I am very pleased to have some wonderful Future Dietitians From UNF working with me this Spring. Enjoy their articles over the next few months. Here is Kea's contribution :)
Neuro Nutrition: Keeping A Healthy Mind and Body under Stress.
Kea M. Schwarz
What is stress?
Stress is neither inherently bad or good. It is a natural reaction to life experiences. Everyone experiences stress at some point whether because of work, family, war, or a new diagnosis. In the short-term stress can be beneficial to health. It could be what motivates you to prepare for a job interview. But when stress signals don’t stop firing, and it feels like a there’s knot in your stomach that just doesn’t go away, it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress affects your overall well-being.
What does stress do to our minds and bodies?
Emotional and physical issues known to stem from stress include:
• heart attacks
• immune system disorders that increase susceptibility to viral and autoimmune infections.
• Skin rashes
• Gastrointestinal issues (GERD, ulcers, IBS, colitis)
Image courtesy of The American Institute of Stress.
Nutrients for stress reduction
A balanced diet can outweigh the negative impacts of stress by increasing immunity, stabilizing moods, and decreasing blood pressure. Here are a few nutrients that may help decrease the effects of stress.
• Complex Carbohydrates: these include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These can all increase serotonin production in the brain. This helps stabilize blood pressure which may help reduce stress.
• Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish, nuts and seeds (flaxseed, chia, walnut, pecans) are rich in omega- 3 fatty acids which may decrease stress hormone levels and protect against heart disease and depression.
• Antioxidants: This is a big one. Stress and anxiety is said to be correlated with an overall decrease in antioxidants. This leaves the body susceptible to free radicals which may be a factor in the development of some forms of cancer and atherosclerosis. Free radicals are reactive oxygen species that are made in our bodies when exposed to various chemical conditions or pathological states. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is needed to maintain proper body functioning. Foods high in antioxidants include beans, fruits, berries, nuts, vegetables, and spices like turmeric and ginger.
• Magnesium: This mineral is responsible for over 200 enzymatic reactions in the human body. Therefore, there are many issues associated with low magnesium levels. Increasing levels of magnesium are linked to improved sleep quality, muscle relaxation, and lower blood pressure. Healthy sources include spinach, leafy greens, salmon, and soybeans.
• Vitamin C: Citrus fruits are very high in vitamin C. Consuming these fruits can reduce stress and boost the immune system. Adequate vitamin C intake may also help maintain healthy cortisol levels, which may support a healthier stress response.
• B-Vitamins: This is not just one vitamin, rather it is a group of them that can help our bodies though stressful times. Foods rich in B vitamins include, fish, nuts, seeds, liver, beetroot, bananas, chickpeas, broccoli, spinach, legumes, and dairy.
Exercise for Stress Reduction
Overall, exercise increases your health and sense of well-being. There may be some stress reducing benefits to exercising. First off, it increases your feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Also, exercise is seen as a method of meditation. When working out at the gym or playing a fast pace game of tennis the day’s irritations go away as you concentrate on your body movements. Focusing on a single task and creating a sense of energy optimism through sport can help you maintain a calm perspective in everything you do. This is because, regular exercise can increase self-confidence and may lower symptoms related to depression and anxiety. Exercise can also help improve sleep which is usually interrupted my stress and anxiety.
Get Some Sleep
Stress can keep you awake at night. Getting eight hours of sleep is very important for mental and physical health. Cutting back on caffeine, getting rid of unnecessary distractions, and participating in relaxing activities like yoga may help increase sleep.
Seek Out A Medical Professional
If you are still overwhelmed, please consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional. They can help you learn to manage stress in an affective way, by identifying behaviors that may promote your stress. They can help you create a plan of action to address them. Furthermore, consulting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in your local area will also help provide valuable information on how food influences stress, depression, and anxiety. They will work with you to help you understand better food options that may assist with symptoms related to stress.
1. Schneiderman N, Ironson G, Siegel SD. STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants. Annual review of clinical psychology. 2005;1:607-628. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/
2. How Stress Affects Your Health. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx. 2013. Accessed February 23, 2018.
3. Stress Effects. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/stress-effects/. Accessed February 23, 2018.
4. Naidoo U. Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-strategies-to-ease-anxiety-201604139441. 2016. Accessed February 23, 2018.
5. Explore Integrative Medicine. Eat Right, Drink Well, Stress Less: Stress-Reducing Foods, Herbal Supplements, and Teas. https://exploreim.ucla.edu/nutrition/eat-right-drink-well-stress-less-stress-reducing-foods-herbal-supplements-and-teas/. 2014. Accessed February 23, 2018.
6. Mayo Clinic. Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress. 2015. Accessed February 23, 2018.
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