Stress is an essential and normal physiological response to change. Many of us have experienced symptoms of short term or acute stress, while a study from Statistics Canada reports that 73% of adults ages 20 to 64 consider themselves stressed on a daily basis. Addressing chronic stress is an important piece of the puzzle when looking to boost your immune, nervous system and overall health. In fact, one of the most prevalent contributing factors to both acute and chronic illness is – stress.
Our Natural Response to Stress
Familiar ways our body might respond to stress include increased heart rate, appetite loss, susceptibility to infection, sharpened sight, or an immediate yet temporary boost of energy. These are the result of being in a “fight or flight” mode, due to the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These hormones are secreted into the bloodstream by our hard – working adrenal glands (which sit atop the kidney).
Our Body Decides What’s Important
Adrenaline and noradrenaline shunt blood flow away from functions that aren’t immediately required, like digestion. This could be one reason that loss of appetite can be seen in those suffering from stress. Meanwhile, blood flow is increased to areas like the muscles to help us accomplish more immediate tasks. Similarly, cortisol – our most commonly known stress hormone, depresses the immune system in order to help reduce inflammation in the body brought on by stressors.
Cortisol and Muscle Breakdown
This surge in cortisol can promote protein breakdown in our muscles to increase free fatty acids and amino acids, (nutrients the body needs to undergo a complex process called gluconeogenesis), specific to synthesizing glucose for energy. Cortisol levels generally return to normal once the stress trigger has passed.
When the Adrenal Glands Can’t Keep Up
While our natural response to stress is a good thing – it helps us think clearly, and react quickly, prolonged stress can wreak havoc on our physical, mental and even emotional health. When our adrenal glands continuously secrete these hormones into our bloodstream, other physiological activities begin to take place. Elevated cortisol can ramp up the production of cytokines, a group of proteins that promote and regulate immunity and inflammation. Cortisol also suppresses the production of lymphocytes, white blood cells that help defend against infectious organisms. Not only is the immune system weakened under stress but the brain is also affected. Chronic stress impairs serotonin function in the brain and can increase activity in the amygdala, the brain’s fear centre. In turn, cortisol levels rise and cripple the signals sent by the hippocampus, the part of the brain that dictates learning, memory, and stress control.
Signs and Symptoms
Prolonged stress and elevated cortisol can impair immune function and cognitive health. It can interfere with blood sugar levels, cause weight gain or loss, increased risk of infection, bone density loss, muscle wasting, and even kidney issues. The impact of prolonged stress might be most commonly known for its role in contributing to anxiety. Stress hormones can negatively impact the little molecules that influence the activity of our brain (otherwise known as neuropeptides), like serotonin for example.
Keep Calm with Magnesium
Serotonin, along with dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) are regulated by magnesium. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that affects our motor control, vision, and anxiety. Without these inhibitory actions, our brains cannot relax, leading to anxiety, stress or panic attacks. The mineral magnesium is highly responsible for helping to regulate GABA activity in our brain, and it helps reduce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), a hormone that affects the amount of cortisol in the body – a good thing for someone who is chronically stressed! In addition, high cortisol levels can deplete magnesium, which further encourages the benefits of supplementation.
Magnesium bis-glycinate in particular is beneficial for anxiety. Along with its superior bioavailability, glycine helps to enhance the calming properties of magnesium. Like GABA, glycine is a significant inhibitory neurotransmitter, creating a sense of relaxation.
Support the Body and Relax the Mind
Other important nutrients for stress and anxiety are B vitamins. They each have specific roles, but together they keep up our energy and maintain a healthy nervous system. In particular, vitamin B5 supports the adrenal glands. B vitamins are water soluble, meaning they’re not stored in the body and need to be replaced every day.
To help relieve anxiety, a supplement to consider is L-theanine. This amino acid is found in green tea leaves and temporarily produces mental relaxation without sedation. Combined with a full spectrum vitamin B complex like CanPrev’s Synergy B, you can support the body while relaxing the mind.
Break the Vicious Cycle
Everything in the body is connected. When you take care of one system, you are simultaneously caring for others. You can now see how chronic stress puts a high demand on your adrenal glands, immune system and brain. Understanding the root cause and being proactive about nutrients your body needs to restore and recharge can help you bounce back from prolonged periods of stress and help avoid illness.
CanPrev recommends that you consult your doctor before implementing any health treatment, including herbal supplements and natural remedies. The information above is for educational reasons only and is not to be taken as a substitute for medical advice.