood vessels and the heart.

Adrenaline causes the heart to beat faster and raises the blood pressure in the body. Over time this can cause hypertension. When left untreated, prolonged conditions can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Cortisol can cause the endothelial to not function normally. This is an early step in triggering atherosclerosis (calcification of the arteries or plaque in the arteries).

Cortisol goes up and can trigger weight gain!

Cortisol can increase appetite, and this stress response tells the body to replenish the nutrition required during the fight or flight response. The easiest form of replacing these nutrients is energy-dense carbs (think comfort food), which taste good and can turn those carbs into quick energy.

The problem is, if we don’t need the additional fuel reserves in the form of carbs, those carbs convert into sugars, and the body needs to address these sugars as reserves which become visceral fat (fat around the organs).

How Do Sugars (carbohydrates) Work in the Body?

Our bodies are designed for starvation, and they are designed to store sugar (think of a bear hibernating and living off this fuel storage all winter). The problem is starch and sugars have similar effects on the brain and body.

The body stores these as visceral fat or fat around the organs (coats the liver, kidneys, etc.) and this produces all kinds of molecules. One of these molecules is cytokines.

Visceral fat cells make cytokines (IK6 – interleukin 6) which is fuel for inflammatory diseases like autoimmune disorders, kidney disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Visceral fat also produces hormones and neurotransmitters and works with insulin to let the sugar and fat into the cells, but cannot let it out (one-way pathway).

In short, by eating sugar, the body literally shuts down the body’s ability to burn fat from the body, slows metabolism, creates inflammation, and causes hormonal changes in men and women. These processes cause the hippocampus to shrink (shrinkage of the brain and memory center—aka type 3 diabetes), causing dementia and Alzheimer’s.

    Stress and Your Immune System

    Stress hormones affect immune cells in many ways. Initially, they help fend off pathogens and infection and promote healing after injury. Chronic stress however, can dampen the function of those immune cells—making the body more susceptible to infections or lengthening the time required to heal.

    Are there specific nutrients in the body that are targeted by stress?
    A resounding YES!

    Stress and Mineral Depletion

    • Magnesium and Zinc are the two biggest nutrients that are attacked.
    • B-Vitamins (B6, B12) have been shown to reduce occupational stress.
    • Calcium and Iron are also depleted.

    The largest body of evidence demonstrates stress-induced depletion of magnesium and zinc, although several studies (both human and animal) also demonstrate the effects of stress on calcium and iron concentrations.

    Magnesium: Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heartbeat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps adjust blood glucose levels, and it aids in the production of energy and protein.

    Curious why you get sick or get a nervous twitch after being stressed out?

    It is also thought that every muscle twitch, cramp, or spasm in the body can be linked to a magnesium deficiency.

    Zinc: Zinc is a trace mineral, meaning that the body only needs small amounts, yet it is necessary for almost 100 enzymes to carry out vital chemical reactions. It is a major player in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing of damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system.

    Stress and Stimulants

    When we get stressed, we tend to do stimulants/nootropics to combat the effects listed above—but don't do that, and this is why….

    The Problem With Taking Stimulants When Your Body Is Under Stress

    When facing a deadline or just needing to get things done, it is very tempting to grab that cup of coffee, soda, or other mind-stimulating product. But stimulants are not your friend when you are stressed. Stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up messages traveling between the brain and body. They can make a person feel more awake, alert, confident or energetic. Also, according to Webster's New World Dictionary, a stimulant is defined as "any drug, etc., that temporarily increases the activity of some vital process (in the body) or of some organ." (In other words, the body reacts to this foreign substance which when ingested, the body tries to flush out of its system.)

    Read more about stimulants here: Our Love Affair With Stimulants: Is it time to break up with coffee?

    Here is what happens in your body when you consume caffeine. This excites the CNS (Central Nervous System), which accelerates metabolism, respiratory and cardiac function, as well as many other functions in the body. This then creates the perception of increased energy. But this also creates tremendous stress on the body, which is probably already under stress. Stress releases cortisol which causes nutrient depletion (magnesium and elemental minerals), especially when you put your body under high physical stress such as running a marathon, and causes further tissue breakdown compared to what the body experiences under normal conditions.

    You may perceive a level of improvement, but you are also taxing the body and increasing the stress load, and this is without any option to improve or increase recovery. Constant use of stimulants creates a gap in the body's physiology when the body eventually goes into a hole and is deprived of nutrients, minerals, and elevated levels of stress, forcing additional bodily systems to compensate.

    Additional information on coffee and caffeine

    • Coffee is highly addictive.
    • Excessive use and then stopping can lead to excessive fatigue, headaches, and irritability.
    • Oils in coffee have been known to raise cholesterol levels.
    • Mold and mycotoxins are also most common in the process of storing and curating the coffee beans.
    • Increases acid levels in the body.
    • Contains additional other chemicals used to treat, clean, and purify the coffee.

    Stimulants and Athletes

    Unfortunately, potent stimulants such as ephedra (ma huang) and its components ephedrine and pseudoephedrine and synthetic versions, as well as stimulants in the caffeine family, are finding their way into more and more products directed at athletes. What is surprising, is that there seems to be little, if any, resistance to using stimulants by many athletes. In addition, there is little information being offered by the usual "experts" concerning the drawbacks and potential dangers of using stimulants such as ephedra and others to increase athletic performance.

    There are new and existing stimulants based on products being marketed like “TurboCharge”, “Buzz Gum”, and “Race Pace” to give new “highs”. These products often use ma huang, guarana, caffeine from cola nuts, or several others from the stimulant family. Like our caffeine example, these products contain the same basic principles and will leave the body stressed with elevated cortisol levels, nutrient deficiencies, and searching for more.

    How Can You "Pre-Game" for Stress?

    Of course your first goal should always be to do what you can to reduce stress in your life. From meditation, working out, taking long walks, to working on your mental state…you should always start there. But we know that we are not always allowed the luxury of reducing stress in our lives.

    You may not be able to take a fast run right after you open that email from your CEO, but here are a few things you can do to "pre-game" for stress and help your body maintain a healthy state and help fight off the damaging effects of stress.

    • Supporting the Adrenals may be beneficial in stressful situations. Supporting adrenaline with products such as Dr. Tennant’s® Adrenaline Support helps the body’s ability to manage cortisol. Or Dr. Tennant’s® Adrenal Desiccated Glandular can help support the medulla and cortex for the body’s adrenals.

    • Dr. Tennant’s® Restore contains all the vital B vitamins and minerals and nutrients that are also lost when attacked by cortisol release.

    • Dr. Tennant’s® Raw Materials contains humic and fulvic acids as well as phytoplankton to help replace those micro and trace nutrients often lost in the soil today.

    • Take high quality Zinc. Zinc cannot be stored in the body and must be replenished.

    Adrenal Studies

    Physiology, Adrenal Gland:

    Mineral Depletion and Stress:

    Stress and B-Vitamin Depletion:

    Physiologic and Pharmacologic Effects of Corticosteroids:

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    Humic and fulvic acids, provide the micro and trace nutrients required for optimal health at the cellular level. These nutrients help replace the microorganisms often lost in the food eaten today.

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