Fish oil may be just what the doctor orders in combating the effects of chronic stress. Its ingredients are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. But what does inflammation, which is a response of the body to injury or irritation, have to do with stress and how is fish oil able to neutralize it? Let’s take a closer look.
The principal cause of stress-related illness is inflammation. Inflammation is the rapid and nonspecific response of human organisms to danger, usually caused by a physical pathogen (an insect bite, an open flame, an injury) that attacks the body’s integrity. Inflammation is also triggered, however, in response to a psychological threat. When a stressful event or situation triggers the release of norepinephrine and other hormones during the stress reaction, the immediate mobilization of the body’s defense excites and energizes metabolic, vascular and immune systems. Inflammation is capable of damaging tissues and organs if not controlled. To prevent such damage, anti-inflammatory molecules cortisol, interleukin-10, and growth factor-p are released and suppress the inflammation.
What happens when the stressor persists or is not resolved? When inappropriate, excessive, or long-lasting, the stress response (and the attending inflammation) morphs into chronic stress, which is the underlying cause of many diseases of the heart, lungs, digestive system and muscular structures. Thus, it can be said that the inflammation resulting from continuing stress or inadequate responses to a stressor is the major factor contributing to coronary heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, muscular tension and pain, and many other stress-related illnesses.
The Best Defense Against Chronic Stress
Naturally, the best defense against stress is keeping it from becoming chronic. As long as stressors are resolved, avoided or eliminated as they come up, the body has a remarkable capacity to return to a natural state of relaxation. Addressing relationship issues, problems at work, or health challenges in a timely and effective way is the best remedy against stress. Putting things off or denying their existence is seldom a good choice and often leads to a persistent state of alarm that is the precursor to the more serious consequences of chronic stress.
What about fish oil? Read about new research findings on its anti-inflammatory benefits after the jump.
Fish Oil to the Rescue
Fish oil supplements can help lower inflammation by decreasing the synthesis of proinflammatory molecules and have been proven beneficial in treating inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. Although fish oil has been shown to be less effective in treating other stress-related illnesses such as ulcerative colitis and asthma, some patients do benefit from its intake.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA contained in fish oil are effective in treating both cardiovascular disease and depression, often in combination with other specific medications. Higher levels of EPA and DHA are associated with increased stress resilience.
Be careful which fish oil you take, however: long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA) are 9 times more potent than ALA (the omega-3 found in flaxseed and flax oil) in decreasing inflammation.
What Else Can You Do to Combat Stress?
- Exercise is as good a stress reducer as many medications. It can also increase wound healing and stress resilience by lowering systemic inflammation.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy can improve functioning of the immune system and decrease inflammation in patients with stress and depression symptoms.
- See also these 7 Natural Ways to Heal Stress, the 8 Best Defenses Against Stress and the Best and Worst Food for Stress.
A judicious combination of healthy nutrition rich in omega-3 fatty acids, exercise, and fish oil, coupled with an effective stressor management strategy, can go a long way in preventing occasional stress from becoming a chronic condition.