Nowadays everybody seems to be busy. In fact, if somebody asks you how you are, the expected response is typically “Busy…so busy!!” But how do our bodies cope with this busyness day in and day out? Well actually we don’t cope very well at all. While we may be able to hide for a while, eventually something must give.
Stress is the body's method of reacting to a challenge. While activation of the nervous system is the first way our bodies react to stress, often by initiating the “fight or flight” response, the other primary response to stress, especially to ongoing or chronic stress, is a release of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol can affect many different organs and systems in the body including metabolic, psychological and immunological functions. In this way it can affect memory, energy levels, susceptibility to illness and mood, and can also increase several well-known health risk factors.
People who are chronically stressed are more likely to develop health conditions such as increased blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol levels; psychological conditions or an increase in bodyweight. Researchers used to think the latter was because stress promoted overeating and physical inactivity. But now it seems it contributes in other ways as well.
A recent study undertaken through the University of California in San Francisco seems to confirm this. The researchers looked at a group of postmenopausal women caring for loved ones with dementia and compared them to women of the same age eating a similar diet, but with low-stress occupations. The women exposed to higher stress levels were worse off with regards to physical markers of stress than women who were unstressed. They also put on more weight. So, while we can see that metabolic damage is occurring, what’s causing it?
When cortisol levels remain high, the energy-producing mitochondria in your cells are affected. They become less effective at regulating cellular health, they produce less energy-giving ATP fuel and more harmful free radicals. This can damage cells quite quickly, especially energy-hungry cells such as those in the brain, heart and muscle. As the damage accumulates over time, health conditions can arise, and some of these can be quite serious. Some doctors think that long-term stress can become as significant a health risk as smoking or overeating, if left untreated.
The best way to reduce stress is of course to remove the cause but this is not always possible, at least not immediately. Exercise and a balanced diet are very important in negating the bad effects of stress, as is getting enough sleep. There are also many relaxation or coping techniques one can employ such as yoga, meditation and cognitive therapy, or simply engaging in hobbies or taking a break from work or going on vacation. Finally, taking an advanced cellular health product such as MitoQ can also support your mitochondria by increasing their energy output and decreasing the harmful effects of free radical over-production. Used together, the above methods are the best ways to help address the potentially harmful effects of chronic stress on the body and to put your mind at ease again.
Aschbacher K, Kornfeld S, Picard M, et al. Chronic Stress Increases Vulnerability to Diet-Related Abdominal Fat, Oxidative Stress, and Metabolic Risk. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014;46:14-22. Doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.003