Stress, health and the role of diet

Stress and associated health complaints are one of my key areas of interest. Stress, whether psychological, physical, real or perceived, is pervasive in our society and negatively affects many of us.

It is estimated that well over half of the GP visits are due to chronic stress, which as has resulted in a loss of immunity, fatigue/exhaustion, alterations in mood and sense of wellbeing. Work related stress alone is a reason for one in five GP visits in the UK.

If a person is not well equipped to deal with stress both physically and mentally, the effects of chronic stress can be dramatic. Here are some negative effects of persistent, ill-managed stress:

  • Anxiety & depression
  • Exhaustion, loss of motivation
  • Loss of cognitive capacity
  • Short term memory loss
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Infertility & sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain/loss
  • Loss of muscular tone
  • Increased cardiovascular event risk
  • Premature ageing

Our body has an inbuilt regulatory mechanism, which – if functioning correctly – can see us through periods of intense challenges. Both psychological and physical stress ignites the same response pattern: whether due to work or relationship stress or due to an intense physical demand, the body responds with the same neuronal and hormonal cascade, designed to see us through the challenge. Problems often arise if the trauma is too intense (overwhelming the system) or chronically repeated (such as continuous mental stress or toxin exposure).

What can we do, if we are suffering from stress?

First step is identifying our main sources of stress – better the devil you know, right? If stressors are arising from within, reassessment of our perceptions, priorities and habitual behaviour and thought patterns may be called for in order to increase our psychological resilience. Meditation, or calming exercise from walking to Tai Chi, Qigong or yoga can also help us deal with anxiety or stressful emotions. But even our psychological wellbeing and resilience is intimately linked to our nutritional status; new research is suggestive of a link between nutritional imbalances and low mood/anxiety, insomnia and reduced cognitive capacity.

If the source is external – for instance a toxin/allergen exposure, inappropriate foods or type of exercise - action can be taken to limit this exposure, while supporting the body in its regulatory functions with appropriate diet.

Regardless of the source, a combination of dietary and lifestyle actions can ensure, that those inbuilt body mechanisms designed to protect us in the face of a challenge will function correctly when needed.

What’s food got to do with it?

You may ask, what diet has to do with stress?  In short: a lot. US MD Mark Hyman estimated in his interview in a recent Adrenal Summit in 2016 that the role of diet is 80% of a persons’ recovery path. The other 20% is lifestyle changes; ensuring restful sleep (supported by appropriate nutrients and sleep hygiene), supportive movement and calming of the nervous system.  80% is a significant figure and highlights the imperative role nutrients have in regulating the functions of our body. As is often the case, many may be over-fed, but under nourished, and this problem that is accentuated in the presence of chronic stress.

Our digestive capacity is always impaired by stress. If stress is chronic, this can lead to a vicious cycle, as stress in one hand increases our need for nutrients while reducing our ability to absorb these from food. Digestive symptoms and IBS are prevalent in those experiencing chronic stress and for some, stress-management techniques may be the key in managing IBS.

So what can you do if you are dealing with stress and not coping? Don’t hesitate to give me a call to discuss your situation. I work with clients both face-to-face as well as via Skype, and together we can start paving the way towards better stress resilience, improved wellbeing and joie de vivre.

Tel 0203 372 5274  or Email me HERE