Farid Wassef, RPh, CCN
The alarm goes off at 7 am. You manage to drag your body out of bed. Once youve been jolted awake by that large cup of coffee, the mental list begins in your head. Before you realize it, tension mounts and youve worked yourself up into a frenzy.
The alarm goes off at 7 am. You manage to drag your body out of bed. Once you’ve been jolted awake by that large cup of coffee, the mental list begins in your head.
Before you realize it, tension mounts and you’ve worked yourself up into a frenzy. You plough through whatever needs to be done in the morning, miss breakfast, and rush out the door to battle the traffic and whatever else dares get in your way. Like a bubbling volcano, when nothing can be solved or completed right away, you are ready to erupt into a tirade. However, throughout most of the day you manage to restrain yourself.
Many of us live in this edgy manner. However, if we continually perceive the ordinary events of our life as stressful, the body’s stress response is constantly being engaged. As a result the adrenal glands are overstimulated and secrete excessive amounts of cortisol, the body’s major stress hormone.
The Cortisol Conundrum
We know that stress affects our ability to think clearly and make effective decisions, and it causes us to feel anxious and irritable. Excessive amounts of cortisol can also lead to a number of health problems: heart rate, blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol are all elevated from excessive surges of cortisol. The immune system also begins to falter under chronic stress. The thymus gland, the master gland that regulates the immune system, begins to decrease in size from excessive hits of cortisol.
Prolonged elevated levels of cortisol are one of the hallmark features of depression, insomnia, memory loss, and age-related cognitive decline. Furthermore, since excessive levels of cortisol can actually destroy brain cells, chronic stress has been implicated in the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Journey to 100
Healthy centenarians, individuals who reach the age of 100 and beyond, seem to have developed an ability to not only shed the stresses of everyday life but to also overcome tragedies and losses along the way. They achieved healthy longevity in part by maintaining meaningful relationships and a positive mental attitude. While researchers race to find the “longevity genes” to explain why centenarians remain cognitively intact and bypass most age-related diseases, we can no longer deny that managing stress more effectively makes an enormous difference to both health and longevity.
Balancing Blood Sugar
The tidal waves of cortisol that result from chronic stress cause blood sugar to roller coaster. Erratic blood sugar magnifies the effects of stress, making it more difficult to pull out of chronic stress. The right foods, eaten regularly, can help keep blood sugar levels balanced.
Eat your breakfast no later than two hours after waking up. Two hours before bedtime, stop eating. Eat at regular times of the day and, between meals, drink six to eight glasses of pure water daily. Eliminate refined sugars and flours, food additives, nitrates/nitrites, trans fatty acids, and hydrogenated fats from your diet. Eat plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables in order to get 30 grams to 40 grams of fibre and other beneficial nutrients daily.
Consume no more than 30 percent of calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. Get more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet from foods such as wild fish, grass-fed free-range meat, green vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and oils.
Supplements to Address Stress
In addition to developing a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits, nutritional supplementation is critical for minimizing the effects of stress on the body.
Multivitamin/mineral supplements - Choose a high quality multivitamin and mineral supplement and take three times daily with meals. This ensures a steady level of nutrients in your system throughout the entire day.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C makes stress more manageable by supporting the adrenal glands and metabolizing excess cortisol. Vitamin C aids in the production of neurotransmitters that are required for good mood and proper sleep and protects the cardiovascular and immune systems. Prolonged stress, chronic disease, and aging reduce the levels of vitamin C. Consider doses of 500 mg to 2,000 mg daily.
Vitamin B5: Stress depletes the body of all B vitamins. However, in some individuals, certain B vitamins may be depleted at a greater rate. Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, which maintains optimal adrenal gland function and prevents stress-induced fatigue, for example, may be required in higher amounts. Consider doses of 500 mg to1,500 mg daily.
Magnesium: Magnesium prevents the nerves, muscles, and heart from being overstimulated while under stress. Magnesium also helps to stabilize blood sugar. Consider doses of 200 mg to 800 mg daily.
Essential Fats: The omega-6 and omega-3 healthy fats work in tandem to balance blood sugar, control inflammation, and improve energy levels, mood, memory, and sleep. It can be difficult to get a balanced intake and optimal amounts from diet alone. Consider a cold-pressed, unrefined oil from organic seeds or fish daily.
Adapting to stress: There is a class of phytomedicines known as adaptogens, plant-based products that have been scientifically confirmed to aid in stress adaptation. While all adapatogens increase the capacity for stress, each adaptogen has unique properties that make it better suited for resolving specific problems.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): has been used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Holy basil improves stress response by lowering elevated levels of cortisol. Studies have also confirmed anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antidepressant, and blood-sugar balancing properties.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): improves stress response by improving adrenal function. Studies have also confirmed anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antimicrobial and immune-enhancing properties. Reishi can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol and is a great tonic for the heart. Reishi is ideal for those who suffer from stress-induced anxiety, muscular tension, and insomnia.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius): improves overall stress response. Studies have confirmed its ability to stimulate the system, balance blood sugar, and improve learning, memory, and focus. It can also improve energy levels without overstimulation.
With a healthy diet, supplements, and a positive mental attitude, you can minimize the toll that stress exacts from your overall well-being. While there’s no guarantee you’ll be a centenarian, if you manage your stress, you’ll be healthier along the way to 100.
Strategies for Stress