4/08/2016

Stress: The Catabolic Turbocharger

When our brains perceive danger or unexpected situations, our bodies instantly initiate a chain-reaction biochemical response. First adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) is released from the pituitary gland, which is the major endocrine coordinator. ACTH causes the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones, primarily epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. These hormones generate a response in which the liver floods the body with glucose, enabling us to quickly respond to the danger at hand, and causing a “fight-or-flight” response.

The nature of stress has changed a great deal since the fight-or-flight response first came to be, millions of years ago. Back then, stress was episodic. Imagine your prehistoric ancestor (we’ll call him ‘Ug’) peacefully gathering fruits and berries, when a saber-toothed tiger suddenly appears. The stress response would have worked perfectly for that kind of challenge, because Ug needs that heart-pumping adrenaline rush in order to survive. Whether he fights or flees, his body uses up every gram of glucose and fat that the liver pours into his bloodstream. And when the stress is over, it’s over, and his body can start preparing for the next incident.

In contrast, much of the stress we experience in our modern lives is chronic (long lasting): looming student loans, daily struggles with a difficult boss or teenager. But rather than save our lives, the adrenal response triggered by these situations may actually do great harm to us. Chronic stress can cause catabolic (degenerating) activity, in which the body breaks down more cells than it regenerates.

Here are some of the effects of chronic stress:

1. 
 Your blood pressure rises. Depending on how many stressful situations you have to endure, your blood pressure may stay elevated, which may damage the sensitive tubules of your kidneys, ultimately raising blood pressure even more.

2. 
 Your digestion stops. Because the stress response shuts down the gastrointestinal tract, your lunch turns into a mass of fermented and putrefying toxins. (Appetizing, isn’t it?) Over a period of time, this distress contributes significantly to several disorders, including ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, constipation, diverticulosis, food allergies, yeast overgrowth, malnutrition, and colon cancer.

3. 
 Your insulin levels rise. The glucose that is dumped into your blood goes unused, so the body has to produce an enormous amount of insulin to counteract it. In time, this produces wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Elevated insulin levels cause insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes.

4. 
 You generate excess fat. Because your muscles are not busy running or fighting, they don’t use the extra glucose, much of which is converted into fat. Fat dumped into your bloodstream goes unused, and begins to clog your arteries.

5. 
 Your adrenal glands weaken and fatigue, becoming less effective. Because the adrenals contribute to the production and metabolism of some 150 hormones, you can imagine the downward spiral. Your blood pressure, brain and nervous system, energy metabolism, ability to manage stress, and immune system all suffer. Not a cell in your body remains unaffected.

Unless you’re a mountaintop guru, you will find it’s impossible to completely avoid stress in your life. But there ishope: you can still learn to manage it.

You can learn relaxation techniques, including meditation, biofeedback, creative visualization, and breathing exercises. You can use your muscles on a daily basis through organized sports, walking, biking, running, or yoga. You should avoid the excess use of stimulants like coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes. Try to focus on a high protein and complex carbohydrate diet, instead of reaching for that bear-claw or breakfast bar. Ask your physician to evaluate your adrenal function and other endocrine glands, like the thyroid. You may need to take DHEA and B-vitamin complex to boost your over-stressed endocrine system. Avoid pharmaceutical drugs. Make sure your liver is not congested and has optimal function. Allow for quality sleep, which has to be encouraged and not forced. These things will widen your comfort zone and make you more resilient to stress, thereby preventing its negative effects on your body.

Look out Ug - Saber-toothed tiger!

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