Stress: General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)

Stress and general adaptation syndrome (GAS)

There are two types of stress, and it depends on how much of one type of stress an individual is on that makes a difference in our body function. There is the eustress, which prepares the body to meet certain challenges and it is helpful and the distress, which is harmful. A stressor is any stimulus that provokes stress which includes external and internal stress, such as heat, cold, environmental poisons, toxins given up by bacteria, heavy bleeding from a wound or surgery and even a strong emotional reaction. The brain does not distinguish between work stress or a reaction to a simple task which can make the person anxious about to do, even looking at food can be stressful if the person is conflicting with eating it or leave it. Therefore our response to a stimulus can be stressful or peaceful, it depends on us. When a stressor is present the body’s homeostatic mechanism kicks in to rebalance everything. When these mechanisms are successful, than the body remains within a normal physiological limits and nothing else happens. When the stress is extreme then the normal mechanism are not enough and other responses are necessary to bring the body back to normal. Any stressful situation is dealt with certain body changes and Hans Selye discovered and named these changes ‘the general adaptation syndrome’ (GAS), which are controlled by the hypothalamus (GAS occurs in three stages, the initial fight or flight response, a slower resistance reaction and exhaustion). The last two stages might need help nutritionally and physically (by doing meditation or any gentle exercise to reduce the stress level, including the simple task of breathing from the Diaphragm). Many nutrients, carbohydrates, protein, fat and hormones will be needed in order to support the three stages. Vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and amino acids will be needed for the energy production and proteins and fat for the hormonal production.

Fight or flight response, which is the first stage,  starts from the main control gland which is the hypothalamus. The gland send signals to the sympathetic nervous system to start the process. The signal will contact the adrenal glands and then every goes into a cascade. This signal will supply plenty of glucose and oxygen to the organs that are most active in warding off the danger, such as the brain, the skeletal muscles, and the heart. During this response the non essential organs such as the digestive, urinary and reproductive system are switch off. A blood reduction to the kidney will promote sodium retention and a raise in blood pressure.

The resistance response involves certain hormones so more nutrients are needed such as b vitamins, certain minerals and fat to make them. Cortisol is the hormone that would be produced in high amount. Cortisol in turn stimulates the liver to make more energy for the entire process to be sustained. This again will have a major effect on the entire body as other important process will be switched off, such as the digestive system and sleep. Quite few glands will be involved in this stage including the Thyroid gland, which needs zinc, selenium, iodine and other nutrients to function and sustain the process. This make more glucose to keep the process going of making the energy fuel for the stress to carry on. This also include a lot of oxidation, therefore more anti-oxidants are needed, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, and all the berries fruits and supplement that is possible, including vitamin A. All this on top of the normal function of the body. So you can figure out how much the body has to work to keep everything well. And if the diet does not supply all the nutrients problems start arising.

If the stress continues and stays in a continuing fight and flight mode, the results is a faster heart beat, in constant mode, blood pressure stays higher, until the stress is removed and all goes back to normal. When the stressor is not removed for a long time, the body goes into the exhaustion stage. At this stage all the body nutrients and substances will be so depleted that the body might not be able to fight anymore. A long term secretion of cortisol leads to the wasting of the muscles, suppression of the immune system, ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract, failure of the pancreatic beta cells, as well as pathological changes that do not get better even when the stressor is removed. Stress related disorders include gastritis, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine and headaches, anxiety and depression. Now there is always a solution, at this stage, however it will take time and the body and brain needs a lot more rest and nutrients to get back to normal.

Main thing to do is to learn to cope with stress, it is the response to it that matters. So start having cranio-sacral therapy, do Yoga, Pilates, gentle walks, Diaphragmatic breathing, watching fanny films, having fun what ever it is and healthy nutritional foods full of the following as well as supplements as at this stage food it is not enough. Most of all, now you need to be patient with the process and yourself as this will take time and everything will be much slower that you are used to and calmer.


Food, supplements to help reduce stress:

The main ingredients after the first or second stage of stress is to try to avoid exhaustion stage. Eating a nutritional healthy diet, with plenty of food that contains:

  • Vitamin C (used to prevent the free radical damage)
  • Selenium
  • B vitamins (especially B5)
  • Zinc, chromium
  • Essential fats,
  • Good quality protein
  • Avoid sugary and sugary foods, caffeine and caffeine drinks and foods.
  • Make sure that you sleep well with nutrients that can promote it such as magnesium, homeopathic remedies or herbal remedies that work for you.
  • Meditation tapes, and anything that calms the mind before bedtime.
  • Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid made in the body, which switches off the adrenal rash and helps the brain to calm down, (alcohol and drugs does promote GABA production for a short time, that is why after drinking a little a person is calmer). GABA has also an effect on serotonin affecting the mood as well as the stress. Supplementing GABA can help reduce the long term stress.
  • Valerian is also an anti-anxiety herb; it helps with restlessness, nervousness, insomnia and hysteria as well as having a calming effect on the stomach. Valerian also acts on the brain GABA receptors, enhancing their activity.
  • Hops and Passion flower help with sleeping disorders and they both act as a nerve calming substance.
  • Magnesium is an important mineral for relaxation. It relaxes the mind and muscles as well as helping with anxiety and migraines.


Caffeine and stimulants – impact on stress

Stimulants found in all type of coffee, teas, chocolate and cigarettes keeps the stress level on for a long time, as they increase the adrenalin, dopamine, noradrenaline and cortisol to stimulate the production of ATP. This will promote a vicious cycle of eating sugar and sugary foods, caffeine and cigarette smoking to keep the adrenaline going. This cycle can lead to hypoglycaemia, low mood and depressions, anxiety, anger and irritability, reduce and disturbed sleep, as well as depleting all the nutrients above and all the stage of stress that affect the body. Caffeine blocks the receptors for the calming chemical in the body. The more caffeine one consumes the more the body and the brain become insensitive to its own natural stimulants, which it means that the person consumes more and more caffeine in order to make the body produce more dopamine and adrenalin. This will also eventually lead to the exhaustion stage. The food and drinks that are high in caffeine are coca-cola classic, diet coke, mate’ tea, guarana paste, Yoco infusion, red bull, hot cocoa, coffee, decaffeinated (only 0.3 mg instead of 30 to 150 mg in a normal coffee), tea (20 to 100 mg) green tea (20-30 mg, although green tea does not have the same stimulant effect as the coffees and other products, however if that still causing stress do not drink it) and caffeine is also found in headaches and migraines medicine.

In order to help break the cycle a diet full of whole meal foods, good quality protein, healthy snacks of fruits and nuts, and plenty of vegetables, can help stop the caffeine addiction and therefore reduce the stressor if stimulants are the problems. It may take up to three weeks after the caffeine or stimulants withdraw before the physical impact of caffeine wears off (such as decrease blood pressure and hormonal balance). Symptoms of withdraw can be headaches, depression, profound fatigue, irritability, disorientation, increased muscle tension, nausea and vomiting. Do the reduction of caffeine if you are used to drinking a lot very slowly by first cutting down of it and then reducing it when no more headaches is felt. Also support the liver first with milk thistle, artichokes and asparagus and other nutrients as above.


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  4. Hans Selye (1950) Stress and the General Adaptation Syndrome. Br Med J. 1950 Jun 17; 1(4667): 1383–1392.
  5. Tortora G. J., Derrickson B. H., (2009). Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. 12th ed., vol. 1 & 2. Asia, John Wiley & Sons.


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