“Balancing the Stress Scale: Understanding Allostatic Load and Taking Control of Your Health”
A brief explanation of Allostatic load is the cumulative wear and tear on the body’s physiological systems due to chronic or repeated stress. It encompasses the various physiological responses that the body undergoes to adapt to stressors, such as hormonal changes and other physiological adjustments.
When the body encounters stress, it activates its stress response system, the “fight-or-flight” response. The fight-or-flight response involves the release of stress hormones, primarily cortisol, and adrenaline, which help prepare the body to deal with the perceived threat. Stress hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure, and energy availability, among other physiological changes.
It’s essential when looking at functional issues or issues commonly thought to be genetic or simply out of your control due to bad luck. Now, the body, if we are looking at the example of the allostatic load, can handle a lot of different stressors. For my analogy, here we will use the example of a specific stress within someone’s life, “Training.” *I choose training because it is a very controllable stressor.
Now, let’s say that someone is training for a marathon, and they are running a ton and doing resistance training four days a week, and they decide to throw in MMA-type kickboxing classes four days a week. In our example, some individuals may be able to handle this for a while, but then they notice that they start to gain a little bit of extra body fat, so they decide to diet harder, specifically a weight loss diet where they are trying to lose two pounds per week (above my typical recommendation for a rate of loss), now we have another stressor that adds to the total allostatic load.
Training + Cardio + High time commitment + Lack of food = Stress overload.
We see an issue at the intersection of these two stressors; the systems start to fall apart. Now, what falls apart is up to your epigenetics/family history.
A good example is an individual you might know who has been smoking for 20-plus years; their body has been able to handle smoking, but once another family member passes away, they reach the intersection of the stressors, and this is where their body falls apart. This individual gets lung cancer or failure, general autoimmune dysregulation, or some illness due to overloading stressors.
What you can do to avoid overdoing your allostatic load and reaching an overload:
- Manage the manageable stressors in your life. If you work two jobs and are going to school, consider reducing your total training volume and cardiovascular work so you don’t overdo your system. Additionally, under high-stress periods, weight loss dieting is not advised.
- Support. You can support your system by adding in the nutraceutical or natural supplements that are commonly robbed when you’re under stress, B vitamins (a methylated form that helps explicitly to buffer stress), vitamin C (look for an alkalized Vitamin C powder), Glutamine (to combat GI stress), and magnesium.
- Look to maintain Body weight or stay in a slight caloric surplus. Avoid weight loss diets during High Times of stress.
- Learn to say “NO.” I see it in my practical experience where a person is the “yes” person or the one who is constantly dealing with everyone else’s issuess. The “yes” people are the ones I see having Weight loss difficulties, HPA access dysregulation (Specifically deficient cortisol in the later stages and significantly elevated cortisol in the early stages), and anxiety.
Thank you for reading, and we hope this helps!
A nice blog to also read is our post “How-to-Create-a-Sustainable-Fitness-Lifestyle”