Stress, Neuropeptide Y and DHEA

When a stressful event is experienced, the body reacts by activating the adrenal system. This complex chain of events, beginning with the stimulus of a perceived threat and ending in a cascade of chemical reactions within the body, is known as the “fight-or-flight” response. For short-lived stresses, this response is highly effective. The body is pumped full of adrenalin and cortisol, pain sensitivity is decreased and appetite is suppressed. All these are very useful for dealing with an immediate physical danger. In the modern world immediate physical danger is rare; instead the majority of stress experienced by urban humans is more persistent. For example, conflicts at home or at work, emotional stress caused by unpleasant commute conditions, or worries resulting from financial pressures can all result in long-term stress.

The body reacts to long-term stress in the same way as it reacts to short-term threat. The result it that over prolonged periods too much adrenalin circulates and various physiological functions are impaired. Individuals suffering from long-term stress frequently display many of the following symptoms:

  • Memory impairment
  • Reduction of appetite
  • Craving for “comfort food”
  • Disturbed sleep with bad dreams
  • Heightened sensitivity to the feelings of other people, especially negative emotions
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Desire to hide away somewhere
  • Compulsive behavior such as tugging at hair, scratching, rubbing or other semi-ritualized actions

Traditional talk therapy has been notably ineffective in helping individuals cope with prolonged stress. Likewise, self-medication with alcohol, tobacco or narcotics has also been shown to be ineffective and in fact over time exacerbates the physiological damage caused by stress through acceleration of the rate at which the body loses vitamins and minerals, thus further impairing the body’s ability to cope.

In the last decade, research on military personnel exposed to high stress environments has shown that the most resilient individuals are those with naturally high levels of certain key chemicals. The most notable are neuropeptide Y (known as NPY) and DHEA. NPY occurs in the brain and is responsible for inhibiting certain stress-related metabolic processes, while DHEA suppresses cortisol in the body.

While no method of stimulating increased production of NPY is currently known, supplementation with DHEA provides a simple way for individuals to help counteract the effects of prolonged stress. Coupled to a regular program of exercise, which promotes the release of endorphins that cause the individual to feel good and uses up excess adrenalin and cortisol in the body, DHEA supplementation can help stressed individuals feel better and return to more stable physiological functioning.

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