“Stressed Out”—The Downside of Chronic Stress

My 13th book, Best Future You, is out!

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book and blogging frequently about the main concept in the book – which is the idea of harnessing your body’s internal cellular biochemistry to achieve true balance in body, mind, and spirit – and in doing so, help you to become your “Best Future You” in terms of how you look, how you feel, and how you perform on every level.

Chapter 1 – The Battle for Balance

“Stressed Out”—The Downside of Chronic Stress

When people reach a breaking point in the face of too many pressures and worries, it is common to hear them say they are “stressed out” – and the very same process is at work at the cellular level. There is a difference between being “stressed” (that you can adequately respond to) and being “stressed out” (which exceeds our capacity to cope). When you are “stressed,” your body undergoes an adaptive response. Being “stressed out” suggests that your body is unable to mount an effective stress response – leading to biochemical imbalance – aka cellular stress.

The bad news is that modern society makes chronic stress largely inescapable. In numerous research studies, scientists have shown that overall cellular stress is significantly related to the degree of “daily hassles” (more hassles = higher cellular stress) as well as to age (higher age = more accumulated cellular damage) and to hours slept (less sleep = more cellular damage). Worse than that, scientists at Rockefeller University in New York have suggested that being “stressed out” may be the primary cause of many common “modern” diseases, such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and burnout. In addition, researchers in Boston have suggested that chronic psychological stress is a primary cause not just of generalized cellular damage, but also of a variety of inflammatory diseases, including insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

When it comes to managing your weight or combatting obesity, you also have to seriously consider the impact of the cellular stress that accompanies chronic psychological stress. To begin with, the level of oxidation/inflammation in your body and the accumulation of abdominal fat (belly fat) are inextricably linked. That link takes place because cortisol, free radicals, and cytokines promote fat storage in a “chicken-and-egg” scenario in which it’s often hard to tell which came first (cytokines are a class of hormone-like signaling proteins that play a central role in the immune response and in the level of inflammation found throughout the body). So, when we gain belly fat, we often don’t know which came first; the stress (which causes an overexposure to cortisol); or the oxidation (caused by free radical overload); or the inflammation (altered by cytokine imbalance).

On the cellular level, oxidation/inflammation leads to obesity, which leads to more stress and oxidation/inflammation, which leads to more obesity. On the other side of the coin, reducing obesity has the opposite effect: Weight loss leads to a substantial improvement in biochemical balance and a drop in all forms of cellular stress, with drops in oxidation (free radicals), inflammation (cytokines), glycation (blood glucose), and stress hormones (cortisol). So the “chicken-and-egg” scenario that plays out across different types of cellular stress can run two ways, positively as well as negatively.

When these sources of cellular stress are locked in a downward spiral (moving toward “imbalance”), more inflammation and more obesity result; and when that cycle is reversed (moving toward “biochemical balance”), people experience weight loss and feel better. As you can see here and as you will learn throughout this book, it is the ability to manage chronic cellular stress that determines whether these biochemical cycles turn in the right direction.

Thanks for reading – tune in next time for the next installment about, “Sleep Loss and Cellular Stress

Shawn M Talbott, PhD, CNS, LDN, FACSM, FAIS, FACN
Nutritional Biochemist and Author
801-915-1170 (mobile)


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The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy
Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic
The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House)
The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House)
Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House)
Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books)
The Immune Miracle – The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012)
A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press)
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