You may take issue with the proposition that "chronic stress" is perhaps the biggest reason behind how you age and your longevity. People typically presume that the aging process and lifespan are mostly controlled by genetics.
The genome you inherit is responsible for less than a third of your longevity. The rest is up to the lifestyle choices you make, particularly those concerning:
- Being mindful of what causes your stress;
- Exercising to relieve chronic stress; and
- Taking proven supplements that can reduce chronic stress.
That lifestyle choices trumps genetics was proven by a study led by Paola Sebastiani, professor of biostatistics at Boston University (B.U.) School of Public Health, and Thomas Perls, professor of medicine and geriatrics at the B.U. School of Medicine. They showed that your genetics only account for approximately 20 to 30% of your chance to live to age 85. (1)
This might be hard to fathom. We’re conditioned to think that genetics rules much of our lives, certainly our lifespan. Just think how often you hear someone say that their mother or grandfather lived to some ripe old age and you remarked, “Wow, lucky you.”
Rather than be lucky, be smart about how you choose to live your life as opposed to thinking that your healthspan (those years you’re healthy) and lifespan are predetermined by some celestial roll of the dice.
The first thing to get a reality check on is if the stress you experience is chronic. We all have stress. You’ve heard the “fight or flight” analogy before. When facing the tiger, adrenaline surges to enable you to fight it (inadvisable) or give flight (hopefully you have wings). Of course, this example is unrealistic but useful to point out that the stress you want to experience is from the adrenaline and cortisol that helps you quickly extract yourself from a potentially harmful situation. Problems happen when the stress is chronic.
How Chronic Stress Happens
The Mayo Clinic puts it succinctly:
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body. (2)
Their article about chronic stress points out that your body responds to the demands of your life -- such as work, financial and family responsibilities and burdens -- as threats. Over time, this constant pressure puts you in a state of chronic stress.
The Fight-or-Flight Response
When you experience stress on a constant basis your hypothalamus (a tiny region at the base of your brain) instructs your adrenal glands (located atop your kidneys) to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
This is what happens next:
- The adrenaline surge increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.
- The cortisol surge increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, also minimizes any physiological functions deemed nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
Chronic Stress: When the Stress Response Goes Nuts
The way the stress-response system is supposed to work is that once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. Ideally, then, as adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities. For many of us, however, stress is ever present, chronic, and the fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.
This chronic stress activation is a big health problem, one that will prematurely age you. This is because chronic stress is a long-term activation of the stress-response system on a long-term basis. This creates a damaging overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that upends all your body's physiological and psychological processes, and puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
That's why it's so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life, which is delineated below, but first there’s one more extraordinary effect that chronic stress has on the quality and length of your life that you need to understand.
How Chronic Stress Ages You
At this point you know that cortisol has earned its nickname, “The Death Hormone.” You know that elevated cortisol behind chronic stress has long been known to do various nasty things to you, such as altering immune system responses and suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.
But cortisol does something else that’s far more pernicious. About a decade ago, we learned through the research of Nobel Laureate Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn that chronic stress can shorten your lifespan.
To understand Dr. Blackburn’s discovery, you need to know a bit about telomeres.
Telomeres are nucleotides found at the end of chromosomes that keep them (the chromosomes) from deteriorating after each cell division. Telomeres are commonly compared to the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces; without them, the shoelace would fray and eventually become useless.
As telomeres shorten, we age. In fact, scientists can accurately determine lifespan by measuring the length of your telomeres.
What Dr. Blackburn discovered is that the enzyme that keeps telomeres intact, called telomerase, is compromised by the chronic stress that sustained elevated cortisol creates. Reduced telomerase activity, and the subsequent premature telomere shortening, can cause premature death.
Many aspects of your life will always have the potential to stress you. Some of these you may not be able to change, but you can elect to manage the impact that potentially stressful situations have on you.
Mindfulness Reduces Chronic Stress
Identify your stress points and how they affect you by becoming mindful of your way of life.
To be mindful is to be aware. To become aware, you must have the intention to become the observer of the many things you do each day that are unexamined and rote, including for instance:
- 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 selection 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 Makes You Biologically Younger
Yes, exercise was mentioned in the list above, but it’s worth expanding upon because it can be so positively impactful on reducing chronic stress and your biological age.
Exercise Reduces Chronic Stress 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. (3)
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. (4)
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. (4)
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 significantly 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.” (5)
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. (6)
Experts believe that telomere length may be linked to inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which exercise has been shown to ease over time.
While there’s no guarantee that people with longer telomeres will live longer, healthier lives, the odds may be in their favor, says Dr. Tucker:
“We all know people who seem younger than their actual age. We know exercise can help with that, and now we know that part of that may be because of its effect on our telomeres.” (5)
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.
Supplements That Can Help Reduce Chronic Stress
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. (7)
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 reduce 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 maintain relaxed levels of neuron activity. (8)
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 perform tasks that require 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 contains two additional mood enhancing ingredients called 5-HTP (see below) and GABA. These natural compounds work synergistically to help maintain 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 significantly 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 Extra Strength
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. (9)
CBD Full Spectrum Hemp Oil
The evidence clearly shows that CBD can alleviate many forms of stress, including chronic stress.
In 2015 researchers at the New York University School of Medicine studied the effect CBD treatment had on a wide variety of stress disorders experienced by humans, including PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and found that it conclusively reduced various anxiety behaviors relevant to multiple chronic stress and associated disorders without negative side effects. (10)
A 2012 research review assessed a number of international studies and concluded that CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety, and in particular social anxiety. (11) Authors of a 2016 study wrote that “CBD could represent a novel fast antidepressant drug”. (12)
That CBD effectively relieves stress is now proven, but what kind of CBD is best?
You Want "Full Spectrum" to Get the "Entourage Effect"
Cannabidiol is extracted from cannabis plants and can be used as an oil. CBD oil is rich in chemicals called cannabinoids that bind to specialized receptors in the brain. and...
Don’t confuse CBD with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the best-known cannabinoid that causes the "high" people feel after using cannabis. You will not get high with Prohealth’s CBD Full Spectrum Hemp Oil for two reasons:
- Our CBD comes from the hemp plant, not the cannabis plant. Hemp is a type of cannabis plant grown for industrial use, such as making paper and clothing. Unlike other cannabis plants, hemp has not been specially bred to produce high levels of THC.
- The amount of THC in our CBD Full Spectrum Hemp Oil is too insignificant to produce a high, but sufficient to make the CBD properties work better to reduce chronic stress.
Thankfully, CBD derived from hemp oil with trace amounts of THC may be sold anywhere in the U.S. because even a tiny amount of THC combined with the CBD enables our product to create the “entourage effect”.
The entourage effect speaks to the interactive synergy between cannabis compounds. Products containing only THC or CBD aren’t always sufficient for many medical conditions. You want your hemp derived CBD to have a bit of THC (ours has less than 0.3%) to maximize the therapeutic benefits of the CBD. (13)
You Want Liposomal Delivery
Prohealth’s liposomal delivery method increases the absorption of this extraordinary phytochemical compound, CBD. Liposomes are delivery vehicles for transporting substances into the body effectively by facilitating absorption directly in the mouth or by preventing breakdown by stomach acid. Using liposomes with CBD allow the beneficial cannabinoids (CBD) to be directly absorbed into tissue in the mouth which increases bioavailability. This means that more of the CBD is absorbed more quickly into your body with much less wasted. (14)
We carry many kinds of Hemp-derived CBD products on Prohealth’s CBD Store, but for chronic stress, we recommend Prohealth’s CBD Full Spectrum Hemp Oil.
Joe Garma has written more than 670 articles on his anti-aging blog, GarmaOnHealth, and is currently writing a book, The Ageproof Method, 12 Biohacks for A Long and Strong Life. Prohealth Longevity readers can get his four-part guide, Transform Your Body and Mind here.
- Nicholette Zeliadt: Live Long and Proper: Genetic Factors Associated with Increased Longevity Identified
- Mayo Clinic Staff: Chronic stress puts your health at risk
- Mithu Storoni: How to build resilience to chronic stress by exercising in the morning and drinking less alcohol