Stress and Stressors

Often misrepresented contextually as a disease rather than a symptom, stress is actually the result or end-product of the natural “Fight-or-Flight” response inherent in all intelligent life and constitutes actual physiological strain on individual cells, cellular functions, and systems within the body. According to some studies, it is theorized that in many instances nearly every sensory stimulus received by the brain is converted into a single language: survival. Primordial instinct and pre-conditioned neural pathways further refine this signal into one of two neurological branches that are intended to preserve and propagate the species, respectively triggering complex chemical reactions within the pituitary and adrenal glands that flood various systems of the body. These branches comprise a pleasure response or a fight-or-flight response, the latter of which is responsible for increased production of adrenaline and, most specifically, cortisol.

Cortisol is widely attributed as one of the key hormones responsible for the drastic increase in cellular metabolism and energy redirection that plays key roles in our body’s ability to respond to fight-or-flight from long and short-term stimuli. Physical and emotional stimuli such as trauma, perceived threat, anxiety, and injury trigger the production of cortisol to allow for temporary increases in metabolism, muscle endurance, and energy. However, where anciently such stimuli would have been addressed by an accompanying act of extreme physical exertion (e.g. evading the predatory saber-toothed cat hot on one’s trail) that allows for the rapid metabolism and reuptake of cortisol, the average modern environment wherein these stimuli normally reside does not automatically provide for the ability to address excessive cortisol production. Constant cortisol production and the reported “cortisol drip” resulting from the recurring or sustained response to a fight-or-flight stimulus, in addition to the effects of one of cortisol’s primary attributes, immune suppression, has been attributed to acute physiological and psychological tension and related ailments.

This remarkable survival mechanism increases not only muscular work potential, endurance, and metabolism, but also naturally increases the intrinsic nutrient and mineral requirements of every cell affected to allow for increased survivability. Anciently, after having survived an encounter with the hungry wildcat, our ancestor might have restored any spent nutrients by feasting on foods high in protein for muscle repair and dried or preserved fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins that were grown in unadulterated soil still replete with minerals; all of which were also harvested by our ancestor’s hand or family. In today’s world of modern conveniences, this natural survival response is triggered by very different stimuli than those of our ancestors, but the physiochemical response is still the same. With every significant intracellular increase of nutrient and mineral requirement, triggered by the influence of cortisol, there is also a significant increase in cellular waste production and nutrient depletion. Where cortisol remains in circulation, stimulating this survival response, abnormally high cellular function takes a physical toll on the affected cells, resulting in the symptom known as stress. The major difference in today’s society, when compared to our ancestral predecessor’s, is the ever increasing prolonged duration of bodily exposure to the fight-or-flight response.

As part of the natural survival response process, the propensity for vitamin and mineral depletion is ever present. With unnatural prolonged exposure to this mechanism, depletion of essential nutrients is not only likely but guaranteed without proper dietary or supplemental intake. Major nutrients affected by stress include vitamins such as vitamins C, B, and D, in their various forms, right along with magnesium, calcium, and other crucial electrolytes. Very often, in an effort to address the environmental and psychological stressors that continuously trigger the fight-or-flight response, it is easy to completely forget or disregard the immense physiological requirements of this process.

Numerous techniques across hundreds of centuries have provided ample tools for the reduction of psychological stressors as well as for managing our natural survival response to stimuli. Modern studies have indicated a dramatic reduction in intracellular magnesium and other vitamin and mineral concentrations correlating to stress and the “cortisol drip.” In addition to methods of stress-management and the use of adaptogenic techniques (e.g. physical exercise, adequate nutrition and sleeping habits, herbal medicinals, effective breathing, etc.), replenishment of essential magnesium to allow for adequate relaxation following any period of tension or muscular exertion, no matter the stressors, is vital to addressing the afflictions of stress and stress-related illness.

The results of stress can be short-term or long-term, depending on our overall health and how we address the associated physical and psychological stressors and reactions. Some common triggers of stress are:

  • Physiological
    • Nutritional imbalances, malnutrition
    • Poor interstitial pH regulation
    • Drugs, low quality supplements, alcohol, tobacco and additives
    • Radiation
  • Physical Trauma
    • Pregnancy & childbirth
    • Accidents, burns
    • Chemotherapy, Radiation, Surgery
    • Exhaustion, fatigue
    • Muscular atrophy
  • Environmental
    • Pollution
    • Excess sensory excitation including noise, vibration, flashing lights
  • Psychological
    • Mood disorders, depression
    • Conflict, anxiety, anger, rage
    • Aggravation, frustration, pressure, loss

Stressful stimuli cause the hypothalamus to activate the adrenal medulla via the sympathetic nerve impulses and the adrenal cortex via hormonal signals. When the body is activated to fight-or-flight by some short-term stressor, the sympathetic nervous system is mobilized: Blood glucose levels rise, blood vessels constrict and the heart beats faster (together raising the blood pressure), blood is diverted from temporarily nonessential organs to the heart and skeletal muscles, and preganglionic sympathetic nerve endings weaving through the adrenal medulla signal for release of catecholamines, which reinforce and prolong the fight-or-flight response. While catecholamines cause fairly brief responses to stressors, adrenocortical hormones promote long-lasting body responses to stressors.

Short-Term Stress Response Long-Term / Prolonged Stress Response
Increased heart rate Retention of sodium and water by kidneys
Increase blood pressure Increased blood volume and blood pressure
Liver converts glycogen to glucose and releases glucose to blood Proteins and fats converted to glucose or broken down for energy
Dilation of bronchioles Increased blood glucose
Changes in blood flow patterns leading to decreased digestive system activity and reduced urine output Suppression of immune system
Increase metabolic rate

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