Category Archives: stress

stress

International Stress Awareness Day – Relieving Stress Naturally

Natural Stress Relief

November 1st is International Stress Awareness Day, a campaign aimed at highlighting the importance of stress management and ending the stigma associated with mental health.

Stress is one of the most common illnesses in the UK, costing the country an estimated £10 billion each year. The first signs of stress are usually sleep difficulties, low energy, tense muscles and digestive problems. Long term stress has been linked to a wide range of serious diseases including heart disease, obesity, depression and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

Modern lifestyles often mean that stress is unavoidable. Tight work deadlines, juggling work life and family life and financial pressures all increase stress levels. While many of these pressures are unavoidable, it is important to be able to manage our response to stress effectively.

Taking early steps to support your physical and mental wellbeing can prevent stress from becoming a more serious and long term problem. Below are three of the most effective ways to beat stress naturally.

Balance Your Blood Sugar

Stress can cause blood sugar swings because stress hormones create signals to raise blood sugar. This can result in a vicious cycle, leading to poorly controlled blood sugar peaks and dips, sugar cravings, poor energy levels and sleep difficulties.

For this reason, eating in a way that helps manage your blood sugar levels is crucial. Eating a protein-rich breakfast and reducing sugar and caffeine will help to eliminate extreme blood sugar fluctuations.

Also try to base your main meals around blood sugar stabilising whole foods that are rich in soluble fibre, protein and essential fatty acids. These include foods such as oats and barley, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, vegetables, berries, natural yoghurt and oily fish.

Work Out to Wind Down

It is well known that exercise reduces stress. Studies show that those who exercise suffer from less depression and anxiety (1,2). For those too tired to exercise, it may be worth considering that exercise is also known to reduce levels of fatigue (3,4).

Exercise boosts the levels of certain brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which help to buffer the effects of stress. Exercise also increases the levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter with a potent calming effect on the mind and body. For a lower intensity workout, yoga has been found to be particularly effective in raising levels of stress-relieving GABA (5).

The mood-boosting effects of exercise are both immediate and long-term. Just one exercise session triggers the release of mood-boosting chemicals, while it is thought that in the long term the brain can actually be remodelled with a greater proportion of ‘calming’ neurons to defend against stress (6).

Stress Relieving Supplements

The adrenals, which sit on top of the kidneys, are the chief organs for dealing with stress, producing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Ongoing stress can make it hard for the adrenals to function properly, leading to unhealthy levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. The result is symptoms such as sleep disruption, weight gain, anxiety disorders and fatigue. One way to protect against the effects of stress is to support the adrenal glands.

The health of the adrenals relies on two key vitamins for healthy function – vitamin C and vitamin B5. The adrenals need these vitamins to manufacture hormones. Studies have found that vitamin C and B5 supplementation lowers excessive cortisol levels and helps adults to feel less ‘stressed’ (7,8).

Another adrenal supportive nutrient is the mineral magnesium. Sometimes referred to as the ‘anti-stress mineral’, magnesium supports our adrenals and also improves quality of sleep. It increases GABA, a ‘calming’ brain chemical, and lowers levels of cortisol (9).

Medical herbalists often use adaptogens to help relieve stress. Adaptogens are believed to help the adrenal system regulate hormones and manage stress. For example, the adaptogen ashwagandha has been found to significantly lower cortisol levels in stressed individuals when taken over a period of 60 days (10). Other popular adaptogens include Siberian ginseng, rhodiola and maca.

References
1. Rethorst CD et al (2009) The antidepressive effects of exercise: a meta-analysis of randomized trials. Sports Med. 39(6):491-511.
2. Wipfli BM (2008) The anxiolytic effects of exercise: a meta-analysis of randomized trials and dose-response analysis. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 30(4):392-410.
3. Resnick et al (2006) Cross-sectional relationship of reported fatigue to obesity, diet, and physical activity: results from the third national health and nutrition examination survey. J Clin Sleep Med. 2(2):163-9.
4. Theorell-Haglöw J et al (2006) What are the important risk factors for daytime sleepiness and fatigue in women? Sleep.29(6):751-7.
5. Streeter CC et al (2010) Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study. J Altern Complement Med. 16(11): 1145–1152.
6. Schoenfeld et al . (2013) Physical exercise prevents stress-induced activation of granule neurons and enhances local inhibitory mechanisms in the dentate gyrus. J Neurosci 33(18):7770-7
7. Brody S et al (2002) A randomized controlled trial of high dose ascorbic acid for reduction of blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective responses to psychological stress. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 159(3):319-24.
8. Onuki M, Suzawa A. (2016) Effect of pantethine on the function of the adrenal cortex. 2. Clinical experience using pantethine in cases under steroid hormone treatment. 18:937-940. [Article in Japanese]
9. Möykkynen T et al Neuroreport. 2001 Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors. 12(10):2175-9.
10. K. Chandrasekhar et al (2012) A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 34(3): 255–262.

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Ease stress levels with Magnesium for restful nights this Sleeptember

September marks the start of a new school year. Typically at this time of year our lives become busier, the holiday period is over and work pressure builds as we head into the colder, darker months in the run up to Christmas.

A recent study by The Sleep Council found that 90% of people admit to suffering from some form of stress in their lives, with almost two out of five saying they are regularly, frequently or constantly stressed.

Not surprisingly three quarters say they have problems sleeping while stressed, with the catch 22 that almost a third say when they can’t sleep they get stressed, while just over a quarter say the best way to relieve stress is to have a good night’s sleep.

It is not always possible to remove stress from our daily lives, but transdermal magnesium can help you to relax and increase the body’s ability to cope with stress.

Magnesium is a natural relaxant, but stress can greatly increase magnesium loss.

This can be a vicious circle, as our body needs magnesium to maintain a state of rest, but a lack of the mineral in our Western diets means many of us do not get the levels we need.

When magnesium levels are low, the nervous system gets out of balance, and we feel increasingly anxious, with our muscles naturally tightening. Magnesium deficiency promotes excessive muscle tension, leading to muscle spasms, tics, restlessness, and twitches. Studies also suggest that magnesium deficiency may also be one of the causes of insomnia.

Andrew Thomas, founder and managing director at BetterYou, said: “The physical effects of stress, including high heart rate and blood pressure, tense muscles and fast and shallow breathing, can play havoc in our bodies. Sleep helps to slow these effects and encourage a state of relaxation.

“Our body needs magnesium to maintain a state of rest, but a lack of the mineral in our low magnesium Western diets means that we are not getting the levels we need. Magnesium levels are difficult to rectify via traditional tablets, as our body benefits most from small regular amounts rather than a large single dose.”

A pilot study by Watkins & Josling (2010) found that magnesium levels increased with BetterYou Magnesium Oil an estimated five times quicker compared with oral supplementation.

Following this, a clinical trial by Cardiff University (2011), highlighted how well magnesium is absorbed through the skin. BetterYou’s range of magnesium products, including oil sprays and flakes, are absorbed faster than capsules and tablets; delivering magnesium directly into the skin tissue and entering cells immediately.

References

Stressember: The worry starts here
Opinion matters surveyed 2035 UK Adults on behalf of The Sleep Council
http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/2014/08/stresstember-the-worry-starts-here/

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Festive Digestive: Eat, drink and be merry this festive season

Did you spend last Christmas with a queasy, acid, bloated and uncomfortable stomach?

The combination of family events, rich foods, alcohol and late nights can be stressful and normal stomach enzyme secretion can be impaired by the influence of stress hormones. Avoid the misery of acid indigestion by taking a high potency Digestive Aid with a powerful combination of enzymes to aid digestion. Certain enzymes aid in the breakdown of fats, proteins and carbohydrates ensuring your digestion is at peak performance, working hard when you are playing hard.

Help restore your gut balance of good bacteria. Probiotic formulas add a combination of good bacteria to aid digestion and boost immunity. Perfect to aid recovery from the festive season’s culinary excesses.

Provided you have enough of the health-promoting bacteria, they act as your first line of defence against unfriendly bacteria and other disease-producing microbes including viruses and fungi. The good bacteria make some vitamins and digest fibre, allowing you to derive more nutrients from otherwise indigestible food, and also help promote a healthy digestive environment.

Keep your New Year’s Resolution this year with a few helpful tips from Viridian Nutrition:

Untitled-2
Higher levels of vitamin B5 can help support energy levels
  • Don’t think of yourself, think about your poor old dog! A stroll with the dog for half an hour can make a big difference after a few weeks to both your physical and emotional fitness and will cheer the dog up too. Wrap up warm and enjoy the simple and loving company of your furry friend. If you don’t have a dog, offer to walk a neighbour’s.
  • Big meat eater? Try one day a week without meat and see how your energy levels and digestion improve.
  • Veggie or vegan? Top up with B12. Vitamin B12 can contribute to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue and also supports immune function.
  • Feeling under-the-weather? Choose a multivitamin & mineral like High Five Multivitamin and Mineral Formula from Viridian Nutrition. The higher levels of vitamin B5 can help support energy levels, normal mental performance and boost overall vitality.

Emotional Health

  • Help others. There is no better pick-you-up than helping others. Volunteer, be a good listener or write letters to friends to bring them cheer.
  • It can be hard to keep your spirits up in the dark winter months, try some extra vitamin D. Vitamin D has been the subject of a wealth of research studies and has been shown to contribute to the normal function of the immune system as well as essential in the health of bones, muscles and teeth. Sometimes called the Sunshine Vitamin, we often miss it most in the winter months.
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Back to the Daily Grind. Can diet and supplements relieve the pressure?

I recently offered some nutrition tips for kids as they prepare for the new academic year. However, September is not only ‘back to school’ for kids, but it can also mean ‘back to the daily grind’ for busy parents and teachers too. The return to work after a summer break can be quite stressful for many. Fortunately a few nutritional strategies may help to cushion the blow.

A recent Health and Safety Executive report states that stress is one of the most common types of work-related illness, with teachers, healthcare workers and social workers most commonly affected (1).

There are in fact numerous nutritional strategies that can help support stressed workers. For example, choosing foods and adopting eating patterns to keep blood sugar levels stable can help to manage mood and anxiety levels. Below is a quick guide to some of the most effective nutritional strategies for dealing with work-related stress.

Healthy Snack
Healthy Snacks such as fruit and nuts can help maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Foods to include:
Including protein with each meal will go a long way towards helping your body cope with the demands of work stresses. In fact, starting your day with a protein-rich breakfast such as eggs or yoghurt can actually help control your blood sugar levels for the rest of the day, helping to keep you mood and energy levels more stable.

Keeping healthy snacks at hand – fruit, nuts or even protein shakes are easy to store at the office – will also help to manage your blood sugar levels as well as providing nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C which are in great demand at times of stress.

Finally, keep hydrated with plenty of water, herbal teas and decaffeinated teas throughout the day. Dehydration can affect mood and concentration, making it more difficult to cope with the everyday demands of the office.

Foods to avoid:
Alcohol is used by many as a stress reliever, and a couple of glasses of wine in the evening seems harmless enough after a hard day at work. Unfortunately, alcohol can in fact deplete levels of vitamins and minerals that are needed in times of stress, and over time it alters levels of stress hormones such as cortisol (2).

Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause irritability. Many office workers habitually turn to caffeine for a mid-afternoon boost when energy is flagging. Unfortunately stimulants such as caffeine place additional pressure on the adrenal glands, important bodily organs which we rely on in times of stress.

Sugar can impair the function of out ‘stress buffers’, the adrenal glands. Eating sugary foods means that the adrenals must work harder to keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Nutrients for stress: B, C and Omega-3
Nutritional therapists often recommend B Vitamins alongside Vitamin C in order to help the body to cope with stress. In fact a recent study has found that a simple B Vitamin supplement may provide welcome relief to stressed workers (3).

The study was a double-blind, placebo controlled trial. To determine whether a high dose B vitamin supplement could improve mood and psychological wellbeing linked with chronic work stress, researchers supplemented 60 men and women with a high dose B Vitamin or placebo for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, those who had taken the B Vitamins reported significantly lower levels of stress symptoms such as depressed mood, confusion and personal strain.

The B vitamins are needed in higher amounts when the body is under stress, as the adrenal glands require these nutrients to function effectively. B vitamins are also involved in the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and acetylcholine which help to ward off feelings of anxiety.

A recent review of functional foods in the management of psychological stress concluded that the most promising nutritional intervention in relieving stress is high dose Vitamin C with omega-3 fish oils (4). Well-controlled human trials have found that high dose sustained-release vitamin C can lower the effect of stress on blood pressure and improve recovery time after stressful periods (5). Omega-3 supplementation has also been found in several human studies to lower the stress response and decrease levels of stress hormones (6,7).

Many of us have suffered with work-related stress at one time or another, and this type of ongoing stress has a serious effect on wellbeing and quality of life. Returning to long days at the office after the summer holidays can be a daunting prospect for the best of us. Choosing the correct nutrition might just help make that transition a little easier.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References
1. HSE (2011) Stress and Psychological Disorders. www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/index.htm

2. Badrick et al (2008) The Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Cortisol Secretion in an Aging Cohort. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 March; 93(3): 750–757.

3. Stough C et al (2011) The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress. Hum Psychopharmacol 26:7 470-476

4.Hamer et al (2005) The role of functional foods in the psychobiology of health and disease. Nutr Res Rev 18, 77–88.

5. Brody et al (2002) A randomized controlled trial of high dose ascorbic acid for reduction of blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective responses to psychological stress. Psychopharmacology 159, 319–324.

5. Sawazaki et al (1999) The effect of docosahexaenoic acid on plasma catecholamine concentrations and glucose tolerance during long-lasting psychological stress: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo) 45, 655–665.

7. Delarue et al (2003) Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited
by mental stress in healthy men. Diab & Metab 29,289–295.

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How Oxygen can help…

Oxygen – the natural energy provider

We’ve all heard the expression to “take a deep breath” when we’re stressed. We know that we yawn when we’re tired. And we all understand that we breathe harder when we exert ourselves.

In every case, it’s the body demanding more oxygen. Oxygen fuels our brain and our muscles and actually provides 90% of our nutritional energy.

Here are some interesting facts about oxygen:

  • Two thirds of the mass of the human body is oxygen
  • Oxygen concentration in our blood is around 60% to 70% – anything below 52% and life becomes extinct
  • Before the industrial revolution oxygen levels on the planet were as high as 38% – in some places now they are as low as 10%
  • Oxygen is colourless, odourless and tasteless. But as a liquid or solid, it’s pale blue
booost Oxygen
booost Oxygen can help when breathless at high altitude, during sports or due to pollution levels

Canned oxygen is becoming increasingly popular – celebrities like Simon Cowell and Lady Gaga are using it, and sports stars are increasingly incorporating oxygen into their training and nutrition plans, both to help peak performance and to aid recovery.

One way to think about oxygen is to imagine it like an energy drink – it really does give you that kind of boost, both mentally and physically. But the big benefit is that unlike most energy drinks, oxygen has no calories and no sugar in it, and you don’t suffer from a post caffeine “low” in the same way as you do with most concoctions.

bodykind has recently teamed up with British company booost Oxygen to offer their product to their customers. You can find booost on the bodykind website.

They recommend a few “shots” if you’re feeling tired or lethargic. For exercise, they suggest up to 5 beforehand, as many as are needed during the workout, and 5 more at the end during your recovery phase.

As well as booost focusing on the sports benefits of using oxygen, there are many other uses for canned oxygen:

  • There’s plenty of research that headache symptoms (particularly so called “cluster” headaches) can be relieved
  • Oxygen is well known as being helpful for hangover symptoms
  • People living in areas of high pollution may certainly benefit from breathing pure, clean oxygen
  • It’s helpful at altitude, so anybody visiting high places for skiing, snowboarding or hiking could use the product
  • Canned oxygen is no substitute for medically administered oxygen, but for scuba divers, when there is no alternative, puffing canned oxygen can help until any decompression symptoms are being properly treated
  • Although it can’t help with weight reduction, using it to keep you motivated whilst exercising could contribute to a weight loss programme

Written by the team at booost Oxygen

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Omega-3 supplements buffer the effect of mental stress

Mental stress is known to have a negative effect on heart health, and unmanaged stress is linked with increased blood pressure, an important predictor of heart disease. Managing mental stress can be a huge help to those looking to support their cardiovascular health. Of course this is often easier said than done. After all, stress is a part of everyday life and it cannot be eliminated entirely.

However, managing our physical reaction to mental stress may be one way to support heart health.

High EPA
Omega 3 supplements high in EPA can be good for mental stress and heart health

With this in mind, a team of researchers at Alleghany College in the US recently investigated the effects of an omega-3 supplement on the effect of mental stress in adults. The team gave a group of 43 college students either a daily omega-3 supplement or a daily placebo supplement for three weeks. They then measured blood pressure and heart rate of the students at rest and during a mental arithmetic task. The stress response to the maths test in the omega-3 group was found to be significantly lower than that of those in the placebo group.

The authors concluded that supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce cardiovascular reactivity to stress.
The study is preliminary and will hopefully encourage further research to clarify the role of omega-3 in cardiovascular health.

The supplement used in the study provided a daily dose of 1400mg omega-3 (1000mg EPA and 400mg DHA). This intake is fairly normal for adults living in countries such as Japan where fish, seafood and tofu are a major part of the diet. In the UK, however, the level of omega-3 in the diet is far lower and is estimated at an average of 244mg daily.

Options for increasing EPA and DHA intakes include use of fish oil supplements, increased consumption of fish or consumption of foods enriched with omega 3 such as omega-3 enriched eggs.

Those considering taking fish oil supplements should first check with their GP, especially if they are taking medications such as anticoagulants. Also, be sure to choose a good quality oil that has been screened for contaminants. Finally, if your fish oil supplement leaves you with a fishy aftertaste this is a sign that the oil has oxidised (‘gone off’). I tend to favour omega-3 oils that can be taken straight from the spoon, such as the Eskimo brand, so that I can be sure on tasting that it is a good quality, fresh oil.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References
Ginty AT, Conklin SM. Preliminary Evidence that Acute Long-Chain Omega-3 Supplementation Reduces Cardiovascular Reactivity to Mental Stress: A Randomized and Placebo Controlled Trial. Biol Psychol. 2012, Jan. 89(1):269-72.

 

 

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The Sun Chlorella guide to a healthy gut – Part 2

Continuing from Wednesday’s blog post on gut health, the team at Sun Chlorella follow on with the second part of their 10 point guide to the facts and fictions of gut health.

Sun Chlorella - The Ultimate Superfood
Sun Chlorella® ‘A’ is a natural green algae whole food supplement from Japan.

Sun Chlorella expert nutritionist Nadia Brydon, is on hand to separate the fact from the fiction when it comes to keeping your guts healthy.

“The most important thing when managing your digestion is to identify the causes and stop the patterns that lead to pain and discomfort.  Once you know how healthy your gut is you’ll be able to prevent any bloating.” says Nadia.

Don’t eat fruit – FICTION!

Candida overgrowth is a major cause of bloating and is essentially fermentation inside the gut.  Foods that encourage fermentation include sugar and that means sugar in fruit too.  However, not all fruit causes bloating.  Avoid citrus fruits but stock up on bananas, figs, blueberries, mango and papaya instead.

Supplements don’t work – FICTION!

If you are susceptible to bloating and trapped wind there are a number of effective and natural solutions.

Sun Chlorella® ‘A’ – a natural green algae whole food supplement from Japan – is Nadia’s number one choice for bloating as it contains a staggering range of nutrients including around 10% fibre, to help move food through the system more effectively.  Due to its special component – the Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF) – Sun Chlorella® ‘A’ re-stimulates the growth and repair of cells, including the growth of good bacteria (Lactobacilli) four-fold once it’s absorbed, which aids digestive health*.

Nadia explains, “Taking Sun Chlorella® ‘A’ on a daily basis helps to keep the gut healthy and happy by acting as an ‘intestinal broom’ and cleansing the bowel.  Chlorella has the highest known concentration of chlorophyll – the green pigment found in plants that converts water, air and sunlight into energy – and this helps to bind to any toxins in your intestines, preventing absorption and eliminating them as waste.”

Other options include activated charcoal – an age old remedy to help ease the feelings of trapped wind.  Peppermints or warming peppermint tea will ease digestion whilst fennel seed tea or chewing fennel seeds or dill seeds after a meal can also help prevent bloating.

Increase your fibre intake – FACT!

Diet is really important.  Avoid bread and any processed or low glycemic foods and try to eat fresh foods instead.  Cutting down your intake of foods which are low in fibre – and therefore ‘bind’ inside your gut – such as eggs, chocolate, red meat, cheese and processed foods will help reduce bloating too.  A supplement such as Sun Chlorella® ‘A’ also contains fibre which can help to move food through your system.

Sun Chlorella 'A'
“Taking Sun Chlorella® ‘A’ on a daily basis helps to keep the gut healthy and happy by acting as an ‘intestinal broom’ and cleansing the bowel.

Food mixing can lead to bloating – FACT!

Bloating can often be caused by the slowing down of digestion caused by mixing incompatible foods (such as protein and carbohydrates) at meal times – which have different digesting times.  Bread, along with lactose and gluten, is also high on the list of causative factors.

Stress can lead to gut discomfort – FACT!

Stress is a huge factor as it can cause tension in the body which in turn interrupts the digestion process.  Try to find time to unwind at the end of each day – simple breathing exercises, a relaxing bath or even meditation could help the body to de-stress.

* a recent review of research concluded that the potential of chlorella to relieve symptoms, improve quality of life and normalize body functions in patients suffering with ulcerative colitis (a long-term (chronic) condition affecting the colon and causing inflammation of the intestines), suggests that larger, more comprehensive clinical trials of chlorella are warranted; A Review of Recent Clinical Trials of the Nutritional Supplement Chlorella Pyrenoidosa in the Treatment of Fibromyalgia, Hypertension, and Ulcerative Colitis, Randall E Merchant, PhD, and Cynthia A. Andre, MSc

 

Written by Nadia Brydon

 

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Job stress associated with overweight and obesity

A few years ago I wrote two pieces related to work-based stress and bodyweight:

Is your work weighing heavy on your body?

Balanced diets may improve work energy and productivity levels

In these posts I described how stress hormones can affect appetite, inflammation in the body and bodyweight and how watching blood sugar levels could be helpful.  I also mentioned specific foods that can help to keep blood glucose levels stable as well as long chain omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines) and how these could be useful.

A recently published study (1) has found that chronic job stress, coupled with lack of physical activity, is strongly associated with being overweight or obese.  The study also found that exercise seemed to be highly important in managing stress and keeping a healthy weight. The study authors looked at workplace stress (job strain and job insecurity) and weight status in over 2,700 employees.  The authors conclude that workbased wellness programmes should target health enhancing behaviours to minimise the health effects of work conditions/work stress

Although the study took place in New York the results can be considered relevant to almost any job situation which is stressful and where redundancies are a concern.  In a press release (2) the lead study author, Diana Fernandez, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the URMC Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, said her study is among many that associate high job pressure with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, exhaustion, anxiety and weight gain. She also said that is was high time to improve corporate policies that better protect the health of workers “In a poor economy, companies should take care of the people who survive layoffs and end up staying in stressful jobs,” “It is important to focus on strengthening wellness programs to provide good nutrition, ways to deal with job demands, and more opportunities for physical activity that are built into the regular workday without penalty.

The study group heard from the participants that after a hard day of work, especially particularly stressful days with meetings and lots of computer time, that what workers looked forward to was to go home and do nothing in front of the TV.  Some of the workers that took part in the study also reported that they did not take time to eat well or to exercise at lunch time because they were worried about being seen to leave their desks for too long (2).  In interviews the employees confided to researchers that they were “stress eating” and burned out from “doing the work of five people,”(2).  Importantly more than 65% of the workers said that they watched two or more hours of television daily and among those who watched 2-3 hours 77% were more likely to be overweight or obese.  Those watching 4 or more hours of television increased their odds of obesity by 150% compared to those watching less than 2 hours daily.  Previous studies have linked TV time to overweight and obesity in adults as well as children.  The lead author said “We are not sure why TV is so closely associated with being overweight in our sample group of people,” “Other studies have shown that adults tend to eat more fatty foods while watching TV. But this requires more investigation.” (2).  It is probable that more high-calorie snack type foods are consumed in front of the TV.  It can be very easy to over-consume on snack foods such as crisps, biscuits, chocolates and processed convenience meals when sitting in front of the TV.

Stress at work can impact health behaviour in a direct and indirect way.  Stress is known to affect the neuroendocrine system – the brain-hormone system – which can have an impact on abdominal fat levels and can also be detrimental to sex hormones which can also impact weight.  Stress is also linked to the consumption of sugary foods, high-calorie foods lack of exercise and physical activity.  Stress has also been linked to lack of sleep, which in turn is linked to over-eating in some people.  For more information on help for insomnia please read my previous posts

The authors of this study (1) have also looked at workers that participated in a comprehensive, two-year nutrition and exercise program. This included walking routes at work, portion control in food, and stress-reduction workshops. The data comparing control groups and the groups who took part in the nutrition and exercise program is still being analyzed I look forward to seeing those results when they are published.  In conclusion, the study suggests that workplace wellness programs should not only offer ideas on how to be healthy, but should examine the organizational structure and provide ways to minimize a stressful environment for everyone (2).

For more information and ideas on healthy eating during stressful times please visit the links at the start of this post and also browse the blog in general as there is plenty of information that you may find helpful.  In general I would suggest a healthy balanced diet that will keep blood sugar levels stable in conjunction with some form of daily exercise.  Even two 15minute walks could prove beneficial to feelings of stress (please read the two posts linked at the beginning of the post for more detail).

(1) Fernandez ID et al.  2010.  Association of Workplace Chronic and Acute Stressors With Employee Weight Status: Data From Worksites in Turmoil.  Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 52(1S):S34-S41

(2)Press release.  University of Rochester Medical Center (2010, March 25). Study connects workplace turmoil, stress and obesity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 25, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/03/100324142133.htm

Written by Ani Kowal

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De-stress this Valentine’s day with a bit of dark chocolate

It is Valentine’s Day on Sunday and chocolate sales are bound to be high.  Readers of this blog may remember reading about my penchant for good dark chocolate (my preferred chocolate is very rich and dark at 85% cocoa solids), well it seems like giving this treat to yourself or a loved-one could really be a stress-buster.



Cocoa and good quality dark chocolate (the 70%+ cocoa solids varieties) have been shown to have numerous health benefits mainly due to their antioxidant capacity in the body.  A recent study has found that dark chocolate may also be useful in reducing emotional stress (1).



The study (1) was small and very preliminary but certainly interesting.  The study participants were first tested using validated psychological questionnaires to see if they had low or high anxiety traits.  They were given 40g of dark chocolate daily for two weeks.  Blood and urine samples were collected 3 times during the study – at the start, middle and end.  The samples were rigorously tested to see whether various measures of body chemistry of the individuals was changed by the chocolate eating and also to see whether specific processes of gut bacteria was altered.



Interestingly the participants with higher anxiety traits showed a distinct change in their metabolic (bodily chemical processes) profiles when eating the dark chocolate.  Dark chocolate was, amongst other things, found to reduce the urine levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as other body chemicals related to stress.  Dark chocolate was also found to partially normalise and correct stress-related differences in specific body chemistry levels as well as the activity of specific gut bacteria (1)



In conclusion the scientists suggest that the study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 g of dark chocolate daily during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human subjects (1)



Further studies to confirm these results are needed and the study definitely does not justify chocolate binges!  However, reaching for a few squares of good quality dark chocolate may be a soothing way to treat yourself to something indulgent, especially on Valentine’s Day.



(1)Francois-Pierre J. Martin, FPJ et al.  2009. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects.  J. Proteome Res. 8 (12), pp 5568–5579
Written by Ani Kowal

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A few ways that might help to keep ‘back to work’ lethargy at bay

Many people are currently heading back to work after an extended Christmas and New Year break.  It can be tough to get back into the swing of things after having time off and often people feel lacking in energy.  There are a few natural ways that can be useful to help provide a mood boost and prevent feelings of lethargy.



Back in September I wrote about the link between anxioxidant nutrients and symptoms such as stress, anxiety and fatigue.  It is important to keep your dietary antioxidant levels high, this will boost your immune system but may also help to combat fatigue.  The best way of providing the body with ample antioxidants is to eat a variety of colourful vegetables and fruits daily.  Get a minimum of 5 portions a day.  A good way to make sure you are always supplied is to take easy to eat fruits and vegetable stick to work with you.  Keep them at your desk and snack away guilt-free.  Blueberries, any berries in fact, are packed with antioxidants and also very tasty.  Clementines are easy to peel and readily available at the moment and most supermarkets stock carrot and celery sticks if you don’t have time to prepare your own in the morning.  You can dip these into a tomato-based salsa for an extra antioxidant hit. Any fruits and vegetables will work to boost antioxidant levels in the body – remember to eat a variety to provide an array of different antioxidants to the body.  Antioxidant supplements made from natural berries and herbs are now also available to buy but should not be viewed or used as an alternative to a healthy diet.



Magnesium is also considered a great lethargy buster.  Fatigue is thought by some in the medical field to be one of the typical early symptoms of magnesium deficiency (1).  Stress hormones can promote a reduction in tissue magnesium levels and mild magnesium deficiency may promote the feelings of fatigue.  Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral and acts as a multi-functional nutrient in the body where it is present in all cells!  It takes part in around 300 processes in the body and is vital to many bodily functions such as energy production, nerve function, muscle relaxation, bone and tooth formation, heart rhythm and aids in the production and use of insulin. 


The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) of adults aged 19-64 (2) found that quite a shocking number of women in the UK are not achieving adequate daily magnesium intakes with 74% of women age 19-64 not reaching the RNI (reference nutrient intake) for magnesium and 85% of 19-24 year old women not beaching the RNI for this vital nutrient.  Many men (about 42%) too appear not to be reaching recommended levels.  Modern society does not eat as many whole grains, seeds, beans and nuts as in previous times and it is these sources that are rich in magnesium.  Processed foods contain little of this vital mineral.  Good dietary sources of magnesium include dried figs, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds and dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids!).  Wholegrains such as brown rice and oatmeal also contain good amounts.



Omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon are vital for the brain and may help lift the mood.  Good dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids include oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout and some nuts, especially walnuts, and flax seeds.  For people who don’t regularly eat fish considering a daily omega 3 supplement could be very helpful.  In fact I would suggest that the majority of individuals in the UK do not achieve good dietary Omega 3 intakes.  For vegetarians and vegans a flaxseed oil supplement can be useful and there are now supplements containing the longer chain omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, available which are made from algae. 



Ginseng is often taken as an energy boosting supplement.  Korean Ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng, appears to be helpful in treating and reducing stress-related fatigue (3,4,5).  A short term, one month, supplement with this herb could be worth a try.  Remember to read the label and stick to the recommended dosages.



Keeping blood sugar levels stable during the day will help prevent energy and mood slumps – a key here is to ensure you include a source of protein with each meal, this could include eggs, unprocessed meats and fish, beans, lentils or other pulses and nuts or seeds.  It is also important to avoid refined carbohydrates and minimise caffeine intake since this can disrupt hormones involved in blood sugar balance.  Eating a healthy balanced diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits and minimal processed and refined foods will help to keep levels of all nutrients and antioxidants high.  If you feel that you are in need of a boost or are consistently finding it hard to eat a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits you could consider taking a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to cover any dietary shortfalls.  Personally I like the food-state supplements which are easily absorbed by the body and derived from natural sources.  Multi-nutrient supplements that also contain probiotics (‘good’ bacteria) are also available.  A study (6) found that such a supplement could help to reduce stress and exhaustion as well as improving the immune system.  Remember that a nutrient supplement can never be considered as an alternative to a healthy diet. 


 


(1)Saris N-E L et al.  2000.  Magnesium:  an update on physiological, clinical and analytical aspects.  Clinica Chimica Acta.  294:1-26, 2000.
(2)Henderson L et al.  2003.  The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults aged 19-64 years.  HMSO London.
(3)Bannerjee U et al.  1982.  Antistress and antifatigue properties of panax ginseng:  comparison with piracetam.  Acta Physiol Lat Am.  32(4):277-285.
(4)Reay J L et al.  2005.  Single doses of Panax ginseng (G115) reduce blood glucose levels and improve cognitive performance during sustained mental activity.  J Psychopharmacol.  19(4):357-365, 2005.
(5)Reay J L et al.  2006.  Effects of Panax ginseng, consumed with and without glucose, on blood glucose levels and cognitive performance during sustained ‘mentally demanding’ tasks.  J Psychopharmacol.
(6)Grunenwald J et al.  2002.  Effect of a probiotic multivitamin compound on stress and exhaustion.  Adv Ther.  19:141-150
Written by Ani Kowal

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