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Food As Medicine: Managing Stress

                Stress comes in many forms. You may find yourself mentally stressed over challenges in life. The hustle and bustle of daily tasks in our fast-paced world may leave you feeling physically stressed. An inability to grasp even a moment of time to yourself weakens emotional clarity. Our bodies have mechanisms in place to relieve the stress these situations cause. If overwhelming stress becomes a common occurrence, it can lead to chronic illness and debilitating conditions.

                Every cell in the body is impacted by stress. When a stressor occurs, the body works hard to alleviate the symptoms that follow. The fight or flight mechanism that our central nervous system deploys, releases neutralizing chemicals at an accelerated rate. These chemicals include inflammatory substances that wreck havoc on metabolic and cellular function throughout the body. These reactions leave the cells starving for energy and leave us feeling exhausted.

                Stress can manifest in several ways. A person may respond with gastrointestinal (GI) upset, physical exhaustion, brain fog, skin rashes, or joint pain, to name a few. When inflammation overwhelms our cells, it can cause damage to the very organs that keep us alive. The heart, lungs, brain, liver, stomach, and skin are all impacted by inflammatory damage that stress can cause. Stress is inevitable in our lives, however, there are measures that can be taken to minimize its impact on our overall health.

                 The GI tract is the gatekeeper for stress managing nutrients. We must ingest, digest, and absorb these nutrients. The ingestion of healthy fats can help to lower stress hormones and inflammation throughout the body. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can be found in nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil. The next time you choose a salad dressing, reach for the olive oil. You can toss on some sunflower seeds as well, knowing that you are ingesting healthy fats that can help to lower stress hormones.

                It is a great idea to include healthy fats in your diet, but it is just as important to remove the unhealthy fats. Trans fats are found in processed foods with hydrogenated vegetable oils. They can also be found in small amounts in dairy and meat products from ruminant animals. Trans fats raise inflammatory markers throughout the body causing cell damage and even cell death.

                In conjunction with changing the fat content in your diet, supplementing with healthy fats may be necessary to lower inflammation, improve brain power, and boost general health. You can accomplish this with an Omega-3 fish oil supplement that contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It is recommended that one consume between 2-3 grams (2000-3000mg) daily.

                There are many herbs and spices that can be added to the diet to improve and even prevent the inflammation that stress causes. Research supports that turmeric, garlic, ginger, rosemary, oregano, and cayenne pepper are all anti-inflammatory and healing. They can be added to meals every day to combat the symptoms that stress causes. In this naturally occurring form, there is no limit to the amount that can be ingested. Sprinkle away.   

                Additionally, turmeric is an amazing herbal agent. Evidence supports its numerous medicinal properties. It is a powerful anti- inflammatory agent that can be used to heal the GI tract lining, lower cellular inflammation, treat depression, and even minimize pain associated with stress symptoms. It can be found in the most natural form as a root. In a powder form, you can add it when preparing meals. Sprinkle it on finished dishes or even add it to a smoothie. The benefits of turmeric are abundant. Higher doses in a supplemented form may be necessary to treat symptoms and underlying conditions caused by chronic stress.

                Another outstanding food for lowering inflammation is garlic. Garlic is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and a metabolically stimulating herb. Enjoy this powerful food as a tasty addition to a meal. Rest assured that you have added a tool in your life to combat stress symptoms.

                Sleep can be disrupted by stress. When sleep patterns are altered, more health complications occur. Stress, inflammation, and impaired sleep go hand-in-hand. There are several herbal remedies that can be used to improve sleep patterns and lower inflammation. Try an herbal tea before bed. Chamomile, passionflower, and lavender are all powerful agents to aid in healthy sleep patterns. Not only do they help in falling asleep, but they can help in maintaining restful sleep.

                Stress is inevitable in life. There are a multitude of approaches to manage stress levels. Nutrition is an enormous part. Along with eating 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, we can remove unhealthy fats and add healthy fats to our diet. Further, we can add anti-inflammatory herbs and spices to our meals. These are lifestyle adjustments that are necessary to help ward off chronic illnesses and debilitating conditions that come with chronic stress. When combined with regular physical activity, meditation, adequate sleep, and positive human interaction, food can be our medicine.   

Linsey Hall