Responding to Stress: A Whole-Body Natural Approach for SupportSep 30, 2020 08:59AM ● By Tamara Luck
Stress is one of the most common negative influences on health. Yet, it is often one of the least discussed factors. When talked about, patients may only receive vague recommendations, such as “reduce your stress.”
Each individual has a different reaction to perceived and physical stressors—work, family, constant notifications from smartphones, over-exercising, not exercising enough, poor sleep, pandemic worries, and so on. However, when these stressors build up or are sustained long term, the impact on one’s health can be long-lasting. For example, elevated cortisol can create an imbalance of thyroid and sex hormones, contribute to cardiovascular diseases and alter immune responses. Lastly, it deprioritizes digestion, possibly contributing to indigestion and suboptimal nutrient status. It is important to remember that these stress hormones play a vital role in the body; however, if in overdrive long term, they can contribute to chronic inflammation and diseases.
Beyond modalities such as mindfulness practices, therapy and meditation, here are four natural ways to support an appropriate stress response.
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are not only necessary for building muscles, they act as the precursors to neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Protein requirements vary among individuals, depending on activity levels, genetics and gender. As a general guideline, aim for about 0.8 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Focus on high-quality protein sources like grass-fed meat, pasture-raised eggs, fish and organic tofu. Digestion should also be examined to ensure absorption of protein. Adequate stomach acid is needed to begin the break down of protein. If struggling with minor indigestion or acid reflux, consider taking apple cider vinegar or supplemental digestive enzymes with meals.
Food sensitivities are delayed immune responses to proteins in foods. The associated symptoms have a delayed onset and are less severe than food allergies, making them harder to identify. One common food sensitivity that could contribute to nervousness is gluten. To test if gluten is triggering increased anxiety, consider a complete elimination of gluten for two months. There may be noticeable differences within the elimination phase, or one can reintroduce gluten after two months while monitoring for adverse symptoms.
Adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha or holy basil (also known as tulsi), are increasing in popularity for their stress modulating effects. They help to support the body’s natural stress response and energy levels. Enjoy them in tea or supplement form.
Several vitamins and minerals are involved in forming calming neurotransmitters, such as GABA, and excreting excitatory neurotransmitters, such as epinephrine (adrenaline). Important nutrients for these pathways include B vitamins and magnesium. B vitamins are found in animal products and dark leafy greens. Magnesium is found in nuts and seed and dark leafy greens. It may also be valuable to test these nutrient levels with a doctor to identify if additional supplementation is needed. Due to modern farming practices, foods may not contain the expected levels of nutrients. Impaired digestion or gastrointestinal diseases may also contribute to the need for supplemental nutrients in addition to consuming these foods.
While stress and anxiety are often only viewed as mental imbalances, there are many biological factors that can contribute to an imbalanced stress response. Luckily, food and herbs may naturally support the body’s stress management systems for immediate relief and the prevention of diseases due to long-term elevated stress.
Tamara Luck, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham. She works to uncover root causes of imbalances in the body and takes an individualized approach to wellness with her one-on-one clients. She is currently accepting new patients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness and virtual appointments can be made at Calendly.com/TamaraLuck.