Consumers realize stress is a normal part of life—but when life is overflowing with stress, people can become almost desperate to relieve it. “Even before the COVID pandemic hit, the World Health Organization [WHO] had declared stress a global epidemic,” commented Rachel Yarcony, CEO and co-founder of myAir, an app that tracks sleep for individuals with sleep apnea. “Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death in the world, and in the U.S. alone, is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion each year. According to the American Institute of Stress, 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress,” she reported.
Stress is not an isolated state—like a magnet, it attracts anxiety, depression and insomnia. The 2020 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements from Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) categorizes mental health as anxiety/depression and stress management, and found 13% of supplement users take supplements to support mental health.
Demographically, younger adults (ages 18 to 34) rely on stress-busting supplements the most (21%), compared to Baby Boomers (8%). The top five supplements respondents noted they take for mental health are melatonin (37%), magnesium (31%), CBD (16%), theanine (14%) and St. John’s wort (12%).
Stress is experienced in three general forms, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
Acute stress: Arises from a fleeting intense moment of panic or dread. Examples include realizing a deadline’s been missed for work or school, or nearly being involved in a car accident. Common physical symptoms of acute stress include a pounding heart, tightening of muscles, a rise in blood pressure and rapid breathing. These physical changes increase strength and stamina, improve reaction time and enhance focus—preparing to either fight or escape in response to the stressful situation. Symptoms of acute stress typically subside after a short time.
Episodic acute stress: An accumulation of individual moments of acute stress. People who feel burdened by day-to-day struggles may attempt to alleviate their frustrations through unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating or binge drinking. Other serious complications of episodic acute stress include depression, poor performance at work and relationship challenges.
Chronic stress: Essentially long-term constant stress. Caused by challenging situations such as unemployment, abuse, etc., chronic stress can contribute to deficiencies in how the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis processes stressful situations and communicates with the rest of the body.
Lucie Lingrand, product manager, marketing and communications, Lallemand Health Solutions, explained, when “experiencing a stressful event, the area of the brain that controls emotions, the amygdala, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, the brain’s command center. The hypothalamus then sends out an alert through the nervous system, which responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which work to prepare the body for emergency action, known as the fight-or-flight response. When activated, digestion slows as the body uses its energy resources on the threat at hand, and in turn, increases gut sensitivity.”
(APA) identifies the HPA axis as a network that regulates hormonal response to stressful situations. The hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland to release a hormone, and then the pituitary gland signals the adrenal glands to produce steroid hormones called glucocorticoids—the stress hormones, Lingrand mentioned.
Maggie McNamara, marketing director for Gencor, added, “The body naturally produces cortisol throughout the day, with levels spiking immediately after wake up and gradually decreasing throughout the day. This added cortisol regulated by the HPA is the reason why people often feel hyper-alert during stressful situations, but this can also cause one to ‘crash’ once the stress subsides.”
An excess amount of adrenal stress hormones causes a spike in blood glucose, a reduction in insulin sensitivity and a catabolic response to cells, causing them to reduce their protein synthesis and atrophy, according to Brien Quirk, director of research and development (R&D), Draco Natural Products. Adrenal stress hormones in high levels can induce anxiety and nervousness, leading to elevated blood pressure and damage to the cells lining the coronary arteries, as well as other vascular endothelial cells.
Another pathway largely involved in stress, Lingrand explained, is the gut-brain axis or microbiota-gut-brain axis. Sometimes referred to as the “second brain,” the gut houses the enteric nervous system (ENS), a neural network that allows the gut to work independently without instructions from the brain. The ENS maintains control of the digestive system; it plays an important role in peristalsis, secretion (gastric acid, neurotransmitters, enzymes, hormones, etc.) and pain perception.
To read this deep dive in its entirety, check out “Awakening to a new sleep/stress care market.”
Lisa Schofield is a veteran writer and editor who got her start interviewing rock stars for national music magazines. She now writes and edits content for B2B media and suppliers in the natural health product industry. She has served as editor for Vitamin Retailer and Nutrition Industry Executive, and prior to that as associate editor for Whole Foods.