Stress, if harnessed properly, can be of great assistance, but if you lose control, the effects of stress can easily become your worst enemy. Stress is known to affect all systems in the human body by influencing a large array of functions through its effect on chemical messengers like cytokines.
Stress hormones may also affect mitochondria.
“Consistently elevated cortisol, will have profound effect on thyroid function, glycemic control, and immune system response which will inevitably affect additional systems and mitochondrial health”.
Mitochondria are the power house of virtually every cell in the body and they generate approximately 90% of the body’s energy in the form of ATP and also are key regulators of cell survival and death.
This important cell structure has the capacity to regenerate, known as mitochondrial biogenesis, but unrelenting stress may mitigate mitochondrial biogenesis.
Repeated stressors may promote further challenges to the stress-response system known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
When cortisol is produced in sufficient enough amounts, retro-inhibition or a feedback mechanism occurs, but in some cases the retro-inhibition does not occur.
Causes of Stress
- Your Body – diet, exercise, illness, puberty, menopause, injuries
- Your Mind – thoughts, values, beliefs, expectations, memories
- Your Environment – pollution, weather, noise, traffic, chemicals, food
- Your Relationships – spouse, partner, family, friends, business
- Your Job – colleagues, deadlines, boss, long hours, job security
- Major or Critical Incidents – death, divorce, accidents, emergencies
Consistent and repeated stressors affect glucose levels and the action of insulin. When chronically elevated, cortisol can have deleterious effects on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk.
The General Adaptation Syndrome – The Stress Cycle
Stage 1: Alarm
- When encountering a stressor, your body reacts with “fight-or-flight” response and the sympathetic nervous system is activated so you move away
- Hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin are released into the bloodstream to meet the threat or danger
- The bodies’ resources are now mobilized so you can run from that crocodile
Stage 2: Resistance
- The parasympathetic nervous system returns many physiological functions to normal levels while the body focuses resources to react to or fight the stressor
- Blood glucose levels remain high, cortisol and adrenalin continue to circulate at elevated levels, but your outward appearance appears normal
- You have an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing
- Your body remains on alert, just in case
Stage 3: Exhaustion
- If the stressor continues beyond the bodies’ capacity, you exhaust your resources and become susceptible to disease and eventually death in extreme circumstances
I frequently encounter people who have improved mood as a goal. Even though there is often no easily-identifiable psychological contribution to their case, I can still help. I use the following ideas to support the body’s tolerance to stress:
- Regulate circadian rhythm and promote sleep
- Dietary advice that supports stable energy like a variety of vegetables, fibers, essential fatty acids, and moderate protein intake
- Regular intense exercise (if the person is able to) and exercise with resistance
- Avoid processed foods and minimize the intake of fructose to under 25 grams per day
- Herbs that are classified as adaptogenic
- Adding spices and flavorful herbs to the diet
- Weight loss, if indicated, may result in improved stress response
Energy and overall health status depend of the function of mitochondria, and even if the body can replace faulty or damaged mitochondria, it is best to promote a healthy stress response physically and psychologically.