We all know someone who is experiencing stress every day, perhaps it is you. And yes, a degree of stress is a part of everyday life. However, if stress is extreme or chronic, the stress response can be overwhelming and harmful to the body, leading to disease.
When we experience stress our body reacts in the same way it did for our ancestors fleeing from a sabre-toothed tiger. That means we engage our sympathetic nervous system designed to ensure our survival. What happens to our body systems?
- Raised Blood pressure and heart rate in preparation to fight or flee.
- Cortisol is released stimulating an increase in blood sugar levels to provide the energy to fight or flee.
- Our senses are heightened for split second decision making in the face of danger.
- Increased pain threshold and strength to improve the chances of survival.
- Our immune, reproductive and digestive systems are all suppressed because we don’t need them in the face of life-threatening danger.
In the short term this sympathetic nervous system can save our life. In our modern world the sources of stress are more frequent, but our body cannot distinguish between the sources of stress and reacts in the same way.
Prolonged, chronic stress prevents the body from returning to equilibrium, to the parasympathetic nervous system. So, cortisol remains elevated and causes disruption to multiple body systems leading to illness.
3 ways to make your body more resilient to stress.
1. Improve the health of the gut.
Good digestion is essential for overall health and wellness. The gut and brain communicate in both directions so supporting the health of one will benefit the other. Most of the neurotransmitter serotonin is made in your gut. If you have gut problems like constipation, diarrhoea, IBS, leaky gut, food intolerances, heartburn or acid reflux you will have more of a chance of having anxiety. Stress changes the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome. When your gut health is poor, your brain health is poor.
Eat eight to ten portions of fresh vegetables and fruit to provide vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre to support your gut health.
Prebiotic foods such as onion, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, feed the good bacteria in the gut so that they can multiply, eliminating the bad bacteria and repairing the gut.
Probiotic foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, plain, cultured yoghurt contain live bacteria which produce some vitamins and short-chain fatty acids for good gut health.
Cut out refined processed foods such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, cakes and biscuits, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, caffeine and alcohol.
2. Work on the “Tryptophan Steal.”
When stressed the body can experience the tryptophan steal. Tryptophan is an amino acid from the protein you eat which is used to make serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that causes you to feel happiness, to be energetic, focused, relaxed and supports the appetite. Instead of tryptophan from your food being used to make feel-good serotonin and subsequently melatonin, it is diverted to make life-saving essential compounds to keep your stressed body functioning. Low mood, anxiety, depression, low energy, cravings, sleep and digestive problems can all be symptoms of low serotonin.
Plan your meals around high tryptophan foods. The best sources are chicken and turkey; other good sources include salmon, eggs, tofu, edamame, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, sesame seeds, brown rice and quinoa.
Eat a portion of carbohydrate in your evening meal to support insulin production required for the production of serotonin. Cruciferous vegetables, oily fish, turmeric and ginger can help to prevent the tryptophan steal.
Vitamin D is required for the synthesis of serotonin from tryptophan so get a minimum 20 minutes of sunlight in the summer or follow the advice of the NHS to supplement vitamin D. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
3. Work on oestrogen levels in both males and females.
Oestrogen is a group of sex hormones which play an important part in women’s reproductive system. In men oestrogen is essential for modulating libido, erectile function, and sperm cell development.
There are many toxins, known as xenoestrogens, that act like oestrogen in our body. When absorbed in the body, xenoestrogens act as endocrine disruptors that can decrease or increase normal hormone levels, mimic the body’s natural hormones, or alter the natural production of hormones. Things like plastic, pesticides, and personal hygiene products can cause an oestrogen toxicity issue in your body. This toxicity affects the liver and gut where oestrogen is broken down. When you overload the body with these toxins, it slows down the breakdown of the reward chemical dopamine in the body leading to stress and anxiety. Cortisol levels increase, blood sugar levels increase, and you are likely to experience brain fog.
Begin to clean up your environment at home. Suggestions are to filter water, stay away from plastic as much as possible, eat organic foods when possible, and use the Yuka App as a guide for purchasing products for personal use.
Help the body get rid of harmful xenoestrogens by consuming foods with nutrients that eliminate harmful oestrogen metabolites. Flax seeds, sprouts, and cabbage family vegetables; broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale and pak choi will help.
In addition, eat plant foods containing phytoestrogens which are natural, oestrogen-like compounds. Phytoestrogens help to stabilise hormone levels and are associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Soya milk, edamame beans, tofu and tempeh are the richest sources of phytoestrogens; eat organic only to avoid harmful genetically modified soya beans. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, seeds, garlic, brown rice and oats are other good sources.
And remember you can’t be a clean fish in a dirty bowl.
Image source: Shutterstock
Making changes to diet and lifestyle can feel overwhelming. Start with a small step to get started, for example, rethink what you eat for breakfast so that the food balances your blood sugar at the start of the day. Eat as much real, whole food as you can. This will help supply your body with the necessary nutrients to make more serotonin. Health coaching can help you to make changes to reach your health goals.
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