Stress is a big deal. It’s no trivial state of mind. The long-term effects of chronic stress seem limitless, causing widespread inflammation, chronic pain, weight problems, increased blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and so much more. With more research underway, it’s even been suggested that inflammation could be the cause of certain diseases and not the result. Our bodies simply can’t cope with persistent high levels of stress and this can sometimes be fatal to our health.
Cortisol is THE stress hormone, but it hasn’t really evolved with the times. We synthesise cortisol in stressful moments. This was super helpful thousands of years ago when we came face to face with predators in life-or-death situations. It’s part of our innate fight or flight response.
In such critical moments our bodies need to maintain blood pressure, temporarily reduce non-essential functions and provide the body with some form of internally generated energy. Cortisol in this way is a big lifesaver that carries out all these activities, but the price we pay for this is that it is strongly catabolic. It means that during stress we use a different source of energy, which comes from the breakdown of essential tissue such as our immune system cells, bone, muscle and even skin. In short-term, this isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s essential in times of temporary panic or fear.
Today however, most of us aren’t facing any imminent threat, such as a big bad wolf, but more and more of us are feeling the effects of prolonged emotional stress. Long term, this isn’t good news. The breakdown of essential tissue, which was once essential to our survival, turns destructive. This can lead to inflammation and a severe decrease in bone density causing all sorts of musculoskeletal conditions. It can compromise immune function, and even perhaps fertility.
There is no quick solution or happy pill, but stress shouldn’t be ignored. Coping and managing stress requires whole body healing and lifestyle change. One of the best ways to reduce stress, inflammation and chronic pain lies not in your medicine cabinet but inside your fridge!
Nothing soothes the soul quite like a steaming hot cuppa. Green tea leaves are famous for preventing oxidative damage to your cells and reducing inflammation. It also seems successful in relieving flare-ups associated with Irritable Bowel Diseases like Crohn’s.
Few spices have gained as much attention as Turmeric recently. This ancient Indian spice holds powerful anti-inflammatory properties. In Ayuverdic medicine it is believed to kindle digestive fire and eliminate toxins. The best way to add this into your diet is in its raw form – the root. Grate the root into a curry or even sip it in a homemade brew by adding a little pepper and honey to sweeten the taste. It has been suggested that you need both a fat and pepper to help in the absorption process, so do bare this in mind when cooking!
The benefits of turmeric aren’t limited to its anti-inflammatory properties though. It possesses other far-reaching powers that support the body holistically.
Dark chocolate & sugar
As a general rule of thumb, sugar is a definite no go in any clean-eating nutritional program and especially those designed to fight inflammation. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is a great trade-off for every sweet tooth. It’s delicious, rich and surprisingly good for you in small doses. This isn’t an excuse to eat a whole bar of chocolate in one sitting. It’s packed with anti-oxidants that help combat inflammation. When choosing your chocolate, aim for anything higher that 70% cacao to really reap the benefits.
Fatty fish are a great source of protein, Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. It’s suggested that these fishy fatty acids encourage good skeletal health and could have an influence over a variety of diseases including: osteoporosis, cancer, asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Omega 3 won’t cure cancer but all these diseases do have a common culprit – widespread inflammation.
Fish is a bit like Marmite, it seems people either love it or they hate it. If you can’t see yourself getting sufficient amounts of fish in your diet then do consider supplementing as this a great way to meet the RDA – recommended dietary allowance.
Many nuts and seeds are high in alpha linoleic acid (ALA), another type of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid. Some of the best nuts, which help reduce inflammation, include walnuts, pecans and pistachios. Aim for one or two tablespoons of raw, unsalted nuts per day.
The bodily effects of chronic stress are really detrimental to our health. Following an anti-inflammatory diet is a big step in the right direction, but to really crack-down on stress requires a whole-body approach. This means leading a healthy lifestyle by improving our response to stressful moments with mindfulness, getting restful sleep, exercising consistently, practising clean eating and caring for our bodies daily.