G3.3: Negative stress can trigger the “fight-flight” response – Who’s at Risk?

Stressful times can make fear and anxiety more likely as our body’s instincts expect to either run from danger or to freeze in position, possibly in the hopes of not being noticed by a predator.

Who’s more at risk to experience negative stress?

Who is more at risk to experience a challenge with a negative fight, flight, or freeze stress response? (G.10)  Instead of having their body or mind perceive a stressor as a positive challenge and an exciting reason to get up each morning ready to say “Carpe diem”?   

Who is more at risk to experience stress as a negative stress response instead of seeing it as a positive challenge and reason to get up and get busy?

  • Answer: many groups are more at risk for having their bodies respond to an event with more of a negative stress response than the average person.     

People more vulnerable to the negative health effects of stress include:

  • older adults;
  • mothers and especially working mothers;
  • less educated individuals;
  • divorced or widowed individuals;
  • people with financial concerns or lack of health insurance;
  • isolated or lonely people;
  • people who are targets of racial or sexual discrimination;
  • people who live in cities,
  • and people with a history of childhood trauma can be more risk to feeling stress.
  • Summarized from “Stress“: (G3.5), University of Maryland Medical Center.

Antioxidant foods can help protect against negative effects from stress.

Eating antioxidant rich foods can help protect the body from negative effects that can occur due the waste chemicals produced during normal metabolism and increased during situations that cause more oxidative stress from  either emotional or physical reasons. Angry and tense due to having to hold in your temper at work, or angry and tense because the traffic was so physically dangerous to navigate simply to get to work in the first place; – both can increase the amount of oxidative stress occurring throughout the body.

Social contact with caring people can also help the body physically detoxify negative chemicals produced during stress or produce less of them in the first place, that will be discussed more in the next post. (G3.10)

The stress response produces chemicals which can cause other inflammatory reactions throughout the body. Having extra antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables and assuring adequate omega 3 fatty acids was shown to help reduce inflammation in autoimmune Celiac sprue. (G3.6)

Dark chocolate has also been shown to be beneficial antioxidant source. Forty grams (1.3 ounces approximately) per day of chocolate was found beneficial with a college student population. (G3.7) That is quite a bit of chocolate for someone with limited room for the empty calories from sugar. Sesame seeds would provide antioxidants with no added sugar.

Eating sesame seeds as part of the daily diet has been shown in sports research to help reduce oxidative stress. The trial subjects ate 2 tablespoons per day of the seeds. See: Effects of Sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) Supplementation on Creatine Kinase, Lactate Dehydrogenase, Oxidative Stress Markers, and Aerobic Capacity in Semi-Professional Soccer Players. (G3.8)

Using tahini in the diet regularly would have similar health benefits. Raw oil or seed butter products may have the most antioxidant content. Look for the phrase “unroasted” on a seed or nut butter product or “cold pressed” on the label of an oil or coconut oil product. Tahini is a sesame paste similar to peanut butter except it has different flavor. The flavor is stronger and to my taste does not go well with sweet jams or jellies like peanut butter or sunflower seed butter. I have found daily use of tahini to be more beneficial to my health then sunflower butter as a substitute for peanut butter – which I have to avoid. I have many dietary restrictions because I feel better without the foods, due to intestinal sensitivities and the autoimmune inflammatory reactions that can occur when I have even very small amounts of some things.

My easy answer to fueling my body so I can get back to what I like doing – reading and writing – is simply tahini spread on rice cakes. I’m used to it now and eat it plain but when I first started eating it I would drizzle a small amount of blackstrap molasses on as a sweetener with a stronger flavor and a good supply of iron and trace nutrients. Or more often I would sprinkle ginger powder on for a zingy accent that provides pain killing anti-inflammatory chemicals. Later in this section on oxidative stress TRP channels will be discussed and their unfortunate sensitivity to many common foods – including ginger. Sadly for my diet and inflammatory condition, I no longer can use ginger due to the intestinal overactivity of TRP channels – presumably, more on that in a later section –  however it may take a while, note the abrupt change in the next footnote number, there is some stuff in between the beginning and the end of the footnote list:

Chocolate and antioxidant foods and herbs found helpful for stress are discussed in more detail with references on a UCLA webpage providing information about integrating Eastern medical philosophies and treatments with Western medical methods. (G3.112)

To provide sustenance for the journey and a way to add chocolate to your diet for anyone who can’t think of any, see my antioxidant rich recipe for chocolate chip cookies. See the third version on this page of recipes and information about gluten free food sensitivity and autoimmune sensitivity for an egg free, butter free, gluten free cookie recipe. It is still a treat with calories and fat, but with fewer ingredients that contain inflammatory chemicals and more ingredients that are very good sources of antioxidants or healthy types of fats: G8.Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Regarding TRP channels – cinnamon is a spice that can activate a type of the membrane gates to allow nerve signals or other actions to occur. The spice has been to help reduce blood glucose levels for patients with diabetes. About one half teaspoon per day was found helpful. A half teaspoon of cinnamon powder is a large amount. Some people enjoy it stirred into a bowl of hot cereal in the morning. It could also be added in smaller amounts to a few cups of hot tea throughout the day, or an evening cup of hot cocoa. Cinnamon is a spice that I avoid due to migraines, it may be causative as a TRPA1 channel agonist. More is included in later sections on TRP channels and the foods that may cause problems for some people such as those with a tendency towards migraines or Irritable Bowel Syndrome or concerns with chronic itch or skin problems such as psoriasis or eczema.

The science regarding cinnamon and blood glucose is complex, some of these terms and chemicals will be discussed in more detail later, this is an introduction to the topic of oxidative stress and TRP channels:

“Cinnamaldehyde ((2E)-3-phenylprop-2-enal) is a TRPA1 agonist (Figure 1, EC50 = 100 μM). [13] The pungency of cinnamon, when it comes in contact with the tongue, is due to its ability to activate TRPA1 expressed at the nerve terminals. Further, the activation of TRPA1 can cause the release of vasoactive peptides, such as calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and substance P (SP) from the nerve terminals. It is intriguing that fibers that carry pain sensation also innervate the blood vessels, although the blood vessels are considered to be insensate. [25]”

“It is likely that the vasoactive substances released from the nerve terminals have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular functions. Activation of these receptors in the nerve terminals innervating the GI tract sends signals to satiety centers and releases neuropeptides/neurotransmitters locally. It has been shown that cinnamon can decrease blood glucose
levels in type 2 diabetes. [26, 27] Diabetic animals treated with
cinnamon showed decrease in blood glucose levels, which could
be brought about by the release of incretins (glucose-dependent insulinotropic hormone (GIP) and GLP-1) and insulin release caused by activation of TRPA1 receptors. [19]” (page 1118, G3.113)

See a healthcare provider for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

  • Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a service for locating a nutrition counselor near you at the website eatright.org: (eatright.org/find-an-expert)

References:

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