Stress plays havoc with your system
Let's face it, everyone is stressed these days. According to Kenneth Pelletier PhD, author of Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer and scientific board member of the American Institute of Stress, between 80-90 percent of all illnesses are linked to stress and 75-90 percent of all visits to the doctor are for stress and anxiety-related concerns.
When we constantly stress over things—the majority of which are nothing more than figments of our imaginations, we end up elevating our stress hormones—especially cortisol. Perception equals reality in the face of stress. During stress, cortisol can easily become more important to your body than other hormones, and since it is produced along the same biochemical pathway as your sex hormones, it usually ends up robbing the body of the very substances needed to keep these hormones in abundance.
For instance, cortisol can compete with testosterone (one of the reasons our libidos are almost nonexistent during times of stress), and testosterone is needed for the repair and replacement of muscle tissue. In case you are wondering why this is so important, your muscle tissue controls, to a large extent, the rate of your overall metabolism (one of the reasons your metabolism declines through age is because of a loss of lean body mass—muscle). In other words, the more muscle you carry, the greater your ability to burn bodyfat.
Why stress ages you
Cortisol also competes with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), your anti-aging hormone, which is why people seem to magically age before your eyes when they are under stress for long periods. DHEA is also needed to maintain a healthy metabolism.
In fact, research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has shown that derivatives of DHEA help induce thermogenesis (the burning of bodyfat), and thereby may be able to decrease the incidence of obesity. Since one of the most important rolls DHEA holds in the body is in balancing the effects of cortisol, perhaps this is one of the keys to its metabolism enhancing effects.
The good news is that DHEA levels can be naturally enhanced by altering your moods. Research presented in the journal, Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that total mood disturbance and perceived stress over time negatively affected the cortisol to DHEA ratio (cortisol went up and DHEA came crashing down). When the test subjects lowered their stress levels through an intervention called Cognitive-behavioral stress management, their DHEA (measured as DHEA-S) levels rose in concert with changes in their moods.
In another study performed at the Institute of HeartMath, Boulder Creek, California, thirty test subjects using techniques designed to eliminate negative thought patterns and promote a positive emotional state, showed a 23 percent reduction in cortisol and a 100 percent increase in DHEA/DHEA-S levels.
Since healthy DHEA/cortisol ratios are so important to a healthy metabolism, it makes good sense to practise stress reduction as much as possible. Aside from this, maintain a positive attitude and lose the belly fat. Research presented in the journal Diabetes indicates that abdominal fat can contributing substantially to the regeneration of cortisol.
Other ways to reduce cortisol and raise DHEA are: exercise regularly, maintain a regular sleep schedule, don't skip meals—unbalanced blood sugar raises cortisol. And try supplementing with high-alpha whey protein. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, high alpha-lactalbumin whey helps stress-vulnerable subjects by increasing brain tryptophan and serotonin levels.References:
- Pelletier, Kenneth. Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer. Stanford University Press, 2002.
- Jedrzejuk D, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in healthy men with age-related decline of DHEA-S: effects on fat distribution, insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism. Aging Male. 2003 Sep;6(3):151-6.
- Hansen PA, et al. DHEA protects against visceral obesity and muscle insulin resistance in rats fed a high-fat diet. Am J Physiol. 1997 Nov;273(5 Pt 2):R1704-8.
- Lardy, H, Partridge, B, Kneer N, and Wei, Y. Ergosteroids: Induction of thermogenic enzymes in liver of rats treated with steroids derived from dehydroepiandrosterone. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 1995; 92: 6617-6619.
- Morgan CA, et al. Relationships among plasma dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and cortisol levels, symptoms of dissociation, and objective performance in humans exposed to acute stress. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;61(8):819-25.
- Cruess DG, et al. Cognitive-behavioral stress management buffers decreases in dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) and increases in the cortisol/DHEA-S ratio and reduces mood disturbance and perceived stress among HIV-seropositive men. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1999 Jul;24(5):537-49.
- Marcus CR, et al. Whey protein rich in alpha-lactalbumin increases the ratio of plasma tryptophan to the sum of the other large neutral amino acids and improves cognitive performance in stress-vulnerable subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Jun;75(6):1051-6.