Stress Hormones, Depression, and the Loss of Vigor (Part 2)

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

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Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Stress Hormones, Depression, and the Loss of Vigor (Part 2)
Remember, vigor is a measure not only of your physical health but also of your mental state and functioning. Because the overexposure or underexposure to cortisol in the brain can destroy a good mood and lead to depression, fatigue, and confusion, you can begin to see how an imbalance in stress hormones can negatively impact your vigor.

In some respects, you can think of certain aspects of stress-hormone balance in the same way that you might think about getting too little, enough, or too much exercise. Some is good, too little is bad, and too much is bad. Overtrained athletes (who are overstressed physically and mentally) often have low levels of cortisol during exercise (when they should be high), but high levels during rest (when they should be low). These out-of-sync cortisol levels indicate that the bodies of these athletes are still under stress and out of biochemical balance, perhaps from injury, infection, or inadequate recovery. These athletes also experience fatigue, weight gain, depressed mood, and poor performance.

Because of the close link between stress and depression, every major pharmaceutical company in the world is rushing to develop new drugs to modulate or restore biochemical balance. The current antidepressant drugs work primarily on serotonin in the brain, and some newer ones also increase norepinephrine levels, but none of them truly addresses biochemical balance in a holistic manner.

This means that only about half the people who try antidepressant drugs should expect to see any relief in their depression, yet these drugs still account for approximately $20 billion in sales every year. Think back to the discussion in Chapter 4 about the folly and danger associated with trying to address the multifaceted nature of inflammation with dangerous COX-2 inhibitor drugs, and you’ll have an appreciation for why antidepressant drugs are often the wrong “solution” for a multifaceted “problem,” such as stress-induced burnout and depression.

Among the drug companies that are furiously trying to come up with an answer to stressed-out people with disrupted biochemical balances are Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Novartis. Several of these companies already make antidepressant drugs that increase serotonin levels, including Pfizer (Zoloft), Eli Lilly (Prozac and Cymbalta), Glaxo (Paxil), and Wyeth (Effexor). But because these drugs are only effective about half the time, and because they now have to carry an FDA-mandated “black box” safety warning due to their extreme side effects, including an increased risk of suicide, there are many reasons to look for a better solution to the problem of stress-related depression.

A “black box” warning is a special warning that appears on the package insert for prescription drugs that may cause serious adverse effects, including severe risk of death. It gets its name from the bold black border that surrounds the text of the warning. A black box warning is the strongest warning that the FDA has and is only required for the most dangerous drugs.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

  • I am a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. All of the antidepressants, antianxiety, anti everything medications, scare me to death especially since most of the people I see on a daily basis are teens.

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