How Chronic Stress Affects You?
When you are chronically stressed, several things get metabolically out of whack. Let’s take a quick look at a few stress-related changes:
- Your level of cortisol (an adrenal hormone vital to the maintenance of homeostasis in the body) stays elevated, which means your blood sugar does too. And blood sugar that doesn’t get burned gets stored as belly fat.
- Your immune system gets suppressed, which lowers your resistance to infection.
- You produce too much adrenaline, which can cause heartburn and ulcers.
- Your blood pressure increases, which puts you at higher risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.
- And believe it or not, your hippocampus (the part of your brain responsible for memory storage) may shrink, impairing your ability to remember.2
But perhaps the most damaging effect chronic stress has on your system is that it interferes with your body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response. This again has to do with increased cortisol levels. One of cortisol’s roles is to keep inflammation under control. Unfortunately, cortisol is like alcohol: Your body can develop a tolerance to it. An alcoholic can drink far more liquor than the average person without getting drunk because his or her body no longer responds to it the way it’s supposed to. In the same way, a stressaholic’s body stops responding to cortisol the way it’s supposed to. As a result, the body loses the power to halt inflammation. And inflammation is now known to be at the heart of most chronic diseases.3
Adaptogenic Herbs Help Lower Cortisol
Indian researchers report that supplementing with 600 mg a day of ashwagandha root extract can significantly lower serum cortisol levels. They recruited 64 people with a history of chronic stress to participate in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.4 Subjects were randomized into two groups, to receive either the 300 mg ashwagandha capsules, twice a day, or a placebo. The subjects were then monitored for 60 days. The primary measurements were serum cortisol and performance on standardized stress scales and questionnaires.4 Results from the trial showed a 27% reduction in cortisol levels and significant changes in the following tests:4
- 44% drop in the Perceived Stress Scale
- 72% improvement in the General Health Questionnaire
- 72% decrease on the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale
The authors concluded that their results validate ashwagandha as a treatment for chronic stress and healthy stress management. Other adaptogenic herbs include Holy basil, Indian gooseberry, and American ginseng. All three have been shown in several human studies to reduce cortisol levels and help relieve symptoms of stress.
What About You?
Don’t let stress … stress you out! Try some of the supplements suggested, and take back your mental and physical health.
- JAMA. 1999 Dec;282(23):2259–2260.
- Carnegie Mellon University. Press Release: How stress influences disease: Carnegie Mellon study reveals inflammation as the culprit. Carnegie Mellon University. April 2, 2012.
- Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. Vol. 33, Issue 3, pages 255-262.