Stress in the 21st century is no joke. As human residents of this beautiful planet, most of us are being bombarded with a wide array of toxicity from all directions. Many of us often forget that stress doesn’t just come from a busy life or emotional overwhelm, stress can come equally as strong from a biological inheritance, environmental toxicity, agricultural chemicals, exposure to heavy metals, electro-smog, and viruses. It is no wonder that physicians state that 90% of all office visits are for stress-related conditions and/or complaints. These factors directly affect our entire body and mind, impacting the nervous system and key stress-coping organs, such as the hypothalamus (H), pituitary (P), and adrenal glands (A).
Ok here’s the deal on Stress Hormones…
First off, WE ACTUALLY NEED THEM.
Secondly, CERTAINLY NOT 24/7.
STRESS HORMONES 101
Cortisol, one of the more famous stress hormones and the primary hormone released from the adrenal glands, is often called the “stress hormone.” When cortisol is secreted, it causes a breakdown of muscle protein, leading to the release of amino acids into the bloodstream. Amino acids are processed by the liver to synthesize glucose. This process raises blood sugar levels in the brain, which gives us energy. At the same time, the other tissues in the body decrease their use of glucose. Cortisol also leads to the release of fatty acids for use by the muscles. The processes of directing and replenishing energy prepare the body to manage stress and ensure that the brain receives energy.
Another important purpose of cortisol in the body is the regulation of blood pressure and cardiovascular functions. It also assists the immune system in responding to infection and inflammation. If we didn’t have stress hormones to alert the body of the immune system of invaders, then the infection would thrive!
The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels and other systems resume their regular activities. But when stressors are always present and your body-mind feels constantly under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.
OVER-ADAPTATION ISN’T A GOOD THING
Over-adaptation to stress and constant disruption of key neurohormones from being assimilated trigger many health issues. The oversecretion of cortisol, for example, suppresses the immune system and can cause a number of symptoms such as severe anxiety, hypertension, inflammation, depression, chronic fatigue, PMS in women, infertility, sex hormone imbalance, insulin resistance, weight gain, insomnia, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Other Stress Hormones:
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone ACTH (corticotropin)
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone
- Corticotropin-releasing hormone
THE DANGERS OF SURVIVAL MODE
Over time, the repeated activation of our “flight or fight” response, can take a serious toll on the body and can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes. Research suggests that chronic stress, even when operating silently over long periods of time, contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, causes brain changes that may contribute to brain fog, anxiety, depression, and addiction.
More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both directly (causing people to eat more) and indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).
And a well-known problem... adrenal fatigue.
Adrenals produce and control the release of cortisol. When the adrenals chronically secrete cortisol and other stress hormones, your adrenals stop producing cortisol, leading to adrenal fatigue.
“Adrenal fatigue” is a term often used by health professionals to describe the phenomenon of the adrenal glands running on empty and the resulting mental and physical state of those experiencing it. Our glands release high levels of cortisol during stressful periods, which is the most important hormone we have to help the body manage stress. Think of cortisol as our own built-in alarm system, alerting us when the body is in danger. It also works with certain parts of the brain to control mood, motivation, and fear. If too much cortisol is secreted, many bodily processes begin to underperform, potentially resulting in illness.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
- Feeling tired for no reason
- Trouble getting out of bed, even when you’ve had a decent night’s sleep
- Unable to handle stress; everything becomes a trigger
- Recurring brain fog; lack of creativity and focus
- Low immune function. A difficulty recovering from being sick
- Autoimmune issues
- Decreased sex drive
- Mood swings, depression, severe ups and downs
- A feeling of being constantly overwhelmed and anxious
- Intensely craving sweets, carbs, or salty snacks
- Overuse of stimulants like caffeine, sugar, or tobacco
- Inexplicable weight gain
Before we go on, take a moment and think where your stress might come from...
Here's a few categories to help you diagnose the possible stressors.
KINDS OF STRESS
HERBS + FOODS TO AVOID BURNOUT
We’ve categorized these precious nervines, adaptogens, rejuvenative tonics, and foods in sections so you can match the one that can better serve your kind of stress.
Herbs for A Nervous System Gone Haywire
SKULLCAP | An excellent anti-spasmodic, relief for muscle tension, anti-inflammatory, and used to stimulate blood flow, assist with chronic headaches, and for relaxation. It has been used to treat hysteria, insomnia, anxiety, and epilepsy. It is used in European eclectic medicine and by Native Americans to soothe the nerves and help from body pain recovery.
MILKY OAT | A soothing superfood for the nervous system. For one week out of the common oats growing cycle, the immature oat seed is filled with a white “milk.” It is harvested quickly and made into a fresh tincture, becoming an excellent trophorestorative — a deeply nourishing food that brings about deep restoration. This remedy has been crafted for over 150 years by eclectic physicians as an excellent tonic remedy that calms shattered nerves, relieves emotional instability, helping restore peace to an already burnt-out system that needs nutrient-dense recovery.
PASSIONFLOWER | This beautiful flower is a gentle anti-anxiety, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and mild sedative herb. It is traditionally used by Native Americans and Curanderos in Latin America to ease muscle pain, bruises, and to ease insomnia. Quercetin, one of the active compounds, is an exceptionally effective ability in ridding the body from damaging free radicals while inhibiting various enzymes that cause inflammation. Quercetin has also been found to relax the nervous system, helping to relieve nerve-related pain.
Stress Ignited from Depressive Moods
ALBIZZIA | The Tree of Eternal Happiness. Both the bark and the flowers have been traditionally used for hundreds of years as a calming sedative. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is used to anchor the spirit for those who struggle with worry, anxiety, confusion, and depression. The flowers have been used as a treatment for insomnia, amnesia, and melancholy. Albizzia is thought to enhance all aspects of neurotransmitter secretion and regulation, making it a terrific anti-depressant and anti-anxiety herb with no known side effects.
ASHWAGANDHA | Ashwagandha has been a popular Ayurvedic remedy for millennia. Ashwagandha may help to balance the hormones that contribute to anxiety. On one hand, it can fire up your body and give you energy when you’re feeling fatigued and burned out. On the other hand, it can also suppress stimulatory hormones when you’re strung out and stressed. Ashwagandha can also depress the central nervous system, inducing relaxation and aiding sleep. This is clinically helpful for stress and anxiety disorders, which tend to involve two extremes of high stress and stimulation, combined with fatigue and adrenal exhaustion.
RHODIOLA | Rhodiola has been found through extensive clinical studies to have antidepressant properties by balancing neurotransmitters in the brain. Human-based clinical trials also demonstrated how Rhodiola reduced mental fatigue on stressful work-related tasks by 20% within a 20 day period. In another study, students experienced significantly reduced mental fatigue, improved sleep patterns, and increased motivation after a 20-day intake. Rhodiola is an essential staple as an energizing mental health aid.MUCUNA | is a mood-boosting super herb with adaptogenic qualities. Mucuna is one of the only naturally occurring (and certainly most concentrated) sources of L-Dopa—as in dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that ignites brain performance, along with feelings of joy and bliss.
Stress Ignited from Insomnia + Agitation
MULUNGU | It’s not as common in the Western world, but it is certainly a beloved tree within South American indigenous medicine. Indigenous peoples from the Amazon have used it for centuries as a relaxant, for mental disorders (depression, anxiety, stress, panic, trauma, etc.), liver disorders, high blood pressure, and heart palpitations. Scientific studies now demonstrate all of the indigenous uses were on point, demonstrating significant pain-relieving, antispasmodic, anti-convulsive, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory actions.
KAVA KAVA | Kava is a hypnotic sedative used ceremonially for centuries by Polynesians, Hawaiians, and more. There are over 15 varieties of Hawaiian kava alone, and each one has its own qualities, flavors, and potencies. Research shows that kava root can be used to treat anxiety because it’s a nonaddictive and non-hypnotic anxiolytic. Kava is used to improve mood, ease anxiety, and boost sociability. It works by stimulating dopamine receptors and inducing euphoria.
Stress Ignited from Nutritional Deficiency
Here is where the marvelous class of 'Rejuvenatives' or 'Rasayanas' fits in! These are key vitality tonics that pulsate us with energy, also good for low sex drive, low motivation, or exhaustion.
HE SHOU WU | a.k.a. “Fo-Ti” is a powerful root with adaptogenic properties, used for more than 3,000 years as a rejuvenative, “anti-aging” beauty tonic. Traditionally it was used to thicken hair, increase virility, and rejuvenate the internal organs. Scientific studies have found a plethora of benefits such as helps DNA repair, supports the bones and cognitive functions. If used in large amounts it might be toxic to the liver, be sure to prepare the right dosage for the right amount of time.
SUMA | “Brazilian Ginseng” nutritionally contains 19 different amino acids, a large number of electrolytes, trace minerals, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A, B1, B2, E, K, and pantothenic acid. In other words, it's a powerful multivitamin! Its high germanium content accounts for its properties as an oxygenator at a cellular level; its high iron content may account for its traditional use for anemia. Suma also contains novel phytochemicals including saponins, pfaffic acids, glycosides, and nortriterpenes, part of the chemistry that accounts for it as an excellent adaptogen!
CORDYCEPS | Prized for their natural ability to fight free radicals, infections, and inflammation, Cordyceps are impressive disease-fighting fungi that have been used for hundreds of years to reduce symptoms of respiratory disorders, coughs, colds, liver damage as well as energy. As a true superfood, the cordyceps mushroom can slow the effects of aging and stress, help keep the body free from disease and boost energy levels to keep you going all day long.
MACA | grows high up in the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia. And it’s an important staple of their diet since it’s highly nutritious and able to grow wild and survive in harsh climates. Maca is said to help people adapt to the altitude and to thrive in harsh conditions, including severe cold, rugged terrain, low oxygen, strong sunlight, and intense winds. It’s commonly known as a nutrient-dense aphrodisiac; naturally rich in copper, vitamin C, potassium as well as trace elements like iodine, iron, and zinc, fatty acids, and amino acids.
Other Supplements that Might be Helpful
5-HTP | Supplementing with 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which is synthesized from tryptophan (an essential amino acid that acts as a mood regulator), can help to treat issues that are associated with anxiety, including trouble sleeping, moodiness and headaches.
GABA | Gaba is an amino acid that is responsible for decreasing anxiety in the nervous system, and it also helps to relax your muscles. GABA is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can cause a sedative effect, helps regulate nerve cells, and calms anxiety. Anti-anxiety drugs, like Xanax and Valium, work to increase the amount of GABA in the brain. Another option is to use valerian or mulungu, which naturally increases your brain’s GABA level and helps to calm anxiety.
MAGNESIUM | Magnesium plays many important roles in the body, and magnesium deficiency is one of the leading deficiencies in adults. Magnesium is commonly used to combat anxiety, poor digestion, muscle spasms, and trouble sleeping. Look for magnesium in citrate, chelate, and chloride, which are forms that the body absorbs better. However, be aware that too much magnesium can cause diarrhea. Find it in our cacao!
VITAMIN B COMPLEX | B vitamins help to combat stress and stabilize mood. Vitamin B6, in particular, serves as a natural remedy for anxiety because it works to boost mood, balance blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy nervous system. In fact, symptoms of a vitamin B6 deficiency include anxiety, irritability, depression, changes in mood, muscle pains, and fatigue. B12 is also important for improving energy levels, fighting chronic stress, mood disorders, and depression.