Where Stress Comes From
Try and think of a situation you have been in recently where you have been stressed – you’re running late and lost, you have an impending deadline and you’re uncertain about what you’re doing, you have a bad breakout on your face and you’re due for a social occasion, you’re worried about a relationship and they don’t respond to your messages as expected etc.
Stress is a loose term, but what you probably experience is some mix of anxiety, apprehension, agitation and most importantly you had a hard time trying to relax, even for some time afterwards. These responses to threats make a lot of sense in the prehistoric epoch: If early humans felt relaxed and content whilst the cold winter was on its way, they would have frozen or starved for lack of preparation. Likewise, if you have an upcoming responsibility and limited time to prepare for it, stress is the innate motivator that gets you up and moving. Unfortunately, in the modern world we have complicated lives and an excess of responsibilities and deadlines.
Our perpetual daily worrying about the rapidly approaching future and the limited time in the present to prepare for it has compromised our natural physiological responses. There were scarcely any threats for us on the tundra, the savanna or in the woodlands that didn’t constitute either predators or changing seasons and the human stress response hasn’t yet adapted to the constant pressures of our modern lives. In our complex modern world with looming deadlines, responsibilities and social pressures peppered throughout our lives, our conscious mind may be carefully planning and calculating, but our lower subconscious brains don’t really get the idea. Our subconscious doesn’t distinguish between the exact manifestations of a threat, only that a threat has been identified and is present, then it launches us into action and responds with stress signallers.
Stress and Cortisol
The main signaller of this physiological response is cortisol - a glucocorticoid produced in the adrenal cortex. Cortisol is involved in many vital physiological functions during episodes of stress – breaking glycogen down into glucose for rapid utilization, breaking muscle down into amino acids, transforming amino acids into glucose, sodium retention, excretion of water, and suppression of inflammatory cell messengers called cytokines – but the aesthetic effects on how we look are bad.
Through elevated cortisol, the physiological reactions to psychological stress are actually very similar to the reactions to starvation: the body takes action to minimise the amount of tissue to feed by breaking down muscle and maximise the storage of energy as fat, particularly on our abdomen to protect our organs from a physical attack. An acute stressor or a perceived non-harmful stressor that does not resolve itself will yield chronic activation of the stress response and thus chronic elevations in cortisol.
The presence of elevated cortisol over long durations is implicated in almost every chronic disease in the developed world. Cortisol accelerates the aging of several organs including the brain, skin, arteries, bones, muscle, as well as nerve conduction and immune function, the latter representing our innate defence against cancer. It is also proven to:
- Increase fat storage capacity in the body by promoting the differentiation of adipocyte precursor cells into fat cells1
- Negatively increase the body’s propensity to store energy as fat by increasing circulating free fatty acids, worsening insulin resistance2
- Lead to problems sleeping and lower mood by disrupting circadian rhythm3
- Damage memory through atrophy of the hippocampus4
- Increase the risk of cardiovascular disease through significant increase blood pressure5 and disruption of uric acid metabolism6
- Lead to a negative cycle of chronic stress by depressing glucocorticoid receptor signalling in the brain, thereby desensitising the feedback mechanism. 7 Stress breeds more stress.
Once the body is continually producing cortisol, it acts in concert with insulin resistance to produce a snowball effect. Analyses of chronic diseases involving cortisol reveal an acquired central desensitisation to cortisol signalling. This means that the brain is unable to detect cortisol correctly and adjust accordingly, like a nose that can’t smell smoke. Naturally, chronic cortisol elevation leads our bodies to seek food with increased frequency to provide relief, which it does provide, but only briefly. This can be seriously detrimental to our diets and efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to remember while it’s the most common, food isn’t the only means we seek to give our bodies relief from chronic stress and we’re often driven to many other bad habits and behaviours as well.
Cortisol and Stubborn Belly Fat
Counter to common perceptions, fat is an active tissue; it possesses endocrine and paracrine properties,11 meaning it synthesises and releases messengers which affect tissues both nearby and elsewhere in the body. The fat located in and around the abdomen is called visceral fat and it differs from fat elsewhere in many ways: it has greater blood supply, higher density of glucocorticoid (cortisol) and androgen receptors, a lower expression of adiponectin (an anti-obesity protein) and is more insulin-resistant, generating more free fatty acids than other fat cells whilst absorbing more glucose for storage.2 All these factors combined make belly fat more sensitive to the action of cortisol, the resultant response more severe and the fat stores in this area more resistant to elimination efforts.
The visceral fat also has a direct line to the liver through the portal vein (which doesn’t bode well for the liver) and is supplied by a greater density of nerves than other fat.2 You could say that visceral fat considers itself more like an organ than just a place to store emergency fuel in the form of fat. The development of visceral adiposity and the associated metabolic syndrome is also linked to abnormalities in the expression of the enzyme 11b-HSD1, which transforms the relatively inactive cortisone into cortisol, thus the presence of visceral fat works to add to and maintain itself.7 These behaviours make visceral fat very stubborn against efforts to reduce adiposity (fat stores and cells), especially in the presence of elevated levels of cortisol.
Stress, Cortisol and Premature Ageing
The mechanisms explaining how cortisol accelerates the ageing process are poorly understood. The effects are suspected to be mediated via epigenetic processes,12 an emerging field of study in the biological sciences which shows how genes adapt – negatively or positively – to the environment around them. The stress of day-to-day life is sufficient to induce epigenetic changes leading to altered gene expression and complications related to health and longevity. At this stage, it is known that chronic stress accelerates the development of hippocampal atrophy and memory deficits.4 Cortisol is heavily implicated in age-related brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.13
Cortisol and Sleep Disturbances
Just as cortisol affects sleep, sleep will affect cortisol. Not all sleep is equal. Late nights, rather than general lack of sleep, are what disrupt the regenerative capacity of a restful night despite how long you sleep the next day in an effort to “catch up”.14 A single instance of delayed sleep onset disturbs the natural nocturnal secretions of growth hormone and will increase circulating cortisol the next evening.10
Cortisol and Skin Blemishes
Psychological stress deteriorates skin barrier function and cell turnover through increased local production of cortisol in the epidermis and the greater the perceived stressor, the worse the skin performs.15
Stress Lowering Behaviours
Although chronic elevation of cortisol can be potentially problematic, there are simple ways to combat it which tend to pass us by when we’re caught up in the busy concerns of everyday life. Simple things you can incorporate into your daily routine include:
- Early morning sunlight exposure, which helps remedy the negative effects cortisol exerts on circadian rhythm.
- Daily exercise, particularly repetitive paced movements (like walking, jogging, swimming, cycling etc.) for at least 20 minutes.
- Meditation and mindfulness practice throughout the day, including progressive relaxation and breathing exercises. This can be as simple as squeezing and releasing your feet and legs at your desk while focussing on deep belly breaths, exhaling as you relax.
- Limited evening exposure to indoor light and fluorescent light (computers, smartphones, TV, etc.) and using low blue and high orange spectrum light in the evening. This particularly helps promote a healthy sleep cycle.
- Getting to bed early and enforcing a “quiet room” policy for your bedroom, free from social and work distractions including your laptop and mobile phone.
- Taking time to eat nutrient rich foods at regular intervals, even setting reminders for yourself to eat if you get caught up in work or other commitments.
"Although chronic elevation of cortisol can be potentially problematic, there are simple ways to combat it..."
As part of Yin & Yang, Slimtum™ has designed Yin to ameliorate some of the negative effects of stress on your body, especially from elevated cortisol. Yin works with the body’s natural sleep cycle, helping lower stress hormones when they need to be in balance. By helping lower cortisol, Yin can affect the way fat is distributed in your body, particularly away from the waist. Yin also supports natural fat metabolism with clinically researched metabolic enhancers and fat mobilisers.
Glycine is one of the most broadly beneficial, structurally simplistic compounds in the supplemental realm. It is the smallest amino acid, with only an amine group and a carboxylic acid. It even has its own receptor in the central nervous system, where it exerts a protective effect on the brain by controlling excitability. Glycine protects against damage resulting from chronic diseases by suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines.16 It protects the liver and kidneys from damage induced by toxins and drugs.17 It lowers blood pressure,18 improves bone density,19 sleep quality,20 and decreases circulating stress hormones which effectively lowers blood sugar. It increases levels of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase,21 which is responsible for the synthesis of youthful hormones such as allopregnanolone, THDOC and 5aDHP. Finally, glycine shows promise in treating or preventing tumour growth by inhibiting the protein VEGF.22
Euphorbia kansui is an herbal remedy used in traditional Chinese medicine. It contains a number of compounds that exert favourable effects. Euphol is a chemopreventive (anti-cancer) and helps stall tumour growth.23 Kansenone is another strong chemopreventive, assisting the body in killing off faulty cells and suppressing risky cell division.24 The most interesting ingredient is kansuinone, a strong inhibitor of the enzyme 11b-HSD1.25 If you remember from above, this enzyme converts cortisone into the villainous cortisol. People with high visceral adiposity and associated insulin resistance possess a dysregulation of this enzyme.
Withania somnifera is a herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, more commonly known as Ashwagandha. It has a deserving reputation in naturopathy for lowering stress hormones, which it does so by more than 50%.26 It significantly improves anxiety, perceived stress,27 and decreases bodyweight of overweight individuals exposed to chronic stress.28 It demonstrates anti-aging effects by increasing the circulating concentration of proteins that are lost as we age.29 It reverses cognitive and memory deficits resulting from obesity and even improves learning.30 It can reverse the damaging effects of sleep deprivation by suppressing a myriad of inflammatory cytokines and specifically protect the hippocampus, which we know is one of the first victims of chronic stress.31
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid which demonstrates broad protective effects against both physical and psychological stress by decreasing circulating cortisol levels in the blood.32,33 PS is also known to combat cognitive disease like alzheimer’s while also slowing down age related cognitive decline. Various studies have shown PS to increase athletic performance, treat depression and ADHD symptoms.
Glutamine is an amino acid reputed for its roles in boosting immunity, improving autoimmune conditions, and protecting the mucosal lining of the gut wall.34 Since the cells lining the small gastrointestinal tract (enterocytes) are always hungry for this particular nutrient, extra glutamine supplementation during time of stress can be beneficial for strengthening our immune systems and lowering stress hormone production.
CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is an omega-6 fatty acid well known to improve blood sugar levels and favourably improve body composition by reducing fat mass.35,36 CLA’s ability to lower systemic inflammation has been recognised through various studies.
Coleus forskolhii is a plant species containing the compound forskolin which produces a similar outcome to CLA in that it changes body composition by reducing total fat mass. It also increases bone density and serum testosterone levels, both of which tell us that metabolic parameters are improving.37, 38
In the end...
The key to achieving permanent weight loss is balance and time. Since stress related disease and ill health develop over prolonged periods, the same is true for the return to good health. Lifestyle improvements and positive stress management work to balance both the physical state and emotional state. Yin was created to help make your life easier over time, to work with you on your journey to health and well-being.
- Bryce La Grange for Slimtum
- Hauner, P. Schmid, E. F. Pfeiffer 1987 Glucocorticoids and Insulin Promote the Differentiation of Human Adipocyte Precursor Cells into Fat Cells, ‘The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism’ Vol. 64 Issue 4
- M. Ibrahim 2010 Subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue: structural and functional differences, ‘Obesity Reviews’ Vol. 11 Issue 1
- Leproult, E. V. Cauter, G. Copinschi 1997 Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening, ‘Sleep’ Vol. 20 No. 10
- J. Lupien et al. 1998 Cortisol levels during human aging predict hippocampal atrophy and memory deficits, ‘Nature Neuroscience’
- Xystrakis et al. 2005 Reversing the defective induction of IL-10-secreting regulatory T cells in glucocorticoid-resistant asthma patients, ‘The Journal of Clinical Investigation’ Vol. 116 Issue 1
- Mangge et al. 2013 Uric acid best predicts metabolically unhealthy obesity with increased cardiovascular risk in youth and adults, ‘Obesity’ Vol. 21 Issue 1
- Anagnostis, V. G. Athyros, K. Tziomalos, A. Karagiannis, D. P. Mikhailidis 2009 The Pathogenetic Role of Cortisol in the Metabolic Syndrome: A Hypothesis, ‘The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism’ Vol. 94 Issue 8
- A. Nepomnaschy et al. 2005 Cortisol levels and very early pregnancy loss in humans, ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ Vol. 103 Issue 10
- Mannowetz, M. R. Miller, P. V. Lishko 2017 Regulation of the sperm calcium channel CatSper by endogenous steroids and plant triterpenoids, ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ Vol. 114 Issue 22
- E. Michael et al. 1993 Direct inhibition of ovarian steroidogenesis by Cortisol and the modulatory role of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, ‘Clinical Endocrinology’ Vol. 38 Issue 6
- E. Kershaw, J. S. Flier 2004 Adipose Tissue as an Endocrine Organ, ‘The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism’ Vol. 89 Issue 6
- S. Zannas et al. 2016 Life stress, glucocorticoid signaling, and the aging epigenome: Implications for aging-related diseases, ‘Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews’ Vol. 74 Part B
- G. Csernansky et al. 2006 Plasma Cortisol and Progression of Dementia in Subjects With Alzheimer-Type Dementia, ‘The American Journal of Psychiatry’ Vol. 163 Issue 12
- Born, S. Muth, H. L. Fehm 1988 The significance of sleep onset and slow wave sleep for nocturnal release of growth hormone (GH) and cortisol, ‘Psychoneuroendocrinology’ Vol. 13 Issue 3
- Garg et al. 2001 Psychological Stress Perturbs Epidermal Permeability Barrier Homeostasis, ‘JAMA Dermatology’ Vol 137 Issue 1
- Cruz et al. 2008 Glycine treatment decreases proinflammatory cytokines and increases interferon-gamma in patients with type 2 diabetes, ‘The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation’ Vol. 31 Issue 8
- Zhong et al. 2003 L-Glycine: a novel antiinflammatory, immunomodulatory, and cytoprotective agent, ‘Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care’ Vol. 6 Issue 2
- El Hafidi, I. Perez, G. Banos 2006 Is glycine effective against elevated blood pressure?, ‘Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care’ Vol. 9 Issue 1
- Kim M H, Kim H M, Jeong H J 2016 Estrogen-like osteoprotective effects of glycine in in vitro and in vivo models of menopause, ‘Amino Acids’ 48 Issue 3
- Inagawa et al. 2007 Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes, ‘Sleep and Biological Rhythms’ Vol. 5 Issue 2
- Venard et al. 2008 Regulation of neurosteroid allopregnanolone biosynthesis in the rat spinal cord by glycine and the alkaloidal analogs strychnine and gelsemine, ‘Neuroscience’ Vol. 153 Issue 1
- Yamashina et al. 2007 Glycine as a potent anti-angiogenic nutrient for tumor growth, ‘Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology’ Vol. 22 Issue 1
- Jiuhong Kang, Bo Feng et al. 2013 Euphol arrests breast cancer cells at the G1 phase through the modulation of cyclin D1, p21 and p27 expression, ‘Molecular Medicine Reports’ 8 Issue 4
- Cheng et al. 2015 A Natural Triterpene Derivative from Euphorbia kansui Inhibits Cell Proliferation and Induces Apoptosis against Rat Intestinal Epithelioid Cell Line in Vitro, ‘International Journal of Molecular Sciences’ Vol. 16 Issue 8
- Guo et al. 2010 Kansuinone, a novel euphane-type triterpene from Euphorbia kansui, ‘Tetrahedron Letters’ Vol. 51 Issue 48
- Kalani, G. Bahtiyar, A. Sacerdote 2012 Ashwagandha root in the treatment of non-classical adrenal hyperplasia, ‘BMJ Case Reports’ PMC4543599
- Chandrasekhar et al. 2012 A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults, ‘Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine’ Vol. 34 Issue 3
- Choudary et al. 2017 Body weight management in adults under chronic stress through treatment with ashwagandha root extract: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, ‘Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ Vol. 22 Issue 1
- Pradhan et al. 2017 Longevity and healthy ageing genes FOXO3A and SIRT3: Serum protein marker and new road map to burst oxidative stress by Withania somnifera, ‘Experimental Gerontology’ Vol. 95 Sep 2017
- Manchanda, G. Kaur 2017 Withania somnifera leaf alleviates cognitive dysfunction by enhancing hippocampal plasticity in high fat diet induced obesity model, ‘BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ PMC5335828
- Kaur et al. 2017 Withania somnifera as a potential anxiolytic and immunomodulatory agent in acute sleep deprived female Wistar rats, ‘Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry’ Vol. 427 Issue 1
- Monteleone et al. 1990 Effects of Phosphatidylserine on the Neuroendocrine Response to Physical Stress in Humans, ‘Neuroendocrinology’ Vol. 52 Issue 3
- Hellhammer et al. 2004 Effects of Soy Lecithin Phosphatidic Acid and Phosphatidylserine Complex (PAS) on the Endocrine and Psychological Responses to Mental Stress, ‘Stress’ Vol. 7 Issue 2
- Hyeyoung 2011 Glutamine as an Immunonutrient, ‘Yonsei Medical Journal’ Vol. 52 Issue 6
- Blankson et al. 2000 Conjugated Linoleic Acid Reduces Body Fat Mass in Overweight and Obese Humans, ‘Journal of Nutrition’ Vol. 130 Issue 12
- Thom et al. 2001 Conjugated linoleic acid reduces body fat in health exercising humans, ‘Journal of International Medical Research’ Vol. 29 Issue 5
- R. Richmond et al. 2005 Body Composition and Hormonal Adaptations Associated with Forskolin Consumption in Overweight and Obese Men, ‘Obesity’ Vol. 13 Issue 8
- Kamohara et al. 2013 A Coleus forskohlii extract improves body composition in healthy volunteers: An open-label trial, ‘Personalized Medicine Universe’ Vol. 2 July 2013