Check out this little article, featured in The Ontarion, that focuses on the detrimental effects stress can have on your body from a nutritional point of view. Let’s all take a breather!
Simmer Down, Stress!
Stress is as common, or perhaps even more, as sleep deprivation during busy times of year – whether it be midterms for some, late nights at work for others, the way we deal with stress can have a major impact on the way our body functions on a day to day basis. When the hours of rest per night are becoming significantly less and less, your systems will respond to this in a much more serious way than you may imagine. The insufficient recovery time which you are granting your body will contribute profoundly to the way your brain responds to simple, everyday tasks. While it may be challenging to schedule in more time to rest, modifications in your diet will allow you to avoid your biological mechanisms from being unable to efficaciously adjust to the changes in homeostasis.
As your body is undergoing stress, several reactions are taking place. Firstly, stress can deplete valuable B vitamins. When tasks are overwhelming and late nights become the constant, coffee seems like the best company at 2 A.M. This, however, may not a good choice after all. The caffeine loaded coffee is a diuretic, meaning that these water soluble B vitamins are more easily exhausted. Vitamin B 6 is incredibly important – it helps lower stress levels in your body by assisting in the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. A diet including spinach, baked potatoes (skin included) and broccoli ensures that your body is stocked up on the “stress vitamins” that form red blood cells and uphold a healthy nervous system.
One important mineral that is great for allowing your muscles to relax, thus resulting in an overall more at ease body, is magnesium. This macromineral aids in the prevention of overexcited nerves, and functions to help maintain a healthy blood pressure. Temporary spikes in blood pressure are common in high stress situations, so obtaining your daily dose of magnesium is essential in order to keep this under control. A lack of magnesium will cause the muscles to send a signal to the brain, which will then result in muscle contractions. This can lead to a tense body, muscle spasms and difficulty relaxing your psychological sate. Get your daily dose of magnesium by snacking on foods such as pumpkin seeds, swiss chard or grinding some flax-seed on your morning cereal.
Finally, your immune system suffers when you are undergoing stress. Doesn’t it always seem as if that cold has been patiently waiting to attack until an opportunity arises during which we can least afford to be sick? Maybe this is all triggered by a lack of sleep, or perhaps changes in diet due to less time to plan healthy meals. “A healthy well-balanced diet with snacks and meals throughout the day (i.e. don’t skip meals, especially breakfast and avoid snacking on high sugar/fat/calorie foods and drinks) are vital to good health” explains Dr. Lindsay Robinson, Associate Professor of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph. Stress increases the levels of cortisol in your blood, in attempts to raise blood sugar through the process of gluconeogenesis to allow more energy to be supplied to your cells. Cortisol triggers excessive gluconeogenesis,which results in high blood glucose levels, even during times in which the body is fasting. In addition, insulin is counteracted by cortisol – this means that these elevated levels may eventually lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, given they are constant and uncontrolled. Further, high levels of cortisol also lower your immunity. It is believed that the prevention of type 2 diabetes is based up to 60% on lifestyle, and physical activity is an excellent prevention tool. The prevention of many illnesses and diseases, and of course, reducing stress as well can be achieved by “ regular physical activity [such as to take] a study break and go for a brisk walk or jog”, says Robinson.
It is important to remember, during this hectic time of year, that what you chose to nourish your body with will in the end also reflect your mental well being. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or yoga, can help manage stress. Keep in mind that short study breaks with spurts of physical activity will not only refresh your mind, but are also productive means of procrastination! So now as you get back to hitting the books, snack on some brain food and take that much deserved revitalizing break when you have reached the point of muddled thinking.
Robinson, L. (2012, February 27). Interview by S. Woerthle [Personal Interview].
Scott, E. (2011). Stress and health: How stress affects your body, and how you can stay healthier. About.com guide, Retrieved from http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/stresshealth.htm
Bowen, R. A., Austgen, L., & Rouge, M. (2006). Glucocorticoids. Unpublished raw data, Retrieved from http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/endocrine/adrenal/gluco.html