So what are the symptoms that people experience that are related to stress? The most common symptoms are headache, insomnia, irritability, depression/poor mood, and drug usage. However, women may experience depression and low mood more frequently than men. Women experience tension headaches more frequently in a study done by the U. S. Office on Women’s Health. When more cortisol is released in the body, this leads to weight gain, especially around the upper abdomen and this weight is very hard to lose. Higher stress levels can also contribute to infertility (partly through irregular periods), and PMS symptoms can be worse as well. Not only that, chronic high levels of stress can impact interest in sex, and also it may take longer to become aroused. To top it off if someone has more stress chronically, it can lead to an increased risk for cardiovascular issues, brain loss and memory problems. Plus one’s immunity also seems to fail, when one is chronically stressed, putting a person at greater risk for contracting some form of viral illness, particularly Covid.
Obviously, it is important to be able to manage and handle stress appropriately to mitigate these health issues. There are are variety of steps one can take to do this. The first is to try to improve one’s sleep habits and getting adequate sleep is vital to manage stress. Secondly, regular exercise –even as simple as going for a walk or spending 10-15 min of the day doing yoga, tai chi, slow deep breathing, and getting a massage are effective ways to release some of the stress from day to day activities. Even when you get super busy, it is still important to include these simple steps. Of course, it goes without saying that having a healthy nutritious diet is paramount to making sure that your body has the capacity to handle the stress. Reduce your sugar intake as high sugar levels contribute to higher cortisol levels. There are some herbal supplements that are known to help deal with stress–these include ashwaganda, rhodiola, ginseng, holy basil, and cordyceps. Vitamins and minerals that are known to help with sleep and stress include magnesium, L-theanine, and taurine. Immune support is also helpful, and there are various mushroom extracts that have been shown to support the immune system. Essential oils have also been helpful to reducing stress, particularly lavender which promotes sleep. Finding things to be grateful for and laughing are great stress management techniques as well.]]>
What might the signs be that your gut is not functioning optimally? Well, there are several conditions that point to poor gut health. The first of these is related to problems with digestion–constipation, diarrhea, and bloating–especially if these problems are chronic. Everyone may experience these on an occasional basis due to dietary changes, travel, etc., but when these persist for long periods of time, then it is a problem because there is a downstream effect on absorption of key minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients when these occur. Secondly, if a person is overweight or obese, then there tends to be more inflammatory markers present in the blood stream and these inflammatory markers travel to the brain and create insidious damage to the brain. Foods high in fat and sugar can send signals to the brain to eat more of these foods, and results of memory tests done after these foods are consumed are worse. Thirdly, if there are food intolerances or food allergies then these are a definite signal that there is a problem with gut function. Somewhere along the line, there has been damage to the gut lining and small food particles get absorbed into the blood stream. The body then recognizes these as foreign and the immune system kicks in and food allergies and sensitivities develop. Fourthly, if a person struggles with depression and anxiety, this is a really good indicator that the gut is not functioning as it should and that there is an imbalance in the gut bacteria (of which we have over 100 trillion gut bacteria of varying types). Sometimes a good probiotic and prebiotic will get this under control much faster than the antidepressant being prescribed. So you may want to have your doctor check for leaky gut, food sensitivities, or a bacterial imbalance, especially if you feel depressed or anxious. Fifthly, skin problems are frequently an indicator that the gut is imbalanced–conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, acne and various skin rashes are an external barometer of the internal gut environment. Once the gut health is improved, the skin conditions resolve. Finally, most autoimmune disorders originate from an imbalanced bacterial environment in the gut, starting with leaky gut and the entry into the body of foreign food particles. For example, wheat sensitivities are thought to be potential source for developing thyroid autoimmunity. The point of discussing all these gut issues, is that by fixing the gut–you automatically improve brain health too.
However, how do people develop all of these gut issues? (Besides the obvious answer of poor food, lack of sufficient nutrients, amino acids and healthy fats in the diet, ie the Standard American Diet–SAD–that is loaded with a lot of inflammatory foods, nutrient poor foods, and high calories with minimal nutritional value, and artificial chemicals–all of which can contribute to aging the brain prematurely). Other factors that contribute to this include stress–which in itself can cause leaky gut. And in today’s pandemic there has been plenty of stress on everyone. Secondly, poor sleep contributes to the stress and if a person doesn’t get their 7-8 hours of good sleep (including deep sleep and dreaming) this can affect the gut function and brain health directly. And with using all of the sanitizers and disinfectants, we have reduced our exposure to dirt and the natural environment. We don’t get out and work in the soil, that is why gardening is a very helpful activity–it exposes a person to the bacteria in the soil. However, getting sunshine and working with plants also has a calming effect on the brain. Plus gardening does involve physical activity which is important for brain health. Not enough physical exercise can impact the balance of gut bacteria, and too much exercise can also negaively impact the balance of the gut microbiome, by increasing stress. Toxins are also implicated in damaging the normal gut microbiome, specifically glyphosate, other pesticides, herbicides, and heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, and aluminum. Finally, antibiotics will specifically destroy the normal balance of about 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria by killing off both good and bad bacteria. It does take a long time after even a single dose of an antibiotic to restore the normal balance in the gut.
So how can you fix the gut, and thereby improve brain health. Well, the first thing that is needed is a change in the diet, eliminate the bad stuff–pretty much all processed foods, carbs, unhealthy oils, gluten; and increase the good stuff–healthy fruits and veggies with fermentable fiber (organic as much as possible), berries, dark chocolate (at least 75% cacao), bone broth, resistant starch–something that the digestion does not break down and improves the bacterial balance in the colon (think green bananas, cold cooked potatoes or raw potatoes, and raw oats), nuts–especially pistachios, spices such as onions, garlic, turmeric, cilantro, and cinnamon, and fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi. However, not everyone can consume foods in these categories, so it is important to work with your doctor or a functional medicine specialist to figure out what is going on if digestive issues get worse with dietary changes.
The other area that is important for brain health is to be sure that the hormones are in balance as well. Many women especially during the phase of life of pre-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause frequently complain of being more forgetful, feeling like they have “brain fog” , and having poor concentration.. So there is specialized testing to check for hormone imbalances. The problem with blood testing is that it does not let you know what the tissue levels are. So salivary testing and urinary testing are both available to assess hormone status and balance of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA in both men and women. In addition, neurotransmitters can also be tested with urine, too. The reason for testing these elements is that there are supplements, –minerals, vitamins, etc, that can be increased in the diet to modulate the production (either up or down) of the neurotransmitters that are too low or too high.]]>
Another important supplement to get is selenium. Not only does it help keep one’s immunity up, but it also is important for thyroid health. It helps the antioxidants in the body function better, and studies indicate that it may help to decrease cancer risk, plus improve heart health. Selenium works by reducing inflammation in the body and also reduces oxidative stress and may help to decrease the frequency of flare-ups of autoimmune conditions. Studies also show that asthma attacks are lessened with sufficient selenium in the diet, and finally it is important for fertility–particularly in men for sperm function. You can get your daily dose of selenium in just 2 Brazil nuts a day. Other foods high in selenium include halibut, tuna, oysters, shitake mushrooms, sardines, chicken, and eggs.
Vitamin C and zinc are 2 other supplements that are known to help the immune system. Zinc especially has anti-viral activity. Other supplements include astragalus, quercetin, and elderberry. It is thought that these supplements actually prevent viruses from getting into the cell, or may actually help to kill the virus that does get into the body. N-acetylcysteine along with vit C definitely helps the immune system by increasing the body’s glutathione levels. Dr. Pescatore has his list of 8 supplements that he would not want to be without and these include: Pycnogenol, Vit D3, Coenzyme Q10, probiotics, fish oil, resveratrol, curcumin, and a good multivitamin. Another compound that has been linked to improving the immune system is ECGC–one of the main components in green tea. Studies from Japan have shown that drinking just 2 cups of green tea a day can inhibit inflammation. It works by increasing Nrf2 , which controls the amount of inflammation in the body. And just to bolster the importance of probiotics, if you keep your gut bacterial environment ( also known as the microbiome) healthy, you would be protected from a lot of things. About 75% of your body’s immune response is in your gastrointestinal tract. and when that is out of balance, then it sets the stage for poor health. The way that ECGC works is by promoting the growth of good bacteria in the GI tract. Other foods that improve the gut bacterial balance include pomegranate, broccoli sprouts, turmeric (curcumin), and walnuts. Foods high in quercetin are apples, onions, grapes, cherries, spinach, buckwheat, and berries. Pomegranate may also lower the blood pressure in large amounts. Curcumin works hand-in-hand with ECGC, Vit C, and quercetin to increase the production of enzymes that boost the immune system. Walnuts and other nuts improve the bacterial balance by generating butyrate. Then in order for the good bacteria to grow well, you need to add pre-biotics (the food the supports the good bacteria–essentially indigestible fiber). Foods that do this include onions , artichoke, garlic, barley, bananas, and flaxseeds. Yogurt, kefir, kimchee, lassi, sauerkraut, and kombucha are good foods to include for their probiotics.
It goes without saying that it is important to not forget the basics: eating healthy and staying hydrated, in addition to getting adequate sleep. Junk food and highly processed foods falls in the category of NOT healthy, so it is best to eliminate these. The problem is that even when we try to eat healthy, the food we eat is devoid of nutrients and minerals because the soil that the food is grown in is depleted of minerals. Which is another reason to add the essential proteins to the diet, so you body can make the elements that are going to fight off infection. Then there is the whole GMO thing going on, and studies do show that the nutritional value of GMO foods is significantly different than foods that are not GMO. Of course, learning how to manage stress is also important.
One of the things that I do in the morning is drink a large glass of filtered water with 1/2 of a lemon or lime squeezed into it, and then add a scoop of Prefect Amino protein powder and a scoop of Arbonne’s Be Well Superfood Greens , and a level tsp of Magna-soothe. I feel great!]]>
Amino acids are then broken down into groups: branched chain, acidic, basic, sulfur containing, glucogenic and ketogenic amino acids. The branched chain amino acids are very important for the muscles, and maintenance of strength. The amino acids that contain sulfur are cysteine, homocysteine, methionine and taurine–these are present in animal foods and nuts, and seeds. The glucogenic amino acids are those that can be converted into glucose for energy and the ketogenic amino acids are those that can be converted into ketones also used for energy by the brain specifically during times of fasting.
So what do amino acids do that is so important? 1) they are a source of energy–4 calories per gram; 2) they can be used to make other amino acids, make proteins–such as the muscles, and be used as glucose; 3) they act as neurotransmitters, or are the building blocks for hormones or neurotransmitters; 4) they are also the building blocks for the hemoglobin in the blood and necessary for making DNA–your unique genetic code; and 5) as I mentioned earlier, important for your immune system. For example, lysine is one of the amino acids that is thought to decrease the occurrence of cold sores caused by the herpes virus.
Foods that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Foods that do not contain all 9 are considered incomplete proteins and this will limit the functions that are capable based on the amino acid that is not present. Most animal proteins are considered complete proteins. Plant foods that are considered complete proteins include spinach, some beans, some nuts and seeds. Rice, peas, lentils walnuts, peanuts, and almonds are some that are considered incomplete. For example, most cereal grains are low in lysine, and most fruits and veggies are low in lysine. Foods high in lysine are meats, fish, milk and eggs, soybeans, lentils, nuts and seeds. However, foods that are incomplete proteins can be combined to provide complete proteins–this is especially important for vegetarians and vegans who limit their intake of meat and animal food sources.
How can you figure out how much protein you need per day? Well, on the average you need 1 gram of protein for each kilogram of body weight (or 1 gram per 2.2 pounds of body weight), then you divide that amount by 3 to get the amount needed at each meal, or by 2 if you only eat 2 meals a day. For example, for someone who weighs about 150 pounds, he or she would need about 68 grams of protein, which works out to a little over 20 grams per meal. As people get older, a lack of sufficient protein can lead to immune deficiencies and loss of muscle (known as sarcopenia) which then contributes to osteoporosis, balance problems and potentially Alzheimer’s.
So, if your diet is deficient in getting these amino acids, one of the ways to counteract this problem is to supplement with amino acid supplements which can be in tablet, capsule, or powder form. These forms are especially helpful for people who have problems with their digestion as these forms are easier to assimilate compared to food sources. Most amino acid supplements are safe in the recommended dosages; however, it is possible for people to get nausea, diarrhea, or bloating from large doses, or even allergic reactions–which can happen with practically anything that a person can come in contact with–whether orally or topically. The amino acid product that I recommend is Perfect Amino made by Body Health. Besides their protein powders ( lemon/lime and berry flavors), they have very delicious dark chocolate protein bars. Arbonne also makes a delicious vanilla and chocolate flavored protein powders containing 20 grams of protein per serving made from plant sources, which is especially helpful for people with dairy sensitivities or for vegans.]]>