Chronic Stress and Inflammation: The Damage and What To Do About It
As you age, your level of chronic stress and inflammation goes up, as does your chances of getting a chronic disease because of them. Learn why and what to do about it.
TOO MANY of us are attacked nonstop by chronic stress and inflammation. And yet few are aware that our health is slowly becoming compromised by this two-some, eventually leaving us sick and old.
Think for a moment about the sources of your stress and ask yourself if it’s pretty much unrelenting, which would make it “chronic stress”. Then think about the aches and pains you may feel in your joints. Could it be chronic inflammation, something so prevalent in our body as we age that gerontologists have coined a term for it: Inflammaging?
We all face stress in our daily lives — our work, traffic jams, boring commutes, family and financial issues all contribute. I liken it to wearing a backpack all the time with ten pounds in it; not enough to notice much (until you take the pack off), but enough to have a cumulative effect, which is to wear you out. Living in a state of overdrive is not normal, but it is harmful to your health.
Chronic stress and inflammation often go together, and are underlying factors in most chronic illnesses, including:
- cardiovascular disease,
- type 2 diabetes,
- metabolic syndrome,
- autoimmune disorders,
- arthritis, and
- many types of cancer.
The challenge here is that chronic stress and inflammation can take decades before the first symptoms appear of the diseases they either instigate or amplify.
How Chronic Stress and Inflammation Hurts You
As Dr. Deepak Chopra describes it, you didn’t evolve to live in a constant state of stress. Instead, your fight-or-flight response evolved to help you survive immediate threats of short duration, such as an attack by a wild animal that can threaten your life.
When your stress response is triggered, normal biological functions are disrupted in order for you to be able to survive the threat:
- your heart rate and blood pressure increase,
- your blood sugar rises, and your immune system is suppressed, and
- your digestion is temporarily halted and your breathing accelerates.
All of these reactions take place instantly so that your body is prepared to fight off the threat or run away.
The problem is when the stress event doesn’t recede and relieve you of fight-or-flight. When you live in a prolonged state of fight-or-flight, your cortisol and adrenaline sustain higher than health levels, generating chronic stress and inflammation in response to everyday hassles, such as a long commute in traffic, or unrelenting obligations, such as caring for elderly parents.
Once the full-blown stress response is activated, there is little you can do to override it because the hormones being secreted, such as cortisol and adrenaline, latch on the specific receptors on cell membranes and trigger a cascade of unstoppable events inside of cells. For example, in bone marrow, chronic stress can cause immune cells to promote inflammation, a process that begins with changes at the level of genes. If you are exposed to a certain stress every day, chronic stress and inflammation can develop and ultimately lead to chronic illnesses.
Unlike the swelling, redness, and discomfort of acute inflammation, which you experience when you sprain an ankle or burn your skin, or the fast expression of adrenaline when facing a threat, chronic stress and inflammation cause few detectable symptoms. Since symptoms are not always expressed, it has taken medical science decades to track down chronic stress and inflammation as an invisible culprit in many chronic and widespread diseases.
While research about the precise biochemical links between chronic stress and inflammation is ongoing, we do know that these two factors are big contributors to reduced immunity and the development of what are called “lifestyle disorders.”
This relatively new term refers to those diseases that you have the power to prevent or heal through the choices you make about your lifestyle every day. As genetic researchers have discovered, only 5% of disease-related gene mutations guarantees that we will get a particular disease. Through your daily lifestyle choices, you have an incredible ability to influence the expression of the other 95% of disease-related gene mutations, including genes for Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer.
The bottom line is that your future health is not predetermined by your genes but it is overwhelmingly shaped by the choices you make every day. This is why it’s so important to create a healing lifestyle, which includes eliminating the accumulation of everyday stress and practicing self-care at work and home.
What follows are a few simple practices and supplements to help you reduce chronic stress and inflammation, and help you experience your natural state of wellness and vitality.
Mindfulness Reduces Chronic Stress and Inflammation
To be mindful is to be aware, but to get there you must have the intention to become the observer of the many things you do each day that pass under the radar, such as:
- Your inner dialogue — the messages you repeat to yourself
- The nature of your relationships — interdependent, subordinate, dominate
- How you perceive and respond to criticism
- The quality of your sleep
- Your food choice and how often you eat
- Your choice of friends
- Your sense of humor
- Time spent reading, on hobbies or volunteer work
To be mindful, you need to choose several times a day when you stop what you’re doing and focus on what it is you’re doing to see if it contributes to chronic stress or reduces it. You need to learn to become the Observer.
Exercise Reduces Chronic Stress and Inflammation
Exercise reduce chronic stress and inflammation by changing your brain. In their investigation about what can be done to reverse or even prevent the effects of chronic stress, researchers from the Hokkaido University School of Medicine showed that exercise, particularly if done in the morning exercise in the morning, alleviates chronic stress. (1)
Part of why the long-term relief chronic stress is due to the unique way exercise helps build up a resistance to stress. “Through regular cardio, you actually change your brain, so it takes more and more stress to trigger the fight-or-flight response,” says John Ratey, MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. (2)
Cardiovascular activity helps the heart pump more blood to the brain, which results in more oxygen and better-nourished brain cells. Scientists discovered that a vigorous workout causes brain cells to become more active and boosts the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). “I call it Miracle-Gro for the brain,” Dr. Ratey says. The protein’s role, among other things, is to fortify brain cells to prevent them from breaking down when exposed to chronic stress. (3)
Exercise can make you younger
A study in Preventive Medicine published in 2017 showed that people who exercise the most were nine years biologically younger than those who were sedentary.
Researchers looked at the telomeres from nearly 6,000 adults. They reported the type of physical activities had been done in the past month, and how vigorously they were performed. The participants also provided DNA samples, from which the researchers measured telomere length.
After adjusting for smoking, obesity, alcohol use, gender, race and other factors, the study showed that people who exercised the most had much longer telomeres than those who were sedentary. The most sedentary people had 140 fewer base pairs of DNA at the ends of their telomeres, compared to the most active — a difference of about nine years of cellular aging.
To qualify as top-tier exercisers, study participants had to do the equivalent of at least 30-40 minutes of jogging a day five days a week. Less consistent or vigorous exercise was also linked to aging benefits, but not as significant. People who did vigorous exercise had telomeres that signaled about seven fewer years of biological aging, compared to people who did moderate levels of activity.
Study author Dr. Larry Tucker, professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University, says he was surprised to see so big of a difference between moderate and high levels of exercise:
Moderate exercise was still valuable and it had some benefit, but it was really those high levels of physical activity that made the real difference.
The top exercisers were vigorously working out 150 to 200 minutes a week, or engaging in light- to moderate-intensity activity for longer periods. Research continues to suggest that more exercise means deeper reductions in risk for chronic disease, to a certain point. (4)
Experts believe that telomere length may be linked to inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which exercise has been shown to ease over time.
At this point, you know that you can reduce chronic stress by using mindfulness to become aware of how your thoughts, emotions and the activities of your life through mindfulness. You have also learned that consistent and vigorous exercise can also reduce chronic stress and inflammation. Now let’s looks at some supplements that might help.
Supplements May Help
Prohealth’s Optimized Curcumin
Prohealth offers three versions of curcumin, each for a specific health issue affected by chronic inflammation, and all containing
All three curcumin products contain a form of curcumin optimized for absorption called “Longevida”, which is why it’s my preferred brand. Full disclosure: I went to college with the Founder, Rich Carson, and consult for the company from time to time.
Prohealth offers three versions of its Optimized Curcumin Longvida®, each made by a finely-tuned matrix of ingredients brought together in a gentle multi-step process resulting in curcumin protected from stomach acids, dissolves at the point of absorption in the GI tract, and helps the free form of curcumin cross into the blood stream and target tissues.
Optimized Curcumin Longvida® by Prohealth is unique for the following reasons:
- More than a dozen research studies and clinical trials in independent labs have been completed on Longvida.
- One small, single daily dose of Longvida offered significant health benefits in just 30 days.
- Published chronic-dosing safety studies on Longvida support a strong safety profile.
- Longvida is 285 times more bioavailable than regular curcumin.
- Longvida offers therapeutic levels of free (not deactivated/metabolized) curcumin.
- Curcumin from Longvida passes the blood-brain barrier.
- Longvida has no metabolic inhibitors, volatile oils, or crude, unpurified ingredients.
What differentiates Prohealth’s three versions of Optimized Curcumin Longvida® is the health issues targeted.
Optimized Curcumin Longvida® is Prohealth’s curcumin-only product, but of course the curcumin is special, because it’s been optimized for bioavailability through the Longvida process.
Cutting-edge SLCP™ Technology (patent pending) is responsible for the “magic” of Longvida®. SLCP is an ideal absorption-promoting system validated by approved analytical methodologies.
Each capsule has 1,000 mg of Longvida® Curcumin.
Optimized Curcumin Body and Joint combines Longvida® Curcumin with the most bioavailable form of Boswellia to create a product that targets joint inflammation. Bosweilla, also known as Indian frankincense, is an herbal extract taken from the Boswellia serrata tree. Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, Bosweilla can be an effective painkiller and may prevent the loss of cartilage. Some studies have found that it may even be useful in treating certain cancers, such as leukemia and breast cancer.
In its Optimized Curcumin Body and Joint formula, Prohealth uses a form of bosweilla called Wokvel® Extract, one of the only joint health ingredients shown to be bioavailable in human trials.
Optimized Curcumin Brain and Focus® is a powerful blend of two clinically tested ingredients to create a supplement to protect your brain as well as support improved cognitive function. The first ingredient is Optimized Curcumin Longvida® (reviewed above) and the second is Bacopa monnier.
Bacopa monnieri has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. This herbal extract has the ability to support mental focus and improve memory. Natural phytonutrients called bacosides in Bacopa help to boost neurotransmitters activity, which improve brain function.
Unsurprisingly, Prohealth uses an enhanced form of Bacopa monnieri called Bacognize®, which is standardized to 45% bacoside concentration. This ensures that a consistent and potent dose of Bacognize is delivered to your body activating 5HT (serotonin) receptors. Bacognize® Extract has been shown in randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials to support memory, focus, and mood.
Prohealth’s Krill Oil
One other supplement you should consider as part of your chronic inflammation fighting arsenal is Prohealth’s new Arctic Select Krill Oil Caplets™.
Arctic Select Krill Oil Caplets™ are a premium, naturally rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which provide vigorous support for heart, brain and joint health. Omega-3 phospholipids from krill are the most bioefficient source of Omega-3 compared to the Omega-3 triglycerides derived from fish oil. Plus, phospholipids, also known as liposomes, deliver EPA and DHA fatty acids directly to your body’s cells for maximum absorption.
Sustainably harvested from the frozen waters of the Antarctic, Prohealth’s Arctic Select Krill Oil Caplets offer a long list of health benefits*:
- Krill Oil Caplets Support cardiovascular health – Patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD) show a much lower concentration of Omega-3 in tissues and blood. Research suggests that Omega-3 helps modulate CVD risk factors such as cholesterol levels, inflammation and high blood pressure.
- Krill Oil Caplets Help build strong bones and joints – Helps maintain bone health, delays degradation of articular cartilage and modulates inflammation response.
- Krill Oil Caplets Promote healthy inflammation response – Supports the body’s natural mechanism for controlling inflammation.
- Krill Oil Caplets Nourish the brain and helps support cognitive function – Omega-3 phospholipids play an important role in the structure and function of brain cell membranes and cell signaling. The Omega -3 fatty acid DHA is the most common fatty acid in the brain and is valuable in supporting memory and cognitive function.
- Krill Oil Caplets Support relief from PMS symptoms – Studies suggest krill oil significantly reduces both the emotional and physical symptoms related to PMS.
- Krill Oil Caplets are a Powerful antioxidant – Arctic Select Krill Oil has high levels of the naturally occurring antioxidant astaxanthin. Antioxidants protect our cells from damage from free radicals, and unlike many other antioxidants, astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier, which may protect the eyes, brain and central nervous system from free radical harm.
Ashwagandha is an herb from India that has been used for centuries as a general body tonic, but where it really shines is
Ashwagandha Uses: Significantly Lowers the Stress Hormone Cortisol
Ashwagandha benefits just about every measure of stress, says the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. As compared to those who got the placebo, study participants who consumed ashwagandha had 28% lower levels of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone” described above. While cortisol is helpful in small amounts, it can cause extensive health issues if elevated long term due to its impact on chronic stress. (5)
Benefits of Ashwagandha: Improves Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia, and More
The benefits derived from taking ashwagandha didn’t stop with reducing cortisol. Participants who took ashwagandha extract also scored better on each of three different psychological tests measuring chronic stress, anxiety, and overall well-being.
In addition to feeling more relaxed and mentally calm, the test scores of those consuming ashwagandha also demonstrated significant reductions in depression, anxiety, social dysfunction, physical symptoms, and insomnia. The ashwagandha benefits also included increased productivity. Overall, quality of life improved tremendously compared to those taking the placebo.
L-Theanine Calm-Plex with GABA and 5-HTP (Suntheanine®)
L-Theanine Calm-Plex is a synergistic formula that effectively combines L-Theanine with GABA and 5-HTP for relaxation plus mood support.
Proheath chose to use Suntheanine® brand L-theanine, the purest form of L-theanine available, to deliver maximum calming effects. With 46 international patents Suntheanine® promotes relaxation, reduces stress, anxiety and irritability all without making you feel drowsy.
Women can also cut symptoms of PMS with this innovative formula. Japanese Green Tea is a powerful antioxidant that is also used to reduce general stress and promote tranquility. One of the main components of green tea is the amino acid L-Theanine.
Research has shown that L-Theanine can increase levels of GABA, a brain chemical known for its calming effects, and dopamine, which can promote mood enhancement. L-Theanine is non-drowsy, and may even increase mental focus and concentration as it promotes a stress-free state of mind.
The L-Theanine Relaxation Effect
L-theanine readily crosses the blood-brain barrier of humans and exerts subtle changes in biochemistry. Research with human volunteers has demonstrated that L-theanine creates its relaxing effect in approximately 30 to 40 minutes after ingestion.The mechanism behind this effect is two-fold:
- L-theanine directly stimulates production of alpha brain waves, which creates a deep state of relaxation while maintaining mental alertness.
- L-theanine appears to play a role in the formation of gamma-aminobutyric acid, better known as GABA. GABA acts as a powerful manager of neurotransmitters and helps keep up relaxed levels of neuron activity. (6)
How L-Theanine Differs From Anti-Stress Herbs
The main difference between L-theanine and anti-stress herbs such as valerian root, kava kava, skullcap, and passion flower (among others) is that it does not cause drowsiness – thereby offering you the benefit of relaxation without sedation. This could be very helpful for people who want a calming effect while maintaining the ability to do tasks that need alertness, concentration or mental acuity. In addition, unlike most amino acids, L-theanine can be taken with or without food, and at any time.
5-HTP & GABA: Natural Support for Healthy Neurotransmitter Levels
L-Theanine Calm-Plex has two additional mood enhancing ingredients called 5-HTP (see below) and GABA. These natural compounds work synergistically to help keep up balanced neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Together they support proper memory and nervous function, while promoting a strong sense of well being and relaxation.
5-HTP is manufactured in the body from the amino acid L-Tryptophan and is used to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. Research has shown serotonin plays a key role in maintaining mood, cognitive function, and neuron communication. Eating foods that contain L-Tryptophan however, does not much increase 5-HTP levels.By adding 5-HTP to the L-Theanine formula, the body directly receives the materials it needs to promote healthy serotonin levels, and thus balanced mood.
GABA is naturally produced from the amino acid glutamine and the sugar glucose. It is concentrated in the hypothalamus area of the brain and is known to play a role in healthy pituitary function, which helps maintain hormone synthesis, proper sleep cycles, and body temperature. GABA primarily functions in the body as a powerful inhibitor of neurotransmitters and to help maintain relaxed levels of neuron activity. Over-stimulated or overactive neurons may lead to feelings of restlessness, irritability, and sleeplessness. GABA inhibits nerve cells from over-firing to promote feelings of calmness and stability.
5-HTP (5-Hydroxy L-Tryptophan) promotes the body’s healthy production of serotonin, an important substance that supports normal nerve and brain function. Serotonin appears to help maintain balanced sleep patterns, moods, weight loss, and the inflammation response system — all of which contribute to lowering chronic stress.
Natural Support for Maintaining Healthy Serotonin Levels
Safe nutritional support for maintaining serotonin levels is available with 5-HTP. Serotonin is synthesized in a two-step process where L-tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP, which is then converted to serotonin. 5-HTP works by supporting healthy levels of serotonin in the brain. By enhancing the supply of serotonin, 5-HTP helps to nutritionally support healthy central nervous system function such as sleep, appetite, mood patterns and weight loss.
Since the early 1970’s Italian researcher Federigo Sicuteri, M.D., at the University of Florence has researched serotonin and the use of 5-HTP.
In a double-blind study, 50 patients were divided into two groups.The group that received 5-HTP (100mg a day) showed significant improvements, while the placebo group experienced virtually no improvement. The improvements were felt within a short time period, and increased further after 30 days of use. In a second study by the same group of researchers, patients who took 100mg of 5-HTP three times daily reported positive results after 30 days and throughout the length of the 90 day trial. (7)
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease.
Remember these four things:
- As we get older, the chronic stress and inflammation has time to wreak havoc with our health given that they have a powerful role in many chronic diseases, either as a causal agent or amplifier.
- Becoming mindful of what triggers your stress and which aliments you have could be made worse by inflammation is the first step to reduce their presence and effects.
- Find an exercise program that requires some intensity, but one that you will do consistently.
- Consider taking some of the supplements described above that may be effective at reducing chronic risk and inflammation.
You might be interested in two other articles I wrote on this topic: