The Age of Anxiety
By Dianne Rishikof MS, RDN, LDN, IFNCP
Psychologists are calling these times, “the age of anxiety” From the ongoing data overload to consistent blue light causing sleep disruption and now the pandemic of COVID-19, we are not free from mental or physical stress in any area of our lives. This has devastating consequences for our bodies. We experience lack of sleep, low sex drive, adult acne, and weight gain. All of these things reduce our quality of life. In a perfect world, we would be free from stress, but that isn’t realistic. So, instead of wishing it away the best approach is to arm yourself with the tools to master stress and keep yourself healthy for years to come.
WHAT DOES STRESS DO TO OUR BODY?
The stress hormone cortisol performs a variety of functions to prepare the body to cope with perceived threats. The problem is our stress response tends to be constant and ongoing. This causes cortisol to be chronically elevated and is where the dysfunction starts.
Stress and the GI Tract:
Cortisol in your stomach and intestines inhibits digestion. The good digestive juices, such as stomach acid and enzymes, are not released and food is only partially broken down. As a result, you get bloated and you have indigestion. This digestive dysfunction will lead to cravings and blood sugar spikes as well as more dangerous disruptions to your gut health.
The microbiome, damaged intestines, and inflammation are the root cause of all gut issues and are linked to many other health issues as well. Partially digested food feeds your gut bacteria causing an increase in bad gut bacteria. Cortisol injures the lining of the intestinal wall and increases inflammation. 90% of your immune system in your gut. When your gut is inflamed you have a weakened immune system. You’ll start to get sick more often.
Stress and Hormones:
High levels of cortisol steal the building blocks of your thyroid and sex hormones. Low thyroid and sex hormones drive fatigue, weight gain, digestive problems, hair loss, loss of sex drive, and disruption of a woman’s normal cycle.
Cortisol prevents your body from maintaining the sleep/wake cycles. You may find yourself wide awake at 2 am- Cortisol is to blame. Along with a lack of sleep, imbalanced hormones, and gut issues all affect the brain. Your mood and thinking will suffer.
After a few months of heightened stress, the adrenals are fatigued, and can’t produce sufficient cortisol. Low cortisol levels lead to a (now familiar) host of problems, such as gut troubles and fatigue. This is sometimes termed “adrenal fatigue” but the more scientific name is HPA Axis dysfunction.
WHAT CAN I DO?
This all feels very overwhelming to someone new. The best first step is to relieve that stress. That can look different for everyone. You need to participate in some activity that makes you feel better afterward. This can be going to a therapist, exercising, meditating, talking to a friend, taking a walk, or even cooking your favorite meal!
After taking care of the stress, get support to take care of your issues. As a functional medicine professional, I believe a diet consisting of whole unprocessed foods will help you feel better quickly. You can also seek help from a professional on how to balance your hormones. There are supplements, vitamins, and herbs that can help.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT?
A whole foods diet can be daunting. It is actually pretty simple. Your focus should be on eating foods that come straight from the animals and the earth.
Instead of bread try a new grain
Substitute chicken or beef for deli meats or hotdogs.
Pick a new vegetable to try more frequently.
Snack on fruit
Add in your favorite nuts or seeds during snack time.
Dianne Rishikof, MS, RDN, LDN, IFNCP, is a holistic registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist for people who are desperate to get rid of the pain, discomfort, or unwanted symptoms in their body, but just don’t know how to do it. Their issues may be in the gut (IBS, IBD, gluten sensitivity), the brain (ADHD/ADD, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s prevention), or somewhere else (fatigue, inflammation, joint pain, high cholesterol, weight gain, headache, skin issues).
Dianne is president of Health Takes Guts Inc. and has been in private practice for 15 years in MetroWest Boston practicing integrative and functional nutrition. Dianne is a national speaker and published author. She and her team see clients in person and also do video or phone sessions as a convenience for clients. Find more information at HealthTakesGuts.com
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