Stress and Nutrition

Stress and nutrition | CBD | Columbia Care Platinum

What is stress?

Every single one of us will experience stress in our lives. For that reason, your response to stress is hard-wired by a complex set of pathways originating in the brain. Your brain detects a stressful event, determines whether it is harmful or not and triggers a cascade of messages that ultimately lead to a ‘stress-response’. We’ve all felt it. Your heart starts to race, you become clammy and begin to feel this unease deep within you. 

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However once the stressful event has passed, this pathway dampens down and you feel back to your usual self. Well that is how it ‘should’ work. 21st century life has led to a global pandemic we now call ‘chronic stress’. This is when our stress levels stay elevated and don’t return to normal. Only recently have we discovered how bad for our health this state is. It is a big contributor to many mental health conditions which statistics show are sadly on the rise. 

In the UK, roughly 25% of us will experience a mental health crisis every year.

According to Mind UK, ‘in any given week in England’ (1):

• 8% of people will experienced an episode of mixed anxiety and depression

• 6% of people will experience an episode of generalised anxiety disorder

• 4% of people will experience an episode of post-traumatic stress disorder

• 3% of people will experience an episode of depression 

These figures show just how prevalent mental health conditions are. By understanding that chronic stress may increase the chances of you experiencing a mental health disorder, you may want to explore ways to naturally reduce your stress levels.

What is chronic stress?

Chronic stress leads to chronically elevated levels of a hormone called cortisol, also known as our ‘stress hormone’.

Cortisol is crucial to our response to stress. However chronically elevated cortisol levels are now known to be a driver for:

• Raised blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia)

• Insulin resistance (leading to diabetes)

• Weakening of your bones (osteoporosis)

• Dampening down your immune-system (immunosuppressant)

• Worsening memory and concentration

Simply put, chronic stress can lead to chronic disease.

Did you know that certain foods are thought to lower your stress levels?

Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium is one of the most important electrolytes in our body.

It’s so crucial that it’s involved in over 300 chemical reactions!

Multiple studies have shown magnesium to be important for energy production, quality sleep, muscle contraction and our immune-system (2).

There’s really nothing in our body that doesn’t use magnesium. So it should come as no surprise that magnesium can modulate our response to stress.

In fact there’s some evidence to suggest that chronic-stress may even lower our magnesium levels! (3)

To counter this, we should look to foods high in magnesium to help us chill out (4,5).

Pumpkin seeds are a fantastic source of magnesium, with just one serving providing us with up to a whopping 37% of our recommended daily allowance (RDA).

Almonds are also great to include in your diet to boost your magnesium intake. One serving could provide up to 19% of your RDA.

Chia seeds and spinach also deserve an honorary mention. As do bananas and dark chocolate for those of you with a sweet tooth!

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Fermented foods

Fermented foods have become increasingly popular over the past few years and for good reason.

Walk into any supermarket and you’ll be able to find bottles of kombucha, jars of sauerkraut and an untold range of yoghurts and milks.

Fermented foods are those which contain either food for our gut bacteria or the bacteria itself.

Multiple studies have unearthed a fascinating link between our gut health and our brain. A well functioning gut means a healthy brain and better mood (6).

There’s a reason why your gut is called the second brain. It’s complexity derives from the fact that there are actually more nerve cells there than in your brain!

Then there’s also the fact that our gut can even produce chemicals called GABA and serotonin (7,8).

These chemicals help us to ‘chill-out’ and relax, so we must do what we can to ensure our gut health is at its optimal levels. For this you should consider incorporating a variety of fermented foods into your diet.

The following is a list of popular fermented foods you can find at almost any supermarket (9):

Kimchi – seasoned fermented vegetables

Sauerkraut – Fermented cabbage

Kefir – fermented milk drink

Kombucha – fermented fizzy tea drink

Miso – paste created by fermented soybeans and salt

Tempeh – fermented soybeans formed into a cake-like food 

Adaptogenic herbs and spices From the Ayurvedic healers of India to practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, humans have for thousands of years utilised plants for their medicinal properties. For years the powers of herbs and spices were played down as western medicine became gospel. However thanks to a growing evidence-base of research, things have changed. 

There’s even a word to describe these wonderful plants: Adaptogens. 

Adaptogens are plants and mushrooms that may help your body to better cope with stress (10). 

How they do this is complex and multi-factorial but the research looks promising! 

So let’s talk about how you can use the power of herbs and spices to boost your wellbeing! 

Saffron 

You will know it as the world’s most expensive spice (we’re talking up to $5000 for just 1 pound!), this spice has been used by humans for roughly 3000 years. Its hefty price tag comes because of just how difficult the harvesting process is. Yet that hasn’t stopped its growing popularity, and for good reason. 

A 2018 study looked at the effects of a saffron extract supplement on 68 young people with anxiety and depression (11). It found the group given saffron experienced a reduction in their anxiety levels compared to a placebo group. The positive effects of saffron on mental-health were again shown in a more recent study from 2021 (12). Just like the 2018 study, the group given saffron experienced greater improvements in their mental wellbeing when compared to the placebo group. 

 

Ashwagandha

Utilised by Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years, this plant native to the Indian subcontinent is worth knowing about. The area of interest of this plant is in its roots, which are dried and then ground into a fine powder. 

Multiple studies have uncovered the adaptogenic properties of this plant (13). 

A 2019 study with 60 participants over 60 days compared the effects of ashwagandha against a placebo for reducing anxiety (14). 

It found the group given ashwagandha experienced a greater reduction in the following compared to the placebo group: 

• Anxiety score 

• Depression score 

• Cortisol levels 

Further backing up ashwagandha’s anti-anxiety claims, this 2014 meta-analysis which looked at 5 trials found greater reduction in anxiety for the groups who used ashwagandha compared to the placebo groups! (15) 

Why you should avoid the world’s most popular drug if you’re suffering with anxiety.

You may be surprised to know that the world’s most popular drug is completely legal. We could bet our life-savings that you will come across it at least once a day.

So what is it that we’re talking about? Coffee! 

You may be one of the many people across the world who can’t go a day without this hot drink. However you should consider whether drinking coffee may in fact be causing more harm to you than good. Coffee contains caffeine, which creates its well sough after effect: alertness. One way it does this is by blocking a molecule called adenosine which tells your brain how tired you are. Plus it also jacks up your nervous system, producing physical symptoms like: • Elevated heart rate • Clamminess • Altered bowel habits So if you are drinking coffee regularly and are struggling to manage your anxiety, consider whether taking a break from it may benefit you. Remember there’s always the option of decaf coffee too! 

Sources

References

  1. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/ statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29093983/ 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507250/
  4. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h4
  5. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15650-magnesium-rich-food
  6. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41579-020-00460-0
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166432814004768
  8. https://medium.com/feed-your-brain/how-fermented-foods-calm-the-mind- 38dfec1ab87d
  9. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-fermented-foods#3.-Natto
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032717327131
  12. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.606124/full 1
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29168225/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6750292/
  15. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/acm.2014.0177 

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