Let’s start with an easy question: how do we define stress? In 1936, the British Journal of Medicine, published an article in which a new concept was introduced called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). This can be defined as a three stage process of nonspecific reactions to an annoying or harmful stimulus (a stressor) and the effort generated to overcome or adapt to it.
Yes, we are unique beings, nevertheless, this article described the response to these stressful stimuli in three phases common to most people: reaction, resistance and exhaustion. First, we are alerted to a stressor and then prepare to face the adverse situation. If this state of alert persists and we are not able to put an end to it in 1-3 months, we move on to the third phase; exhaustion and depletion, which can cause serious damage and can even alter our vital functions.
The author of the cited article, Hans Selye, is considered the father of stress theory. This Austro-Hungarian doctor published a large number of scientific studies on stress and laid the foundations of the current concept applied to the field of health. However, his findings were not without peculiarities. Despite speaking seven languages and having spent much of his professional career in the United States and Canada, in 1936 he had still not perfectly mastered the English language.
This is the reason why we use the term, ‘stress’ instead of ‘strain’, the English term that best describes ideas such as pressure, tension and overwhelm, as Selye himself recognised years later.
Origin and causes: stress and anguish, fruits of a vicious circle?
Currently, the scientific community advocates defining stress as a dynamic process influenced by internal and external factors, and the interaction of both of these; the individual, their circumstances and their interpretation and response to them. In this theoretical framework, stress would be determined by any situation experienced as “excessive” by an individual, who does not have the necessary resources to overcome it.
Psychological stress as the “result of a particular relationship between the individual and the environment that is evaluated by him as threatening or overflowing with his resources and endangering his well-being”
1. Stress and aging
Chronic stress favours cellular oxidation, raises blood pressure levels, and can lead to anxiety and depression. Among the havoc that stress plays on health, the potential it has to damage the immune response is of paramount importance, as reflected in a 2006 meta-analysis based on 300 previous scientific studies.
In traditional medicine, adaptogenic substances have been used to counteract the biochemical and emotional effects associated with stress. The cited meta-analysis and numerous recent publications support the use of adaptogens, describing their specific action in the face of factors associated with stress.
Fungi that have stress management and relief properties include, Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi), Cordyceps sinensis and Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s mane). In general, the triterpenes and polysaccharides present in these species have been shown to:
- improve mood
- reduce tiredness
- reduce the incidence of diseases
- favour greater longevity
Tiredness, irritability and other consequences of stress
From a psychological perspective, work stress, for example, could be said to have the following route: if you are under pressure at your job, you could react by working more hours. Because of this, you would feel more tired and it would take more energy to deal with daily obligations. This could lead to frustration and fatigue and thus to the consumption of more caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol, or the need to resort to sleep aids. This example helps us understand the extent of the impact of a stressful situation, and the consequences of stress on people’s health. However, the predisposition to stress or tolerance to it depends on each individual.
As we will see in the following section, a negative response to an adverse situation and the timing of the third phase described by Dr. Selye can have serious consequences to your vital functions. Next we will look at the effects of stress at five critical points and analyse the natural substances that can help to fight it.
2. Does your head hurt? Can’t you sleep?
Although it may be surprising, stress is a common trigger for headaches and migraines. Proof of this is the results of a study conducted in 1997, in which this relationship was evidenced in 50-70% of the participants.
3. The connection between the brain and digestive system
We have known for years that the connections between our nervous and digestive systems have more implications than we could have ever imagined. Not surprisingly, it is said that the digestive system is our second brain.
We now know that stress is involved in the development of irritable bowel syndrome, which is characterised by constipation and / or diarrhea, abdominal pain and swelling.
The anti-inflammatory capacity of Reishi can contribute to controlling common digestive disorders, as does its sedative effect, as a 1991 study demonstrates, patients with digestive problems respond to common treatment used in cases of stress.
In digestive disorders there is usually a deregulation of the microbiota or intestinal flora. In this regard, it has been shown that compounds present in Lion’s Mane can help restore intestinal microbial balance.
Hericenones are an interesting bioactive substance found in Lion’s Mane. Their singularity is that they are capable of promoting the formation of neurons (neurogenesis) and this process is directly related to antidepressant and anxiolytic effects. The effect of these substances was evaluated in a scientific study in which 30 women aged approximately 41 years old participated, all suffering from different diseases. The conclusion showed that Lion’s Mane can reduce anxiety and depression.
4. Hormones and fatigue; more related than you thought
According to experts, stress could also be related to hyperthyroidism since, in stressful situations, we secrete glucocorticoids that may promote imbalanced immune responses and increase interleukin levels (a common factor in autoimmune diseases). We know that the triterpenoid compounds of Ganoderma lucidum have a potent immunomodulatory activity and can affect the production of antibodies so they may be of relevance in these instances.
Evidence of Cordyceps as an endocrine regulator was observed in a double-blind trial. It follows that the use of this mushroom could help to normalise the physiological effects of stress on the thyroid and other endocrine glands.
5. Stress … straight to the heart
Stress increases the risk of having high blood pressure, a common factor in cardiovascular disease. Although it is not the direct cause of hypertension, its presence does increase the levels of catecholamine, cortisol, vasopressin, endorphins and aldosterone; hormones related to increased blood pressure. The results of the Interheart study showed that those individuals who reported “permanent stress” were more likely to suffer a heart attack.
There is compelling evidence of the effects of the use of Reishi and Cordyceps as biological response modifiers in counteracting the effects of stress. Polysaccharides have been identified in these medicinal mushrooms with proven hypolipidemic, hypotensive and antithrombotic effects, and mushrooms contain other bioactive ingredients with cardiotonic effects. If you want to know more about these medicinal mushrooms, visit the LEARN section of our website.
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