Source: Best Health magazine, November/December 2015
The causes of stress
We are hard-wired to react to stress. It goes back to our caveman days, when we relied on stress as a survival mechanism to keep us safe from ‘ among other things ‘ perilous prey. Unfortunately, in today’s world, rather than singular fight-or-flight episodes, such as running from a dangerous animal, our body is faced with a multitude of smaller, more chronic stressors, such as bad traffic and excessive workload. We also suffer from perceived stress ‘ our mental interpretation of an event ‘ which causes identical stimulation to our nervous system without ever truly being ‘dangerous.’
The body’s reaction to stress
In medical-speak, our reactions to stress ‘ known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis ‘ haven’t changed much since our caveman days. So, what happens is that this present-day low-grade stress we are now living with results in the continual release of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which causes dysfunction in the HPA axis and, ultimately, increases our levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and particularly, cortisol.
One of the most detrimental and profound effects of chronic stress is weight gain. In a society where 65 percent of individuals are overweight and 31 percent are clinically obese, chronic stimulation of the HPA axis is a prevalent risk factor to our health.
As well, research shows that cortisol promotes weight gain, blood sugar instability and diabetes, independent of diet and exercise. All this to say that chronic stress affects many aspects of our health and well-being, and rebalancing our HPA axis is crucial to preventing weight gain and ill health.
Natural stress-relief options
To date, there is only one natural supplement that is effective at all levels of the HPA axis. This supplement is lactium, a bioactive decapeptide isolated from milk. Lactium increases the sensitivity of the hypothalamus to cortisol, re-establishing normal receptor sensitivity.
Theanine, found in green tea, can help inhibit beta brainwave activity (responsible for incessant racing thoughts) and promote alpha brainwave activity (calming, focused brainwave activity). It can also help regulate serotonin and dopamine production.
Another key to controlling cortisol and HPA disruption is to make dietary changes. Balance blood sugars by eating lean protein (such as fish, egg whites, high-quality whey protein powders without artificial sweeteners, chicken or turkey) at each meal, along with nutrient-dense vegetables and legumes. Temporarily eliminating or minimizing carbs that trigger excess insulin release is also vital until the HPA axis is reset.
When negative feedback within the HPA axis is disrupted, chronic hormonal secretion becomes ‘normal’ for individuals. In this state, they either fail to recognize that they are stressed or experience an exaggerated response to every stressor, such as intolerance to noise or a feeling of being overwhelmed when asked to perform a simple task. This often leaves them feeling helpless or defeated. Although the external and internal stress load is certainly not decreasing in our society, we can regain control over our response to it to protect ourselves from stress-induced illness.