Stress and Cortisol...the facts you need to know and how to improve your fitness and health
Posted Nov 14 2008 1:57pm
By: Tom Hodge - President Recovox
The difficulty of preventing stress lies in the fact that stress truly is a "chameleon" health problem. Thousands of factors can cause stress, and stress can appear in your body in almost as many ways. With every individual, stress is brought on by a unique factor. For some, it's the partying college kids next door, or worrying about finances, while for others, stress may be caused by the loss of a loved one, and for others still, too much of a good thing - like exercise.
Stress can be mental, creating frustration, inability to focus, reduced concentration and energy, and weak memory skills. Stress can be emotional, overcoming you with anger, resentment, worry, anxiety or panic. And stress can be physical, whether from improperly nourished muscles and organs or real physical injury. Often, stress is a combination of two or more of these types.
What's more, stress can have a compounding effect: a mentally stressful situation can develop into physical health troubles, and these health troubles can in turn create more mental stress in your life. What does this mean? Stress is potentially the most pervasive, damaging condition we face. Nearly every major cause of death, including heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and arthritis, is linked to some type of stress.
Exercise is a form of stress. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that is responsible for stimulating the release of cortisol doesn't know the difference between "good" stress and "bad" stress, so it secretes more of this destructive hormone whenever we do a workout that's longer or more intense than we're used to. The irony is that when we secrete high levels of cortisol we actually impede the growth and repair processes that are necessary for improvement in strength and speed - the very things we are trying to accomplish in training. Cortisol tears muscle tissue down and severely suppresses the immune system, making us most susceptible to injury and nagging illnesses. Chronic high levels of cortisol may also possibly result in increased risk for stress fractures, since calcium uptake by the bones is so reduced. The good news is that if we can reduce the high levels of cortisol we secrete through exercise, we can also reduce much of the damage and setbacks so that we can recover faster and stronger.
One of the greatest micronutrients you can take for stress is Phosphatidyl serine.
What it is: This is the stress superstar. Phosphatidyl serine (PS, for those of us without the biology degree) is a naturally occurring phospholipid. Basically, PS is a compound of two fatty acids and a sugary skeleton (but a good kind called glycerol). It exists in the body in almost all cell membranes, but is particularly prevalent and critical in three primary places, which are all directly related to and impacted by stress: the brain, the muscles, and the immune system. We don't get much PS from our diets and our bodies don't manufacture much, so it is an important nutrient to supplement.
The stress effect: PS is probably the most important nutrient you can take for fighting stress. Nevertheless, not many "stress-fighting" supplements contain appreciable amounts of PS, because it is such an expensive nutrient. PS not only enriches your brain's ability to fight stress, but it helps your muscles rebuild and nourish themselves, and PS supports your immune system in fighting infection. Significantly, PS has been shown to "blunt" cortisol and ACTH, two of the stress-related hormones that our bodies produce. More importantly, PS does not interfere with abnormally low levels of cortisol - only the unhealthy higher levels generated under stress. And it gets better: PS has also been shown in numerous studies to increase memory, concentration and cognition.
The studies show: Just 75 mg a day can help an adult male reduce his levels of both ACTH and cortisol. PS is necessary to repairing cellular membranes, which are crucial to proper bodily functions. PS is especially helpful in rebuilding muscles after exertion and injury. In double-blind studies (the most reliable studies), PS has been proven to help with brain function - even alleviating certain forms of age-related dementia and mental impairment. Experts consider PS a "general stress" nutrient, helping muscles bounce back, nerves handle a hectic lifestyle, stress hormones stay in balance and concentration improve.