Stress occurs when the body is subjected to an attack to which it must adapt. When stress becomes chronic, the ability to adapt is overwhelmed, internal balance is disturbed and the consequences become evident: sleeping difficulties, metabolic disorders, cardiac problems, depression, etc.
However, it is possible to combat the effects of chronic stress, notably with a suitable diet.
What happens to our body during stressful situations?
When faced with a "stressor", the body brings complex interactions into play between the nervous system and the hormone secretion mechanisms. It reacts by passing through 3 adaptation phases: alarm phase, resistance phase and exhaustion phase. These adaptation reactions will disturb the internal physiological balance, called homeostasis
As a consequence:energy and nutritional reserves become exhausted, fatigue sets in, as well as sleeping difficulties, anxiety, lack of motivation, irritability… which can end up as depression.
Alarm phase In the event of occasional attacks (known as acute stress), the nervous system reacts immediately. The brain is stimulated and the adrenal glands, located just above the kidneys, start to release adrenaline. This hormone sends a surge of blood and oxygen to the muscles, and the body gets ready to fight off the attack. As well as this, adrenaline brings about pupil dilation, hair standing on end and a surge of blood towards the brain, increasing alertness. It is sometimes called "positive stress", because by its very nature it enables you to deal with a dangerous situation. For example, it activates the flight mechanism when faced with a predator.
Resistance phase If the stressful situation continues, the brain orders the release of glucocorticoids (cortisol) by the adrenal glands, which can also increase blood sugar levels. This glucose release supplies the body, particularly the muscles, heart and brain, with the energy required to combat the stress: this is the resistance phase.
Exhaustion phase The stress becomes severe ("negative stress") when it exceeds the ability to adapt. This is the case with chronic stress: the body is stimulated in an attempt to maintain homeostasis. Flooded with cortisol, the internal balance is disturbed, energy reserves are depleted: this is the exhaustion phase, with its uncontrollable consequences (fatigue, irritability, reduced immunity, sleeping difficulties, metabolic disorders, weight gain…).
Recommendation no. 1: Increase magnesium intake
The release of adrenaline caused by stress makes cells permeable resulting in a loss of cellular magnesium. The lack of magnesium then leads to neuronal hyperactivity and amplifies the effects of stress. Also, this molecule is essential for energy production from carbohydrates and fatty acids, and helps reduce fatigue.
To limit deficiencies, favour the consumption of dark chocolate, oil seeds (cashew nuts, almonds), pulses, seafood, and magnesium-rich water.
Stress and sleeping difficulties, a true vicious circle
Among the consequences of chronic stress, sleeping difficulties are the most commonly reported. Certain plants can help with falling asleep thanks to their sedative and relaxing properties.
In addition, it has been proved that taking melatonin (sleep hormone) in the evening before going to bed will reduce the time taken to fall asleep and give better sleep quality.
Recommendation no. 2: A helping hand for a good night's sleep
To reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, turn to:
Plants: Passion flower and eschscholtzia, sedative and soothing.
Melatonin (a beneficial effect is achieved with 1 mg of melatonin).
A healthy lifestyle! Eat lightly in the evening, avoid stimulants such as alcohol and coffee at the end of the day, preferably replacing them with fruit or herbal tea, get some fresh air and engage in moderate sporting activity - just some of the routines that will help you sleep better.
Depression, a possible consequence of chronic stress
As well as causing general fatigue of the body, an excessive release of cortisol during prolonged stress will disrupt the neurotransmitter synthesis that is essential for our well-being, particularly serotonin which effects mood and pleasure. Its depletion therefore presents the risk of depression, which is characterised by a loss of pleasure and enthusiasm, appetite changes and general fatigue.
Recommendation no. 3: Help neurotransmitter synthesis, beneficial to well-being
The synthesis of dopamine, but also of serotonin and melatonin, requires a significant concentration of their amino acid precursors, i.e. tyrosine and tryptophan.
Foods rich in tyrosine and tryptophan: meat, fish, eggs, cashew nuts and almonds, soya, dairy products, bananas, squash and sesame seeds.
Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 are involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and melatonin, all three of which help control anxiety and sleep.
They are found in green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, asparagus), meat and offal, cereals and brewers yeast.