WHAT YOU CONSUME can have an effect on
your stress hormone level, for better or worse. Obvious examples
are caffeine and nicotine. Even in moderate doses, either of
these can double the amount of adrenaline in your bloodstream.
The stress of something like an exam produces
increased cortisol levels (cortisol is a primary stress hormone).
Combined with coffee, however, the cortisol levels rise even
Coffee all by itself raises your cortisol
level, increases your feelings of stress and anxiety, raises
your blood pressure and all this even if you are otherwise
relaxed, and even for people who drink it regularly. It also
makes hypertension medications less effective.
In a study, a fairly big dose of caffeine
was found to mimic the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Withdrawal
from caffeine does too.
You may be more sensitive to caffeine than
other people. Studies have found that people with panic disorder
(one of the five anxiety disorders) react more strongly to the
same amount of caffeine than "normal" people. They
experienced more fear, heart palpitations, nervousness, restlessness,
etc. Caffeine can increase these kinds of symptoms in anybody.
But for some people, it is more dramatic.
You may not have panic attacks, but just
the fact that you are reading this indicates that your system
might be more sensitive and react more strongly to caffeine than
the average person. In one experiment, five out of six people
were cured of their panic attacks by doing nothing more than
giving up coffee. Caffeine apparently blocks the action of a
brain chemical called adenosine, a naturally-occurring sedative.
In one study, people with panic disorder
could reliably produce panic attacks with only four or five cups
of coffee. Coffee can produce panic attacks in even normal people,
but with higher amounts of coffee.
In another study, people were tested for
anxiety, depression, and caffeine consumption. There was a direct
correlation between the level of anxiety and caffeine consumption
but only in those with panic disorder.
In another study, panic disorder patients
and normal people were given equal doses of caffeine (ten milligrams
per kilogram of body weight). Then they were all tested for anxiety
symptoms: fear, nausea, nervousness, pounding heart, tremors,
and restlessness. The caffeine had caused a significantly greater
intensity of these symptoms in the people with panic disorder
than in the normal people.
Given all this, and given the fact that
you'd like to reduce your stress, I suggest an experiment. Quit
ingesting caffeine for two weeks. It takes about three days for
withdrawal symptoms to completely subside (headaches, feelings
of lethargy, etc.). After that, pay close attention to the general
feeling-tone of your day-to-day experience. Your sense of relative
ease, comfort, annoyance, distress, alarm, contentment, etc.
Then start drinking coffee again. The first
day it'll feel great (as long as nothing too stressful happens).
The next day and the next, pay attention to the general feeling-tone
of your experience. If you're like me, you'll notice a more general
feeling of alarm. And you'll notice circumstances feel more distressing.
Then ask yourself what coffee does for you. You get a great feeling
of relief in the morning with your first cup. After going all
night without caffeine, your body is in the beginning of withdrawal,
so it feels good to get a dose again. That's always the moment
coffee advertisers display that first cup in the morning.
Also the general feeling of sharpness and alertness is a plus.
But weigh the pluses against the minuses and I think coffee comes
out on the short end of the stir stick.
I know there are studies showing sugar
doesn't produce hyperactivity in children, but it does something
to us all. Eating refined sugar table sugar and corn syrup
in particular raises your blood sugar level (glucose)
In one study, some people had panic attacks
merely from an infusion of glucose (blood sugar). In another
study, people were given 100 milligrams of glucose as a drink.
In anxiety-prone people the lactate level in their blood was
considerably higher than in the other participants, and it stayed
higher for five hours! (Lactate all by itself can produce feelings
of anxiety. Lactate is the byproduct of burning blood sugar.)
In several studies of people with anxiety
problems, the simple injection of glucose into the blood stream
caused symptoms of anxiety. It does not have that affect on most
people. There could be a relationship to lactate, which is a
byproduct of burning glucose and produces feelings of anxiety.
If lactate produces anxiety, and if lactate is produced by burning
glucose, then it makes sense that a rise in blood sugar would
tend to produce anxiety.
Around the world, people consume far more
carbohydrates than our bodies evolved to deal with. Why? Because
it's cheap, it's filling, and it tastes great. But it has side-effects.
Especially for people who are prone to stress or anxiety.
Even though alcohol is relaxing, it stimulates your body to produce
stress hormones. A nasty self-feeding loop can form because of
this. What do I mean? One thing that causes people to want
to drink is the presence of stress hormones the feeling
of anxiety or tension. Alcohol relieves that feeling. It is relaxing.
But the following day, the after-effect of alcohol is a higher
level of stress hormones. And if the method you use to relieve
that feeling is to drink alcohol, an unending cycle has been
created. You're caught in a trap.
Alcohol inhibits the body's ability to
make glucose from lactate. Lactate normally flows around in the
blood stream and when it reaches the liver, it is resynthesized
into glucose. Alcohol slows down your liver's ability to do this,
which means that lactate levels rise in the blood, causing more
anxiety and feelings of stress.
Lactate has a sister compound called pyruvate.
When one goes up, the other generally goes down. Your anxiety
level has to do with the ratio of one to the other. Higher lactate
equals more anxiety. Higher pyruvate equals more ease.
The lactate to pyruvate ratio can be increased
with any of these substances: sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
So when you know someone who has a cup
of coffee in the morning with sugar in it, and then has a few
drinks in the evening and complains of anxiety or stress, you
might want to enlighten them: These things are probably worsening
their feelings of anxiety. Circumstances can cause stress, of
course, but your own body's reaction to the circumstances can
cause more stress and anxiety than you need to put up with.
OR THE BETTER
Scientists give rats a lot of stress and
then see what they can do to reduce stress hormones. Something
that successfully lowers stress hormones is vitamin C.
Researcher P. Samuel Campbell and his colleagues
found that 200 mg of vitamin C per day reduced the level of stress
hormones in the rats' blood. That's a pretty big dose for a little
critter. It is the equivalent of several grams of vitamin C per
day for you or me, which is actually in the range of what the
famous chemist, Linus Pauling recommended. It is also in the
range of what chimpanzees our closest genetic relatives
get in their daily diet in the wild.
Other things that indicated a generally
lower stress level for the rats taking the vitamin C were: 1)
their adrenal glands didn't enlarge as much as they normally
do when rats are constantly stressed, 2) they didn't lose as
much weight as the stressed but unmegadosed rats, and 3) their
spleens and thymus glands didn't shrink as much.
I'm not a biochemist or a doctor. You can
do your own research and draw your own conclusions. I'm noting
it here because it is relevant to our topic (reducing stress
and anxiety) and can give you an avenue to pursue you might otherwise
not have thought about.
Consume little if any sugar,
alcohol, or caffeine.