I am sure you have had your parents or a good friend ask you if you were stressed? A majority of us may brush it off, simply saying something along the lines of “just busy at work, not a big deal”. However, in reality your body may be more stressed than you realize, which undoubtedly has a detrimental impact on your health.
Types of “Stress”?
Did you know 75-90% of doctors visits are due to conditions related to stress? The UK’s National Health Service defines stress as “the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure, which triggers a biological response”. It’s important to note that stress is not only caused by the psychological stressors, such as the feeling that you have too much work, not enough money, or frustration with your career. Stress is often caused by factors including illness (i.e. bacterial, viral, or fungal), dehydration, hormonal imbalances, dietary stressors (i.e nutritional deficiencies, food allergies and sensitivities), or even environmental pollution (i.e pesticides, herbicides, toxins, radiation, noise) (1).
What is the Impact?
Stress can damage your immune system and cause you to gain weight.
The more stressed you are, the more your adrenal glands will release hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and insulin. These rising hormone (aka stress responses) directly inhibit the functioning of your digestive system, and retroactively increase appetite, by interfering with the hormones that regulate appetite.
Stress hormones suppress the effectiveness of your immune system by decreasing the number of lymphocytes, which produce antibodies that destroy viruses and bacteria. In addition, they raise your heart rate, increase blood pressure and can even damage your memory.
You have the Power!
I am sure you have read about the well known techniques such as increasing relaxation, exercise, and sleep, but what else can be done? Surprisingly you have the ability to impact and even keep your stress levels low via a healthy and nutritious diet.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Give a monkey a banana, and he will calm down?” Cliche, but eating healthy can increase the levels of hormones that naturally fight stress, as well as reduce the levels of hormones that trigger it. Eating clean and whole foods, especially those high in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, can restore your insulin, cortisol and adrenaline hormones.
On the other hand, nutritionists say that drinking caffeine and alcohol stimulate the nervous system, causing your body to “misfire” and stress to take over. As you may think of glass of wine calms you down, stress and alcohol actually feed off of each other. Another offener is eating too much sugar, which causes your blood glucose levels and insulin to spike. When your glucose levels rise quickly, your adrenal glands release cortisol, directly triggering anxiety levels, increased unhealthy cravings, and fat storage.
It’s not just what you eat, but how often you eat. Did you know that skipping meals can also cause your cortisol levels to skyrocket, and we already know that is not good for you! As we live our busy lives, try to remember the impact of smart food choices. Add protein to every meal and snack on nuts and seeds to keep your glucose levels stable. A healthy handful of good fats, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, and non-gluten grains will make a huge difference when stressed. Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, LD, and nutrition coach also recommends a warm cup of tea as is known to have powerful calming effects.
Lastly make sure sure you aren’t forgetting any underlying biological factors that may be contributing to the impact of stress on your body, such as vitamin D, B12, magnesium, or zinc deficiencies. It may even be useful to take a blood test to measure both your cortisol and nutrient levels. As its proven that these imbalances and essential nutrient deficiencies can lead to greater physical stress on the body.