In the future, stress may come to be seen as the primary contributing cause of most disease.
Research continues to link stress to more and more symptoms and diseases, both acute and
chronic. Stress is inevitable in today’s world and, of course, we need a certain amount to
function. The key is to be able to manage our level of stress.
What is stress? It is our reaction to our external environment as well as our inner thoughts
and feelings. Stress in essence is our body’s natural response to dangers, the “fight or flight”
mechanisms—the body’s preparedness to do battle or flee from danger. This response
involves a complex biochemical-hormonal process, which we will discuss shortly. Stress in
today’s world is mainly a result of continuous high demands that are imposed on us by work,
family, and lifestyle, or that we impose upon ourselves through our desire to accomplish.
Other stresses come in the form of poor dietary and exercise regimes, including the use of
sugars and stimulants. Mild stress acts as a useful motivation for activity and productivity.
But when the stresses in our life are too extreme or too many, this may result in all kinds of
problems. Some people consistently overreact to their day-to-day life. However, most of us
might be overwhelmed only when we have an increased intensity or number of stresses, such
as excessive demands all at once leading to a continuous feeling of not having enough time
or energy to do what we feel we must do. Others respond stressfully to intense emotional
experiences, personal changes, extreme weather, or overexposure to electronic stimuli, all of
Stress can generate many symptoms and diseases, mediated by changes in immune
function, hormonal response, and biochemical reactions, which then influence body functions
in our digestive tract and our cardiovascular, neurological, or musculo-skeletal systems. A
wide variety of problems such as headache, backache, and infection, even heart disease
or cancer in the long-term, may result. Our brain and pituitary gland respond to stress by
releasing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This stimulates our adrenals to increase
production of the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Other hormones that
affect metabolism and water balance may also be released. Adrenaline, and noradrenaline
are the main stimuli to the stress response. They stimulate the heart, increase blood pressure
and heart rate, and constrict certain blood vessels to increase blood flow to the muscles and
brain and to decrease it to the digestive tract and internal organs, preparing us for the “battle”
with the “danger,” wherever it is. Adrenaline also raises blood sugar, as it stimulates the liver
to produce and release more glucose (and cholesterol) into the blood so our cells will have
the energy we need. All of this results in an increased rate of metabolism. Stress experienced
around the time of eating thus diverts the energy needed for efficient digestion.
During times of increased stress and greater demand, our body’s nutrients are used more
rapidly to meet the increased biochemical needs of metabolism, so we require increased
amounts of many of these nutrients. The diet and nutrient plan presented here is specifically
designed to reduce these negative biochemical effects of stress. There are also many
other important aspects of handling this modern-day problem, primarily psychological and
lifestyle approaches to stress management. Stress can occur at all levels of our being.
There are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual stress factors involved in almost all
diseases. Particular medical conditions that have a high stress component include asthma
and allergies, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, arthritis, and cancer. Surgery,
viral conditions, and environmental chemical exposure may be short-term problems with high
Physical stress — exercise, hard labour, birth, life changes, infection, injury, burns, surgery.
Chemical stress — environmental pollution such as exposure to pesticides and cleaning
solvents, and the personal use of chemicals, such as drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine
Mental/emotional/psychological stress — financial or career pressures, high responsibility,
long hours, perfectionism, anxiety, and worry, anger, fear, frustration, sadness, betrayal,
Nutritional stress — vitamin and mineral deficiencies, protein or fat excesses or deficiencies,
food allergies, intake of refined and processed food, stimulants, alcohol.
For each individual the stresses in their life will be different. For stress to arise and negatively
influence our health, we must experience something as a danger. When we do, anxiety is
generated, which we often experience as fear or a feeling of threat to our survival. If we view
stress positively, we see it as simply a survival response. But if we cannot handle the stress,
we may experience the symptoms and diseases of stress. Learning to adapt our attitude and
find suitable outlets for our stress is a very important long-range plan.
As stated earlier, the normal biochemical response to a sense of danger is stimulation of
the adrenal glands to release increased levels of hormones, particularly adrenaline and
noradrenaline. These are cardiovascular stimulants that increase heart rate, constrict blood
vessels, stimulate the brain, and affect every other body system to prepare it for “fight”
or “flight”—that is, handle the danger or hit the road. The problem comes in when there
is really no physical danger but our body reacts as if there were. Then, if greater physical
demands and activity do not provide an outlet for the increased adrenal activity, it may be
turned inward and play havoc with our physiology and organs, as well as with our emotions
Though all parts of our body are affected by stress, certain areas seem to be more sensitive
than others. The digestive tract is the most easily influenced, followed by the neurological and
circulatory systems and the muscles which accumulate some of the tensions as well as toxins
from metabolism. The psychological outlook and welfare of the individual are also strongly
affected by acute and chronic stress.
How the damage comes about involves the mechanisms of constant adrenal stimulation
along with free-radical production and immune suppression. Stress produces irritating
molecules that generate immunological changes, damage cells, and inflame organ and
blood vessel linings. Stress responses also “eat up” more important nutrients which can lead
to deficiencies and allow the other stress response changes to damage the tissues even
more. Stress has been shown to decrease protective antibodies and reduce the important T
lymphocytes that function in the cellular immune system. Chronic stress is clearly a culprit in
the generation of aging and degenerative diseases.
In addition to the increased demands on the adrenal cortex, certain mechanisms affect the
stomach and pancreas and thus our digestion. Stress initially increases stomach hydrochloric
acid production, leading to indigestion, heartburn, gastritis, and ulcer problems. With
increased acid levels, however, the pancreas is stimulated to release alkaline enzymes to
help balance the acidity. With chronic stress, this can lead to hypochlorhydria (low stomach
acid) and reduced function of the pancreas. This may result in poor digestion and assimilation
of nutrients and thus vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as the development of food
allergies due to improper breakdown of the bulk foodstuffs and the subsequent absorption of
larger molecules, which may cause an immune reaction (food intolerance/allergy).
There is also a weakening of the adrenal response with chronic stress, whether the stress is
from regular stimulant and sugar intake or from other physical or emotional demands. When
the adrenals do not respond, we may have a more difficult time coping with the stress, and
when this inability to cope sets in deeply, we may feel like giving up. We might experience
depression, hopelessness, or even death, which can result from the serious diseases that
arise with a severely weakened immune system. That is why it is so important to avoid the
vicious cycle of trying to meet high demands by pushing ourselves with poor nourishment,
poor sleep, and lack of fun.
As daily stresses arrive at your door, there are three stages the adrenal glands go through.
Understanding these will help someone to identify their adrenal status.
(1) Alarm Reaction Stage. The initial response to stress is the alarm reaction or ‘flight or
fight’ response. This is the time that a mother can lift a car off her injured son. The adrenal
gland secretes adrenaline and other stress related hormones. This is designed to counteract
immediate danger by mobilising body resources for physical activity. The adrenal glands will
utilise its hormones to the point of depletion in this case. Needless to say, if the glands are
healthy entering this situation, the result is much better. At this stage both cortisol and DHEA
levels increase in line with adrenaline.
(2) Resistance Stage. This is the stage of prolonged stress and the demand on the glands
is continual. The adrenals can usually keep up with these demands, but the body has a more
difficult time recovering while in this stage. This stage occurs when we are required to cope
with an emotional crisis, fight infection or are continually exposed to dietary and exercise
stresses. Prolonged exposure to stress at this stage increases the risk of disease. Cortisol
levels are found to be increased while DHEA levels fall at this stage.
(3) Exhaustion Stage. The adrenals can no longer meet the stressful demands and this
individual now has evident signs and symptoms that need to be interpreted correctly and
resolved. The two major causes of exhaustion are loss of potassium ions and depletion of
cortisol and DHEA. When potassium is lost cells eventually die. Depressed cortisol and
DHEA results in low blood sugar levels. As a result cells are starved of energy.
The symptoms that might suggest adrenal gland weakness or fatigue are rather diverse.
Asthma, allergies, upper respiratory infections, hay fever, colitis, headaches, insomnia,
fatigue, fainting spells, dizziness, heart palpitations, mood swings and sugar cravings are
just a few. Unfortunately, most healthcare providers tend to treat these symptoms with
medications that hide them from your awareness. A chemical solution to the symptoms can
add fuel to an already ravaging fire, as artificial chemicals(drugs) tend to further weaken the
adrenal glands. This will generally increase the intensity of the symptomatic picture. Many
people resort to the use of stimulant drugs and sugars in an attempt to rectify their depleted
levels of energy. This leads to an anxiety state and the consequent use of depressant drugs
While hormone therapy has been around for some time, what is new is the attention centring
on DHEA and it’s sulfate, DHEA(s). A commonly overlooked aspect when speaking of
DHEA is the critical relationship between DHEA and cortisol, an important glucocorticoid
hormone synthesised by the adrenal cortex. Cortisols’ role in human health ranges from
promoting protein synthesis to mobilising glucose stores for use as energy. Cortisol is also
required in the production of prostaglandins, normal circulation, brain activity, helping prevent
inflammation and preventing accumulation of fat. However, under conditions of physiological
and psychological stress cortisol can be released in high amounts in response to the stress
stimulus. It is this increased cortisol production that is linked with obesity, suppressed thyroid
function and a host of other serious health consequences.
Effects of cortisol imbalance on health
1. LOW ENERGY: People who are constantly tired, have difficulty getting up in the morning
and suffer from energy slumps often have abnormal adrenal rhythms.
2. MUSCLE DYSFUNCTION: Excess cortisol decreases muscle protein synthesis and
reduces muscle mass. Reduced tissue repair and increased tissue breakdown can lead to
3. IMPAIRED BONE REPAIR: Cortisol inhibits hormones required for calcium deposition.
If night cortisol levels are elevated and morning levels high, bone growth and repair is
suppressed and one may become more prone to the osteoporotic process.
4. THYROID DYSFUNCTION: Hypothyroid symptoms such as fatigue and low body
temperature are often due to adrenal maladaption, such as elevated cortisol.
5. DEPRESSED IMMUNE SYSTEM: Several key aspects of immune function follow the
cortisol cycle. If this cycle is disrupted, especially evidencing elevated levels at night, then the
immune system is adversely affected.
6. IMPAIRED SLEEP QUALITY: Elevated night cortisol can interrupt entry into REM (Rapid
Eye Movement) sleep, the body’s regenerative sleep mode, reducing mental vitality and
7. POOR SKIN REGENERATION: Human skin is regenerated mostly at night. With higher
night cortisol levels, less skin regeneration take place.
8. IMPAIRED GROWTH HORMONE UPTAKE: Growth hormone production declines
rapidly after the age of about 24, relating directly on the effects of and symptoms of ageing.
Unfortunately, cortisol is a GH antagonist, and moderate elevations of cortisol after 10:00 pm,
9. SEX HORMONE IMBALANCE: Progesterone and cortisol have common cell receptor
sites. Elevated cortisol competes with progesterone in such a way as to reduce the
effectiveness of progesterone. Also, progesterone acts as a precursor to cortisol, and a s
such may be depleted as the body uses it to produce more cortisol in long term stress. Over
stimulation of the adrenal cortex can result in the overproduction of oestrogen. As a result
there is an overall imbalance in the ratio of oestrogen to progesterone. Many symptoms of
PMS and Menopause can be related to this imbalance.
Dietary and lifestyle recommendations
There are many positive things to do with regard to diet and lifestyle, as well as many
things to avoid. This program is designed to support adrenal function by counter acting and
reducing the negative biochemical and physiological effects of stress, and minimising the
specific stressing agents, such as the wide variety of drugs, both street and prescription.
Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are all irritating drugs. Many over-the-counter and prescription
drugs may also cause physiological problems and irritate us physically or mentally. A diet
of high-nutrient foods is essential for people under stress, because stress increases cellular
activity which leads to increased nutrient usage. The resulting depletions may aggravate
the damaging effects of stress. Also, less food may be consumed during times of stress,
as the digestive tract may be a little upset; and the higher nutrient foods make up for lower
consumption. However, some people who are stressed tend to push themselves and not
take good care of themselves, avoiding meals, especially wholesome ones, and snacking on
quick-energy or fast foods. These people are usually not overweight; on the contrary, they
need to be reminded to eat. This unrelenting push without feeding the stomach (and every
cell) can lead to acid irritation of the digestive organs and ulcers. Then the cycle of antacids
starts and further poor digestion and assimilation is the final outcome.
Probably the best type of diet is five small but wholesome meals a day, that focus on fruits
vegetables, seeds, nuts, oily fish, beans and lentils. Protein should be taken with each
meal. Eat only a small amount of grains, avoiding those that you may be intolerant to. Avoid
caffeine and limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks per day. Avoid any foods that may promote
inflammation including red meats, dairy products and fried foods Lots of water is important to
keep us well hydrated and to help counteract stress by circulating nutrients. Juices, soups,
and salads, for example, can nourish us well without creating great demands on our body and
digestion, which may not be working well at the time. Our energy level and productivity may
rise with lighter eating as well. A lighter, cleansing diet may help us through times of short-
term stress. Avoiding stress around meals is very important. Try to rest and relax before and
after eating, even if just for a minute or two of placing your body in a receptive state for the
nourishment coming in. If there is time to take 10–15 minutes before and after meals, that
is even better, especially after large meals. Listening to relaxing music also helps. Do not
smoke. A half hours walk, in the early evening, that causes your heart to pump faster helps to
reduce cortisol levels. Have more fun. Do things that you enjoy and that help you to relax.
Express your feelings. Emotions need regular venting, and unexpressed emotions are the
building blocks of stress, pain, and illness. Get good sleep. Poor sleep or sleep habits do
not let your body really rest, discharge tensions, and recharge. Learn relaxation exercises.
These can help a great deal in reducing stress through letting go of mental stresses and
experiencing moments of inner peace. This quiet, “nothing happening” space is where, I
believe, the he rests. It serves you to look at the big picture and step out of the little struggles.
Ask why you might need to experience these challenges and try to view them as opportunities.
Develop good relationships. It is important to have friends in whom you can
confide and find support. Those who love and accept you and will advise but not judge you
are your true friends. It is also very meaningful to be a true friend to another. Experience
love and satisfying sex. A primary relationship that is loving, sensual, and sexual can also
be a major stress reducer. Having an understanding, accepting, and warm being (most
often human) to receive your hardworking body and mind can be the best therapy available.
However, if you do not have this in your life, there are many other therapies that are helpful.
Often, an intense relationship can also be stressful. It is important to find a balance in all you
do, in each endeavour and in your life as a whole. Change perceptions and attitudes. When
ideas or views are not serving you, it is wise to examine and adapt them. It is important to
learn to respond to life’s situations and not react. This is a true response-ability! Hanging
onto frustrations, holding grudges, and accepting the victim-blame game are not in your best
A good supplement plan is imperative. Stress depletes so many of our body’s nutrients that it
is difficult to obtain the levels we need from food alone. Nutrients that are commonly depleted
by stress include the antioxidant vitamins A, E, and C, the B vitamins, and the minerals zinc,
selenium, calcium, magnesium, iron. A good multivitamin and mineral should provide all
Zinc is required for the manufacture of hormones. Stress uses up large amounts of zinc,
therefore it is often necessary to supplement with extra during times of stress.
All the B vitamins are all significantly depleted by stress and the stress-related problems may
be compounded by deficiencies resulting from poor nutrition prior to the time of increased
stress. Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, may well be the most important antistress nutrient of
the B complex. Along with folic acid and vitamin C, it is necessary for proper function of the
adrenal glands. Niacin, enough to generate the niacin flush, may be useful in counteracting
some of the biochemical effects of stress. It is recommended you take a high potency B
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb which can increase a person’s tolerance to physical and
mental stress. Thus it can improve performance capacity. It can also protect the immune
system and the cardiovascular system from the damaging effects of stress.
Ashwaghanda can increase the body’s tolerance to various stressors.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, may indeed be the single most essential antistress nutrient. It
offers cellular protection, immune support, and adrenal support to produce more cortisone
and adrenaline. Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant that helps protect against fat
peroxidation, including restoring vitamin E after it is oxidized. Vitamin C is very rapidly
utilized and minimally stored in the body. Therefore, regular usage, even four to six times
daily, is ideal. A dosage of 1–3 grams per day is recommended, although as much as 8–
10 grams may be used for severe problems related to stress. The vitamin C dosages taken
each day should contain bioflavonoids.
Essential fatty acids are essential for the proper function of the adrenal gland.
High midnight cortisol levels can be suppressed by the use of Phosphatidyl serine. It
supports hypothalamus and pituitary gland function helping them to regain their sensitivity to
In addition to extra B vitamins and C, an antioxidant supplement should be taken. This should
contain Vitamin A and beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium, and the amino acid L-
cysteine are all part of this. As with vitamin C, these antioxidants sacrifice themselves
(through oxidation) to balance out the free radicals and reduce inflammation.
Minerals are also important with calcium and magnesium heading the antistress list.
Calcium is vital to nerve transmission and regular heartbeat as well as immune function. It
aids both relaxation and muscle tone. Magnesium is a calming mineral that helps balance
the nervous system and supports heart function. In general, a dosage of 600–1,000 mg. of
calcium and 400–800 mg. of magnesium daily, in addition to diet, is recommended, with most
of it being taken in the evening before bed. Calcium and magnesium can also be used to
balance the stomach acid. For acute or early stress with hyperacidity, these alkaline minerals
taken before meals can be a helpful antacid.
Chromium may be useful in allaying sugar cravings.
Glutamine is helpful for proper brain function, especially with stress.
Chlorella is also been useful because of its mild detoxifying and energising effects. It also
seems to reduce some mental stress, and provides protein and all the essential amino acids.
Pancreatic function is often low as well with chronic stress, and additional pancreatic
enzymes after meals may be helpful.
You can browse the whole range of minerals and nutrients on our website, which can help in managing your stress levels.