“I thrive on the stress,” the gambler said to me. “I’m kind of addicted to it.”
“You sound skeptical,” the gambler said.
“What? Can’t I be addicted to stress?”
“I’m sure you can be,” I said. “That doesn’t mean the stress is any good for.”
“It keeps me motivated,” he said.
“I’m sure it does,” I said. “Maybe not in the way you think.”
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“My guess is what you feel and what you think it means aren’t the same thing,” I explained. “You feel the stress hormones rushing through your body. Adrenaline and cortisol, primarily. Your adrenal glands and thyroid are pumping away.”
“That sounds natural.”
“It is,” I said. “They are essential. Your body uses those chemicals to give you that extra push it needs to keep you alive when a sabre tooth tiger jumps out of the trees or a rival village attacks, or your fishing boat gets swamped by a wave.”
“Yes, for short periods of time. A quick response. Your heart rate rises. Your blood pressure increases. Your senses heighten. That’s the rush. The problem is, long term, too many stress hormones running loose in your system starts a downward spiral in your health.”
“That’s crazy,” he said. “I’m healthy as a horse.”
Which was true. To a degree. He was a healthy looking guy. Good skin color. White teeth. Bright eyes.
Yet you could see the problems starting. The gambler was fidgety, for example. Couldn’t quite keep still. Too much adrenaline, and too much caffeine, probably, adding to the problems. And he had a bit of a belly he couldn’t quite shed even though he exercised regularly and was on and off diets all the time. The belly fat was a side effect of the cortisol.
And even though you couldn’t see it on the outside, I could surmise the internal effects of the stress on his body. There were unstable molecules loose in his system. These molecules contained oxygen, but they also had an extra electron that made them dangerous. The unstable molecules were looking to become stable. That meant stealing an electron from a more stable, reactive molecule. We call those unstable molecules free radicals.
As we spoke, free radicals disrupted his cellular functions. You can think of it as messing with his DNA. Every time a free radical interacted with a protein or lipid in his body, cells suffered damage, springing more free radicals loose in his body.
Stress hormones have a way of covering up pain and hiding other effects, at least early on. Over time, the pain and side effects are unavoidable.
My guess was, the guy was already feeling some. An occasional bout of moodiness, for example. He snaps at a co-worker or spouse or one of his kids. Happens, right. And he corrects it as soon as it happens. “Hey, sorry. Didn’t mean to snap. I have a lot on my mind.” Sound familiar.
He might feel fatigued, an overwhelming sense of tiredness. But at the same time he can’t sleep. He considers that an advantage. Not sleeping means more time for other work. That advantage won’t last.
Sooner or later, he will begin to feel the effects of excess free radicals on his thinking, what we call his cognitive functions. His memory will lapse from time to time. People will constantly remind him of things he needs to do, which will add stress while increasing his moodiness. He will make little mistakes at first. His math will be a little off. Someone will have to correct for that. Eventually, he will need an assistant to check his work all the time. (Pretty soon, the assistant will be doing all the work. Then the assistant will start to look for ways to unseat his boss.)
In time, the rush and sense of urgency will lead to a more serious problem, anxiety. The moodiness will grow more frequent, and more negative. We will call that bouts of depression.
So, we’re looking at anxiety, depression and memory loss. His concentration will suffer as well. He will need medication for his sleep problems. That’s just on the neurological side.
His blood sugar will elevate along with his blood pressure. He will gain weight. He will suffer digestive issues. The plaque will build up on the walls of his arteries, especially the small ones in his heart and his brain. His risk for heart attack or stroke will rise to life-threatening levels.
What’s the worse that can happen, besides heart attack and stroke, of course? Oxidative stress, the medical name for the free radical attack, has been linked to Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
Hard work might just kill you after all. Unless you take action against the effects of oxidative stress.
Exercise and proper diet are essential. You may want to try yoga and meditation to help you cope with the stress on a psychological and physiological level. That could help.
Some international studies show a supplement called Rhodiola has an antioxidant effect. That means it keeps free radicals from corrupting healthy cells. Rhodiola, studies indicate, improves cognitive function, physical performance and mood control. One trial in the US showed Rhodiola can be as effective as anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants for some people. We offer Thorne Rhodiola in our estore.
Curcumin, or turmeric, a spice made from ginger root, can also combat some of the oxidative stress effects. In Asia, healthcare practitioners use curcumin for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer properties. You will also find curcumin in our e-store.
Try Rhodiola and curcumin. Or experiment with other supplements on our antioxidant page. What matters is that you find the right combination of supplements to combat the effect of oxidative stress. Free radicals breed free radicals. The effects multiply. You need to pull yourself out of the spiral before the downside becomes inescapable.