Table of Contents
What makes stress so unhealthy?
You know stress can be healthy or unhealthy.
Hans Selye introduced and distinguished stress as having two categories: distress and eustress.
Distress (the unhealthy stress) affects you negatively whereas eustress (the healthy stress) has a positive effect.
However, on this site we are addressing the unhealthy stress (distress) that has become rampant in our society.
As revealed in science journals around the world, the constant state of unhealthy stress we find ourselves in today’s society could easily contribute toward many degenerative diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, as well as a plethora of other symptoms and manifestations.
Do you know why or how this happens?
First, unhealthy stress can be the result of physical stressors, psychological stressors, or a combination of both. Unhealthy stress, from any source, will engage the neuroendocrine systems that may produce effects at the physical level, psychological level, or both the physical and psychological levels. Biological stressors also contribute to the stress response.
Simply put, one of the primary reasons that unhealthy stress can be so detrimental to your health is that each stage of stress (e.g., alarm, resistance, recovery) creates a tremendous potential for nutrient imbalances. Each stage of stress and the duration of each stage results in an increased retention of some nutrients, an excessive excretion of other nutrients, and an excessive utilization of others. This is the biochemistry of stress.
As you know, a deficiency of any nutrient is commonly associated with a symptom or the potential manifestation of disease. What you may not realize is that the increased retention (nutrient excess) of any nutrient is potentially as harmful as a deficiency. This is because any excess nutrient now becomes antagonistic to many other nutrients that now contributes toward a deficiency of those nutrients. All nutrients must remain in a dynamic balance as seen in nutrient interrelationships.
The purpose of this page is to provide an insight into the mechanics between stress, nutrition, and health. In addition, this information may reveal how nutritional screenings may be useful as an important component of conventional stress tests.
What does stress look like? You know what stress looks like when people are tense, have distant looks, angry, and their hair is standing on end. However, look at the photo because stressed and chronically stressed people look just like this.
Stages of Stress
Hans Selye revealed that we are subject to what he coined the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) defined as the nonspecific response of the body to any demand. The GAS consists of the alarm, resistance, and exhaustion stages. Today, we must include two additional stages (the chronic resistance stage and the exhaustion stage) that will help gain better insight into the resulting nutritional disruptions.
- Stage 1: Alarm
- Stage 2: Resistance
- Stage 3: Chronic Resistance
- Stage 4: Exhaustion
- Stage 5: Recovery
Stages 3 and 4 are very debilitating to the mind and body due the continued biochemical disruptions and every other factor involved that interferes with the proper nourishment of the mind and body.
The alarm stage is the “fight or flight” response that initiates the dominance of the sympathetic neuroendocrine system. This reduces the energy expenditure of neuroendocrine glands and organs (e.g., digestive system) not essential toward immediate survival.
A partial list of nutrients involved in the alarm stage includes the minerals sodium, magnesium, selenium, copper, and vitamins that include C, D, E, and several B vitamins and amino acids.
Nutrient interrelationship example: sodium, a stimulatory nutrient, becomes excessive and antagonistic to magnesium, which is a sedative nutrient. Read more: Alarm Stage of Stress.
As you pass into the resistance stage, you either resolve your stressor or begin to transition into an adaptation to your stressor. A partial list of additional nutrients includes potassium, iron, zinc, and magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and several B vitamins and amino acids.
Nutrient interrelationship example: potassium, also a stimulatory nutrient, becomes excessive and is antagonistic to calcium and magnesium. By now, both sodium and potassium are excessive and are antagonistic to calcium and magnesium. Read more: Resistance Stage of Stress.
Chronic Resistance Stage:
Unfortunately, the chronic resistance stage is epidemic in our society. Our jobs, relationships, fears, anger, disease, toxins, medications, grudges, pathogens, competitive nature, and every other stressor, perceived or real, keeps many people in the chronic resistance stage.
All of the nutrients involved in the alarm and resistance stages are now subject to long-term demands that result in additional nutrient imbalances. These imbalances apply to all essential nutrients that includes minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and fatty acids.
The longer you remain in the chronic resistance stage the more amplified nutrient excesses and deficiencies become due to the complex synergistic/antagonistic interrelationships, both direct and indirect, that exist between all essential nutrients.
The chronic resistance stage further compromises your immune systems, depletes your energy, interrupts your digestive system, and increases your vulnerability toward degenerative diseases such as obesity, diabetes, depression, cancer, chronic fatigue, and so on. See references below. Read more: Chronic Resistance Stage of Stress.
The exhaustion stage is commonly labeled as “adrenal burnout” and usually requires years or decades in the chronic resistance stage before you hit this wall. If you are lucky, you are not afflicted with a degenerative disease.
The exhaustion stage feels like somebody pulled the plug and you no longer have any energy. What has happened is that you have depleted the adrenal gland’s ability too continually supply hormones, such as adrenaline, to maintain your energy levels.
The adrenals were never intended to be your primary source of energy nor are they a sustainable energy source. They were intended to provide powerful hormones for psychophysiological changes required for extra energy in an emergency as seen in the alarm stage.
The chronic resistance and exhaustion stages are the real financial boon to an absolute plethora of energy products now available. Read more: Exhaustion Stage of Stress.
If you are able to progress through the alarm and resistance stages and bypass the chronic resistance and exhaustion stages, the recovery stage would include nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, copper, and selenium, and vitamins C, D, E, and several B vitamins. However, this is a rare occasion.
Today, due to long-term nutrient imbalances, a nutritional program that targets all essential nutrients is the most effective for recovery. Here again, a targeted nutrition program absolutely requires the use of laboratory analyses and cannot be accomplished by guesswork.
In addition, depending on the severity and duration of your stress, it may require several years to replenish your nutritional needs. Read more: Recovery Stage of Stress.
What is your current stage of stress?
Additional pages that may interest you:
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On page REFERENCES (Link at bottom for additional references)
Stress hormones produced during the activation of both the HPA axis and the SNS can promote tumorigenesis and cancer development through a variety of mechanisms. Chronic stress can also cause corresponding changes in the body’s immune function and inflammatory response, which is significant because a long-term inflammatory response and the decline of the body’s immune surveillance capabilities are implicated in tumorigenesis.Dai S, Mo Y, Wang Y, Xiang B, Liao Q, Zhou M, Li X, Li Y, Xiong W, Li G, Guo C, Zeng Z. Chronic Stress Promotes Cancer Development. Front Oncol. 2020 Aug 19;10:1492. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2020.01492. PMID: 32974180; PMCID: PMC7466429. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32974180/
The influence of psychosocial factors on the development and progression of cancer has been a longstanding hypothesis since ancient times. In fact, epidemiological and clinical studies over the past 30 years have provided strong evidence for links between chronic stress, depression and social isolation and cancer progression.Moreno-Smith M, Lutgendorf SK, Sood AK. Impact of stress on cancer metastasis. Future Oncol. 2010 Dec;6(12):1863-81. doi: 10.2217/fon.10.142. PMID: 21142861; PMCID: PMC3037818. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037818/
Chronic stress results in disturbances of body hormones through the neuroendocrine system. Cancer patients often experience recurrent anxiety and restlessness during disease progression and treatment, which aggravates disease progression and hinders treatment effects. Recent studies have shown that chronic stress-regulated neuroendocrine systems secret hormones to activate many signaling pathways related to tumor development in tumor cells.Yan J, Chen Y, Luo M, Hu X, Li H, Liu Q, Zou Z. Chronic stress in solid tumor development: from mechanisms to interventions. J Biomed Sci. 2023 Jan 28;30(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s12929-023-00903-9. PMID: 36707854; PMCID: PMC9883141. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9883141/
Chronic stress is an emotional experience that occurs when people encounter something they cannot adapt to. Repeated chronic stress increases the risk of a variety of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, depression, endocrine disease, inflammation and cancer. A growing body of research has shown that there is a link between chronic stress and tumor occurrence in both animal studies and clinical studies.Hong H, Ji M, Lai D. Chronic Stress Effects on Tumor: Pathway and Mechanism. Front Oncol. 2021 Dec 20;11:738252. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.738252. PMID: 34988010; PMCID: PMC8720973. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8720973/
Protective immune responses include those that promote efficient healing of open as well as sterile wounds, eliminate infections and cancer, mediate cancer immunosurveillance, enable tumor immunotherapy, and drive vaccine effectiveness.Antoni MH, Dhabhar FS. The impact of psychosocial stress and stress management on immune responses in patients with cancer. Cancer. 2019 May 1;125(9):1417-1431. doi: 10.1002/cncr.31943. Epub 2019 Feb 15. PMID: 30768779; PMCID: PMC6467795. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6467795/
T lymphocytes mediate adaptive immune response and serve as a defender in anti-tumor killing immunity (95). Chronic stress alters the numbers of immune-supportive T cells (CD8+T) and immunosuppressive T cells (Treg), as well as the distribution of helper T (Th) cells-originated cytokinesLiu Y, Tian S, Ning B, Huang T, Li Y, Wei Y. Stress and cancer: The mechanisms of immune dysregulation and management. Front Immunol. 2022 Oct 5;13:1032294. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.1032294. PMID: 36275706; PMCID: PMC9579304. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9579304/
Chronic stress exposure disrupts the homeostatic communication between the neuroendocrine and immune systems, shifting immune signaling toward a proinflammatory state. Stress-induced chronic low-grade inflammation and a decline in immune surveillance are both implicated in cancer development and progression.Vignjević Petrinović S, Milošević MS, Marković D, Momčilović S. Interplay between stress and cancer-A focus on inflammation. Front Physiol. 2023 Mar 20;14:1119095. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2023.1119095. PMID: 37020461; PMCID: PMC10067747. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10067747/
Chronic stress exacerbates inflammation and causes a metabolism disorder, making it difficult for the organisms to maintain homeostasis and increasing its susceptibility to cancer. The shifted differentiation and redistribution of the immune system induced by chronic stress fail to combat cancer efficiently. Chronic stress increases the tumor-educated immune suppressive cells and impairs the cytotoxicity of cellular immunity, thereby promoting lymphatic metastasis and hematogenous metastasis.Zhang L, Pan J, Chen W, Jiang J, Huang J. Chronic stress-induced immune dysregulation in cancer: implications for initiation, progression, metastasis, and treatment. Am J Cancer Res. 2020 May 1;10(5):1294-1307. PMID: 32509380; PMCID: PMC7269780. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7269780/
In chronically stressed individuals dishabituation of HPA axis is followed by increased release of glucocorticoids and catecholamines. Higher secretion of glucocorticoids influences glucose metabolism by promoting gluconeogenesis in the liver, suppressing glucose uptake (adipocytes and skeletal muscles), promoting lipolysis in adipocytes, suppressing insulin secretion, inflicting insulin resistance and inflammation.Sharma VK, Singh TG. Chronic Stress and Diabetes Mellitus: Interwoven Pathologies. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2020;16(6):546-556. doi: 10.2174/1573399815666191111152248. PMID: 31713487. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31713487/
While often considered an adversity to be ignored, chronic stress has important pathological consequences, including cardiovascular disease (CVD). Stress also increases the prevalence and severity of several CVD risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and obesity. Yet even after adjustment, stress’ attributable CVD risk is similar to those risk factors, suggesting it is a particularly potent contributor.Disentangling the Links Between Psychosocial Stress and Cardiovascular Disease, Michael T. Osborne, Lisa M. Shin, Nehal N. Mehta, Roger K. Pitman, Zahi A. Fayad and Ahmed Tawakol; Originally published14 Aug 2020https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.120.010931Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging. 2020;13:e010931 https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.120.010931
Depression is associated with cross-sectional and longitudinal alterations in the diurnal cortisol curve, including a blunted cortisol awakening response and flattening of the diurnal cortisol curve. Flattening of the diurnal cortisol curve is also associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus. In this article, we review and summarize the evidence supporting HPA axis dysregulation as an important biological link between stress, depression, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.Joseph JJ, Golden SH. Cortisol dysregulation: the bidirectional link between stress, depression, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017 Mar;1391(1):20-34. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13217. Epub 2016 Oct 17. PMID: 27750377; PMCID: PMC5334212. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27750377/
Chronic stress and endocrine stress responses are significantly associated with glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus.Siddiqui A, Madhu SV, Sharma SB, Desai NG. Endocrine stress responses and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Stress. 2015;18(5):498-506. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2015.1067677. Epub 2015 Aug 13. PMID: 26303379. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26303379/
There is an enormous amount of literature on psychological stress and cardiovascular disease. This report reviews conceptual issues in defining stress and then explores the ramifications of stress in terms of the effects of acute versus long-term stressors on cardiac functioning.Dimsdale JE. Psychological stress and cardiovascular disease. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Apr 1;51(13):1237-46. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2007.12.024. PMID: 18371552; PMCID: PMC2633295. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633295/
The longer one experiences chronic stress, the greater the chances of there being detrimental health effects. However, because most organisms are stress resilient, it often takes prolonged exposure to chronic stress to break down physiological systems.Dhabhar FS. The short-term stress response – Mother nature’s mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2018 Apr;49:175-192. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.03.004. Epub 2018 Mar 26. PMID: 29596867; PMCID: PMC5964013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5964013/#R9