Q. Dear Naomi, I am under a great deal of stress at work at the moment, and I feel that my health is really suffering as a result. I work very long days and often get to about 3pm before even eating a proper meal. Before this time I rely on coffee and biscuits to get me through. I know that my diet needs an overhaul, but don't really know where to start. What would you suggest? Belinda
A. Dear Belinda, Stress can have a very powerful effect on both our mental and physical health. It's really important that you have identified this, as left untreated stress can lead to a whole host of health issues. Our body's response to stress is regulated by our adrenal glands which are located just on top of the kidneys. These glands release what are known as our 'stress hormones' which help our body to deal with the external stresses we encounter on a daily basis. When we are under chronic stress, such as that you are currently experiencing, these glands can become overworked. Some of the long-term consequences of this may include:
- Weight gain - especially around the middle
- Low immunity - making us more susceptible to illnesses
- High blood pressure - putting us at increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Reduced serotonin levels - that can impact on both mood and sleep
- Nutritional deficiencies - such as vitamin C, B vitamin and magnesium deficiency
Stress is not something to be ignored.
So, to support our body through times of stress the best thing we can do is support our adrenal glands. How can we do this?
1) Regular eating - skipping meals and going for long periods of time without eating puts intense pressure on the adrenal glands. Caffeine puts a further strain on the adrenals by causing them to become over- stimulated. So, missed meal + coffee = the worst possible combination for your adrenals.
2) Breakfast - to support your adrenals you need to ensure that you are having breakfast every day, ideally within an hour of getting up. Something really quick and easy to do is a breakfast smoothie (make the night before if more convenient) - combine berries, banana, oats, almond milk and ground flaxseeds in a blender.
3) Ensure a good source of protein (found in lean meat, fish, nuts, eggs, beans, and seeds) is included with every meal and snack. Protein helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels. And stable blood sugar = happy adrenals. For this same reason:
4) Avoid highly refined and sugary foods - such as white bread/ pasta/ rice, biscuits, chocolate and anything with added sugar. Swap your 4pm biscuit for a handful of raw nuts!
5) Nourish your adrenals with vitamin C. 80% of the vitamin C used in your body is used by your adrenal glands Excessive stress depletes your vitamin C stores and can lead to allergies, poor wound healing, and increased susceptibility to colds and illness. Take a vitamin C supplement, and get it through food by eating plenty of green leafy vegetables, berries, citrus fruits and parsley.
6) Swap your coffee for green tea- it still has some caffeine in it, but it also contains the amino acid theanine which has calming and relaxing properties. Liquorice tea is also fantastic for adrenal support.
I will expand upon these tips tomorrow when I look at how we can support our body through times of stress in much more detail.