1.Stress and adrenal fatigue
The adrenal glands are two walnut-sized organs that sit on top of the kidneys. They are the glands most involved in the stress response and they release cortisol (amongst other chemical messengers), which is our main stress hormone. If you are exhausted, craving sugar, having difficult sleeping, gaining weight or have high blood sugar (amongst a wide range of other symptoms)… it’s possible that your adrenals need support.
Cortisol helps to prepare the body for survival in stressful situations, metabolise carbohydrates, protein and fats for energy, slow the immune system’s inflammatory response, regulate blood sugar and helps maintain your cardiovascular health and blood pressure.
When our cortisol levels are either too high or too low for an extended period, both extremes can result in significant health issues over time.
Our bodies are not designed for cortisol levels to remain high after the threat/stressor no longer exists – we were designed to respond effectively to stress and then have periods of rest in between. Unfortunately, our lives are so full of stressors that we are often no longer having that time of rest.
Although one of the natural functions of cortisol is to reduce inflammation in the body, problems occur if our cortisol remains elevated for too long – so high levels of cortisol can be linked with on-going inflammation and this can be the starting point of many chronic diseases including diabetes and cancer.
In some instances the stress can be so great that the immune inflammatory response is permanently on at a low level – equally it can be turned off. Both positions lay us open to a range of autoimmune conditions such as: rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue and multiple sclerosis.
Adequate hydration, a diverse diet (which includes the necessary vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids), regular, moderate exercise, deep restorative sleep, introspective practices such as meditation, self-hypnosis, relaxation and creative visualisation are all essential to maintain homeostasis in the body… and maintain a calm and creative mind.
2. Is depression an inflammatory disease?
Emerging research suggests that people who have been diagnosed with clinical depression have a 30% increase in inflammation. Such research further suggests that the immune system and in particular inflammation in the brain – is an important contributor to the physiology of depression.
So what is inflammation? Whenever the immune system is attacked by infections (viruses or bacteria), toxins or other pathogens or physical injury it creates an inflammatory response, sending out messengers known as cytokines, which are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.
Cytokines are chemical messengers (i.e. similar to hormones) made by immune cells (and certain other cells) and are released in every single inflammatory process. When they are released into the blood, cytokines can affect the function of every tissue and organ in the body, including the brain.
So while acute or short-term inflammation is a protective feature of the immune system, chronic or long-term inflammation can cause simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissues, potentially wreaking havoc on the body in the long-term.
So the latest research is suggesting that on top of inflammation being linked to chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes, it could also play a major role in the onset and maintenance of depression. Indeed, many now consider depression to be a symptom of chronic inflammation.
Research suggests that there is also a clear biological link between the release of cytokines and depressive symptoms.
What is the antidote?
One of the primary routes of defence against chronic inflammation is to reduce stress and support the immune system in order that it effectively ‘sees off’ pathogens and turns off the inflammatory response appropriately to avoid chronic inflammation.
1. Adequate hydration is essential.
2. A diverse, ‘whole food’, alkaline diet, a rainbow diet, low in processed foods, refined sugars and ‘bad’ fats such as trans fats.
3. Chew! Allowing large particles of undigested food to enter the blood stream increases the pressure on the immune system, which considers such particles to be pathogens and its energy is diverted from ‘real’ pathogens to dealing with these intruders. The act of chewing is what gives you the greatest control over how your body functions.
4. Soups, stews, smoothies and salads will go a long way to meeting the nutritional needs of the body whilst also assisting digestion.
5. Beta glucans – these are the building blocks of the immune system and assist it in its essential role of protecting us from pathogens. Foods rich in beta glucans include: mushrooms, seaweed, oats, barley, baker’s/brewer’s yeast etc. It may be worth taking a specific supplement, which contains beta glucans to ensure you’re getting enough for your needs.
6. Actively practise relaxation, deep breathing, positive thinking. Take up tai chi, meditation or mindfulness. Also find things that make you laugh! Laughter is good for the soul and your immunity.
3. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to normalise your insulin level and lower your risk of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is commonly the underpinning factor of virtually all chronic disease, as it promotes chronic inflammation and speeds up your body’s aging processes.
During exercise, your body burns glycogen, a form of glucose that is stored in your muscles. After exercise, your muscles replenish their glycogen stores with glucose from the bloodstream.
The more glycogen that is burned during a bout of activity, the longer the body’s insulin sensitivity is improved.
Being of a healthy weight and exercising regularly creates a positive feedback loop that helps maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels through optimisation of insulin receptor sensitivity.
So regular exercise induces an anti-inflammatory response offering protection against chronic metabolic and cardio-respiratory diseases, such as atherosclerosis and insulin resistance.
However, it’s important to note that an unhealthy diet of both mind and body can sabotage these beneficial effects. Also beware of too much exercise… because this can cancel out these benefits.
4. The ‘sunshine vitamin’ and vitamin D in foods
In Bodywise 2 we talked about vitamin D and its role in mental health but of course it also has a vital role to play in supporting our physical health as well.
Vitamin D is commonly known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ as sunlight is necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D and those who are not exposed enough to sunlight are at high risk of deficiency.
Vitamin D is not found in abundance naturally in foods. The best sources are oily fish (such as: salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines) followed by milk, eggs, beef, liver and Swiss cheese. However, even if you consume a lot of these foods this may not adequately bridge the deficiency gap. So for some, supplementation may be a necessary route if your lifestyle can’t promise sufficient sunshine or dietary intake of this essential vitamin.
Vitamin D contributes to the normal absorption/utilisation of calcium and phosphorus and to normal blood calcium levels.
It contributes to the maintenance of normal bones and teeth and normal muscle function – it is vital for normal growth and development of bone in children.
It also contributes to the normal function of the immune system and has a role in the process of cell division.
Naturally we all have to be mindful about avoiding too much sunshine as there are serious long-term skin cancer health risks associated with over exposure – and sun blocks will affect the synthesis of vitamin D in our bodies – so striking a balance is critical.
5. High blood pressure – preventative strategies
Being diagnosed with high blood pressure is becoming more and more common and there is a sense that as we approach the latter part of middle age it is almost to be expected and yet it does not have to be an inevitable consequence of the aging process.
How we live our lives has a significant role to play in the management of our health generally and this includes our BP.
Epigenetics shows us that though we all have our unique set of genetic propensities for particular conditions, there are many ways in which we can influence the course of our health journey.
There may be several factors that increase blood pressure, including: dehydration, smoking, stress, insufficient exercise, nutritional imbalances, a high-salt diet and being overweight.
High blood pressure is one of the consequences of an ‘adaptive process’ undertaken by the body in response to dehydration. Blood volume decreases as water in the body decreases and in response the body closes down some capillary beds in order to keep other blood vessels full.
Resistance to blood flow results and only an increase in pressure behind the circulating blood will ensure the passage of fluids through the system. This increased pressure is referred to as hypertension. Where there is not free-flowing movement of essential fluids in the body, increased tension will result.
In addition, where there is dehydration the body holds onto sodium (salt) in an effort to retain water.
The very delicate balance between water inside our cells and water held around the cells is regulated by salt (the electrolytes). Hypertension or high blood pressure is often treated with diuretics (medication which makes the body expel water) to reduce salt levels as it is widely accepted that salt is a causal factor in high blood pressure. However, in many cases it is water, which is needed to restore the balance.
1. In order to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level, try to keep to your optimal bodyweight and if you can, exercise for 30 minutes, three to four times a week. Avoid smoking.
2. Adopt a diet that is high in fresh vegetables and fruit. Variety and diversity are critical. A good way to ensure diversity is through colour, a ‘rainbow’ diet. The more colour variation we have on our plates the greater the variety of nutrients we are likely to be eating.
3. Research has shown that flax seed proteins and essential fatty acids generally may be useful for maintaining normal blood pressure. Try to include one or two tablespoons of cold milled flax seeds in your diet each day. A good quality supplement is another way to get omega 3 if you do not like fish or you are vegetarian/vegan.
4. Keep your diet low in saturated fats, which are found in animal foods such as red meat, dairy produce and fried foods; as these have been linked to heart disease. If our blood vessels are becoming clogged with plaque then our BP will increase and our hearts will have to work harder as a consequence.
5. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they often have a negative impact on stress levels and this, in turn, may increase blood pressure.
6. Magnesium assists with the release of contracted muscles and may be of use for relaxing the artery wall muscles and maintaining normal blood pressure.
7. Garlic and co-enzyme Q10 have also been shown to help support healthy blood pressure levels and all round heart health.
6. A sedentary lifestyle
Sedentary behaviour science is an emerging body of information still in its infancy… however, the evidence to date is compelling.
A variety of studies warn that sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of developing several serious illnesses. Prolonged periods of inactivity increase our risk of obesity, but they also contribute to a staggering list of other conditions. This includes: heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, muscular and back issues, brittle bones, depression and even dementia.
The World Health Organisation has already identified physical inactivity as the fourth biggest killer on the planet, ahead of obesity.
An active lifestyle relieves stress, improves mental health and wellbeing. Exercise boosts natural feel good hormones and neurotransmitters associated with mood control, including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and GABA – all of which create feelings of happiness and euphoria.
Exercise also increases concentrations of noradrenaline, a chemical that moderates the brain’s response to stress.
CoQ10 is a fat-soluble compound synthesised within all body tissues and is concerned with energy production through the mitochondrial pathways. It is a critical component in every single cell in the body, responsible for the igniting and release of energy within the cell.
CoQ10 is found in small quantities in foods such as red meats, red organ meat and fish; it is also found in soy oil and canola and (in lower levels) most fruit and vegetables.
As our production of CoQ10 decreases as we age and the need for it increases as our organs and systems wear over time, it may be beneficial to supplement it. For those who are over 50, Ubiquinol and Ubiquinone are forms of CoQ10 that are more bioavailable and are therefore better choices for supplementation.
In addition, CoQ10 is an effective antioxidant and protects cardiovascular health. There are those who would argue that taking sufficient amounts of CoQ10 can negate the need for statins but for those who may wish to take this route we would not recommend you doing so without discussing it with your health practitioner.
If you’re already on a statin medication, it is highly recommended that you take CoQ10. Not only do statins impede cholesterol production, they also hinder your body’s production of CoQ10. That’s why many people end up with muscle aches and weakness while taking statins.
Statins can also contribute to memory loss and a host of other health issues. If you are taking statins it would be advisable to take at least 200 mg of a highly-absorbable CoQ10. The two best options are Ubiquinol and Ubiquinone.
8. Time Restricted Feeding/Fasting and the Microbiome
Scientific research is linking increasing numbers of health conditions to the microbiome – or more accurately any deficiencies or imbalances within it.
The microbiome is the vast array of microorganisms that live in the gut that protect us against germs, break down food to release energy and produce vitamins.
A well-stocked and balanced microbiome supports our immune function and so when it is out of balance or deficient because of for example an overuse of antibiotics or excessive stress, an array of health conditions can be the result – autoimmune conditions, mood swings and other mental health issues, skin conditions, heart health issues, digestive health problems and many more.
Research is suggesting that it is not just what you eat that influences the bacterial diversity of your ‘microbiome’, but also when you eat and how you eat.
Time restricted feeding/fasting or TRF means restricting your eating to a 12 hour window each day – this is said to have a positive effect on the bacterial diversity of your microbiome and can help you to lose weight and maintain good overall health.
It is being claimed that fasting can also have a positive impact on reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The reason for this is the body is not being taxed. For optimum health we need a balance between activity and inactivity. In other words, periods free of energy expenditure are crucial to living a fully functional life.
It’s worth repeating that applying the TRF principle without thorough chewing will negate any potential benefits. Chewing is arguably the most important thing you can do to ensure you extract the full nutritional value from your food and help your body remove unwanted waste.
9. Health benefits of (raw) nuts
Brazil nuts: Brazils are a good source of the mineral selenium, which we need to produce the active thyroid hormone – it also supports immunity and helps wounds to heal. You only need three or four Brazil nuts a day to get all the selenium you require.
Cashews: An excellent choice for vegetarians/vegans because cashews contribute a good level of protein and are a useful source of minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium (which is considered to help with age-related memory loss).
Macadamias: Macadamias are a rich source of fibre and make a useful contribution of minerals including magnesium, calcium and potassium. They are high in fat supplying good levels of the healthy mono-unsaturated fats.
Hazelnuts: Hazelnuts are a good choice if you’re concerned about high levels of homocysteine (an amino acid, which has been associated with heart problems as well as conditions like Parkinsons). Hazelnuts are a good source of folate, which plays a key role in keeping homocysteine within normal levels.
Walnuts: Walnuts are a good source of mono-unsaturated, heart-friendly fats, and studies show they help to lower the bad form of cholesterol (LDL). They’re rich in omega-3, so they’re a great alternative if you don’t eat oily fish. Their substantial antioxidant content means walnuts have become useful in the fight against cancer.
Almonds: Almonds are calcium rich and a good choice to ensure you’re getting enough of this bone-building mineral. They are also high in vitamin E, so important for skin health. The skin of an almond is full of heart-protecting compounds called flavonoids.
Pecans: Pecans are also antioxidant-rich which helps prevent the plaque formation that causes hardening of the arteries. This means they are heart-friendly – they are also packed with plant sterols, valuable compounds that are effective at lowering cholesterol levels. They’re rich in oleic acid, the healthy fat found in olives and avocado.
Pistachios: Pistachios are rich in B6 (particularly important in hormone health and balance) and they also are the only nut to contain reasonable levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that play an important role in protecting the health of the eyes. Pistachios also contain potassium and fibre.
Chestnuts: Chestnuts are lower in protein, fat and calories than the other nuts and in their raw form are a good source of vitamin C and B vitamins including B6. Ground chestnut flour can be used as a gluten-free flour for cakes and bakes.
10. Nutrigenomics – where nutrition meets genetics
As we stated in Body-wise 2, we all have a slightly different genetic makeup – in this regard we are all unique. And so it follows that we will all respond differently to the nutrients that we put into the body. These variations in response may be minute or very pronounced but these gene variations mean that our susceptibility to different diseases is also part of our unique profile – and can make certain dietary changes dramatically more important for one person than another.
The application of the findings of Nutrigenomics is therefore destined to be part of the future for pro-active, personalised, predictive and preventative healthcare.
Two people may have the same early warning signs of a particular disease, such as high cholesterol, osteoporosis or high blood pressure markers – but choosing the best course of action for them could depend, partly, on their individual genetic variations, diet, their personality, lifestyle and their stress profile. The best therapeutic strategies would consider all of these factors.