Enemy No. 1 of our modern societies, stress is rarely seen as an ally of our health. Yet at the cellular level, it plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the body. A discussion with a researcher -

We are talking about stress as a modern disease, but when did this notion appear?
The word was created in 1925 by Hans Selye, an endocrinologist. He described it as a general syndrome of adaptation of our body to a new situation. This definition has been widely democratized but rather as something harmful, and the idea has remained that stress is dangerous, it must be annihilated, block it. It is often said that if we stress, it will damage our cells, slow down our operation or even cause cancer. We are coming back to it.

You talk about the "extraordinary powers" of stress. What is it about ?
At low doses, these molecules all have interesting properties: anti-aging, anti-cancer, anti-neurodegenerative and anti-stroke. Our cells have a limited lifespan, the oxidation caused by the reactive species is a marker of their state of damage that will indicate to our body that it is time to eliminate them to avoid dangerous mutations such as cancer. At low doses, oxidative stress maintains the constant renewal of our proteins, lipids, and DNA, and so it is beneficial. In large doses, it will kill the cells directly instead of renewing them and there, it is much more damaging.

You say that stress has anti-aging properties?
It is a scientific theory currently debated in congresses, which postulates that to live longer, it is better to stress a little than not at all. People who follow a Mediterranean diet for example, consume a lot of herbs and spices. These foods always cause a little stress in the stomach, which causes bacteria and therefore the brain and all organs to pass through the blood and also promotes cell renewal. Just like sport.

Does sport generate stress?
Yes, when we do physical activity, we make some of these stress-reactive species, and that stimulates cell and tissue renewal.

In the end, never being stressed is not a sign of good health?
Never be stressed, chemically it does not exist. During digestion stress is useful for digesting food, when we make an infection, stress is helpful to the immune system to kill bad bacteria or bad viruses. Do not look for the zero stress stage because no more stress would seem as dangerous to your health as having too much stress. It is difficult to explain that stress can be beneficial, we are always asked what is the right dose.

Against oxidative stress, we have long extolled the merits of antioxidants ...
... until studies show that certain antioxidants could cause cancer. Cancer cells contain a lot of chemical molecules of stress, so naturally, it was thought that giving them antioxidants would destroy them, but the opposite effect occurred. In fact, we have misunderstood the role of stress, we have seen it as a kind of weapon used by cancer cells to make us sick when it is probably a reaction of our body to try to eliminate those cells that, in defense, will themselves produce antioxidants. So if you add some with supplements, it's the party for cancer cells and you promote their development or recurrence.

So should we ban the antioxidants?
When we are healthy, our daily diet is enough if we consume foods called "rich in antioxidants" but are in fact at the perfect dose for the body. You have broccoli, prune, red fruits, apple, dried fruits, lentils, oranges with vitamin C at the right dosage with antioxidant property. If you abuse vitamin C again, you will create an imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants and that's bad. It must be understood that antioxidants always respond to oxidants and vice versa.

We understand that everything is a question of dosage but what is the origin of these imbalances?
These oxidizing molecules exist all around us and impact us. There are four major families of stress-reactive species, including active oxygen in laundry, swimming pools and preservatives. With chemical pollution reactive species of nitrogen have been discovered, such as nitrates which are fertilizers or salts of nitrite in sausages or bottles of water, the reactive species of sulfur present in hydrocarbon gases, sulphates used in agriculture or sulphites of wine. Finally, there are the carbonyl species, which are found in grilled meat on the barbecue, grilled cooking oils or in essential oils. Again, in low doses it is not a problem but when we are too exposed ....

This oxidative stress can come from environmental pollution?
Exactly, and our diet too. Our cells produce energy from the sugar we consume and the oxygen we breathe, thanks to small power plants called mitochondria. By producing energy they also generate derivatives among which we find the reactive species of stress. If we consume too much sugar or too much fat, we will push our body to do too much energy and thus to generate too much reactive species of stress that will oxidize, damage our own DNA, make mutations, etc. This is the doorway to chronic stress and therefore to inflammation, but also to cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, etc.

The stress finally, it is a very good signal of alarm?
Stress at the beginning indicates that something in your body or your organs is changing. It is probably also a driving force of evolution. Faced with new environmental problems - the climate changes, the temperatures change - we will eat differently and therefore our bodies will evolve. This will create a little stress and will evolve our cells and our organs a little more. It's a concept, some people do not adhere to it but it's a concept.

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Author's Bio: 

Shivani Sikri (Chief Nutritionist & Co-Founder, NUTRI4VERVE)

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